Bragging Rights, aka Chessmanship

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how one should train to become a chess master, perhaps it is proper to address why. If I have learned anything in life so far, it’s that motivation is worth more than talent in this world. First let’s glance briefly at the negatives. It’s a lot of work for a duffer to climb that winding rickety ladder. It will take time and effort that you could have been using to earn a degree or write that novel, so the opportunity cost is considerable. When you scale the heights—if you ever do—the ogres who dwell there are sure to say “Fee fi fo fum,” and make a light snack of you. A sad ugly fate for anyone, so it’s worth looking at the benefits too, because they do exist and are worth pursuing and clutching to your breast.

It is true that being a chess master doesn’t attract the opposite sex in quite the same way as, say, being a rock star or a supermodel. “As moths to a flame” is not the operative concept. And yet, being a chess master does have a certain cachet. Even to people who know nothing about the game, it is a badge of intellectual prowess. Perhaps the badge is more symbolic than anything else, because intellectual prowess as demonstrated in chess will pay few bills. What the badge really says is, “I may not be good at anything practical, but I could be if I wanted to.” As such, the chess master is admirable in the Platonic sense: his achievement is a flickering shadow of true worth, as seen by the watchers in the cave.

The chess master’s status qua chess master is not evident at first glance. Even wearing a chess-patterned tie does not really convey much beyond “I like chess,” or if paired with a plaid shirt, “I desperately need someone to dress me.” No, to get noticed and properly valued by others, or even better over-valued, the chess master will have to toot his own horn. I am reminded of the joke: How do you pick out the fighter pilot in a crowded room? Answer: He’ll tell you. Like our fighter pilot, the chess master will have to tell people.

There are better and worse ways to do this. If someone holding a drink asks, “How is life treating you these days?” it is obvious and bumptious to reply, “Pretty well, now that I am a chess master.”  Or if someone brings up the weather, and says, “Lot of rain/snow/heat/cold we’re having, eh?” it is a bit of a reach to reply, “I haven’t really noticed. I spend a lot of time indoors, since I’m a chess master.

You want to arrive at your goal—intellectual self-promotion—by a smoother, more circuitous route. For example, if someone expresses any opinion on any topic related to the real world, you can hijack the conversation to suit your purpose by replying, “Yes, but then on the other hand, enthusiasm for anything other than abstractions is a kind of sickness, isn’t it? Goethe, you know. That’s why I became a chess master.” It doesn’t matter whether Goethe really said that. Goethe was such a prolific author, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to prove he didn’t say it. The main thing is, you have effectively placed your outstanding intellect front and center. There it will remain, like an elephant in the room, no matter what trivial or inane statements you may make later.


Author: Tim Hanke

Tim Hanke is a U.S. amateur who still believes, despite much evidence to the contrary, that he can become a decent chessplayer.