The Chess Bully

I was at a friend’s party and a guy walked up and said “so Hugh, you teach chess professionally.” I said I did and he immediately challenged me to a game. He seemed a bit hostile, in a subtle way, and I suspected he was challenging me for bragging rights. After all, if he won, he could walk around the party exclaiming that he beat the so called professional chess teacher. I really hate being put into these positions and tend to tell people my chosen profession is that of an over the hill guitar player to avoid this situation. He offers me the white pieces and we sit down at the board and start the game. Of course, a few people wander over to watch, making me wish I’d stayed at home. I don’t know how well this guy plays so I play carefully. Within ten moves, I have an idea about this fellow’s level of play, which is slightly below average. He’s not terrible but he’s trying to launch premature attacks in an effort to win quickly. I just close the position down and push back his attacks and win game one. He wants to play again. We do and I win. He asks for a third game but I decline, to which he says “afraid I’m going to win this one?” Meet the chess bully, known by his Latin name Homoidiotic Nitwiticus. My reply to him was “you’re probably right which is why I decided to bow out now.” My thoughts, however, were quite different!

Chess bullies come in many forms. I can honestly say that 99% of my chess playing friends are fantastic people who love the game and treat it and its players with kindness and respect. However, there’s still that one percent who are chess bullies and every chess club seems to have a resident bully. It’s as if it’s an unwritten club bylaw! When I totter down to the local chess club, I’m looking for a game, not a gladiatorial match in which I have to play the role of Spartacus. Therefore, I keep my day job to myself. Yet I always seem to end up with the chess bully on the other side of the board. This explains why I play a lot of correspondence chess these days.

Of course, with advances in technology such as the internet, the chess bully has a whole new arena in which to rear his ugly head. Chess forums are littered with the ramblings of know it all chess bullies who practice the art of typing before thinking. For example: A forum posting will be created regarding the merits of Bobby Fischer’s chess skills. I don’t know about you, but Fischer’s chess abilities are far above my overall skill set. While I teach his games to my advanced students, there’s a high level of complicated play on Fischer’s part that requires a great chess mind to fully comprehend. However, the chess bully will go onto the forum and complain about Fischer’s moves during a specific game, as if they could improve upon those moves. When they offer their suggestions they reek of a computer engine. Did I mention that the average chess bully has a low chess rating?

Then there’s the opinionated chess bully who knows twenty or thirty “big important smart” words and insists on using them over and over again, often getting so far off topic that readers forget what the topic was in the first place. I’ve witnessed colleagues of mine, here at The Chess Improver, post really wonderful ideas on forums only to be attacked by idiots who play poor chess and suffer from “type before you think” syndrome. I wonder if these guys carefully read what they’re responding to. Some of these nitwits will use 10,000 words to complain about the font used by someone posting in a forum or deliver a short novel on the word “the.” What does this have to do with chess?

Of course, there are some chess bullies with decent ratings and these are the worst of the lot. With high ratings comes the blinding drug of absolute power. They use this self deluded power to snipe at everything chess related, again, typing before thinking. They are the worst of the bunch! They like to complain about chess books the rest of really enjoy and have learned a lot from.

While it’s great to post your thoughts on chess related matters, you should choose your battles carefully. I’m no Magnus Carlsen (more like his shoe and sock valet when it comes to chess skills), so you won’t see me offering alternative lines and variations in a conversation with highly titled players regarding opening theory. This may explain why none of them have given me the boot as a Facebook friend. I enjoying reading their analysis and learn from it. I have nothing concrete to add and don’t want to be the guy that stinks up the conversation.

Chess bullies are overly compulsive when writing (clogging up is actually what they do) on forums. They find some tiny little point that has nothing to do with the point originally being made and drive it into the ground. Thousands of words are put together with their poisoned keyboards and before you know it, they’ve hijacked the conversation. Which brings me to my next point, personal agendas.

I’d like to thank Jennifer, my wife, for leaning over me while I was writing this and saying “what about personal agendas? That drives me nuts.” I knew I was missing a key component of the chess bully’s personality! We all have a personal agenda in one form or another. However, with the non bullying type, it’s usually something as simple as “I want to get better at this or that.” With the chess bully, it’s all about glorifying their very existence. The chess bully is under the misguided assumption that it is we who should thank them for being allowed to breath the same air. There is nothing worse than reading a great forum topic only to have some unhinged troll come in and make it about their own cause. If you want to talk about your own cause start a separate topic. Don’t roll in and ruin someone’s effort to post something meaningful. Of course, chess bullies do create their own topics, which causes non bullies to comment in an effort to shut the bully up. This is what the chess bully wants, attention, attention and more attention. Don’t feed the chess bully. It’s just like trying to feed a wild bear. Nothing good will come of it (well, the bear might make you his or her lunch, which is good for the bear).

Is there is cure for this dreadful disease? While I might consider having them drawn and quartered, I don’t think the rest of the chess world would follow suit (except in possibly one or two cases). The cure is to ignore them. They feed on your frustration. If you ignore them, they eventually go away. The problem with any forum is that everyone has a right to speak. Here, our Constitution permits free speech so you get the good and the bad. It’s part of having a Democratic society. So the chess bully has a right to speak. Of course, you certainly don’t have to like it. However, the more you comment back about what a horse’s rear the chess bully is on your forum of choice, the more that bully is going to keep posting. Ignore them. As for the chess club bully, if no one will play him, he’ll have to find another place to get his kicks. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. By the way, it’s okay to be a bully on the chessboard, but only through the moves you make.

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).