It seems like you got caught up in one of the greatest debates in the world of sports. Is chess a sport or a game? Even though the International Olympic Committee recognizes chess as a sport, many national bodies don’t, and it still continues to be a topic for heated debates.
Generally speaking, the debate comes down to two arguments. The “chess-is-not-a-sport” side quotes the definition of sport with a special highlight on the word physical, while the “chess-is-a-sport” side mentions sportsmanship, mental agility and the skills required to play it.
The not-a-sport side is correct to start from definitions, after all that’s how we know that apple is a fruit and cucumber is a vegetable. So, let’s see how famous dictionaries define sport:
- A source of diversion
- Physical activity engaged in for pleasure
- A particular activity (such as an athletic game) so engaged in
A game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job
Sports – physical contests pursued for the goals and challenges they entail.
As you can see, nearly all definitions have the word physical in it, which is essentially the core reason for the confusion, disagreements and debates. To answer the question – “is chess a sport?” we need to go a bit deeper in definitions and interpret the idea of “physical.” Chess is a mental game that requires a great deal of analytical skills and strategic thinking. A game of chess can take anywhere between 10 minutes to 6 hours. So, the brain of the player has to work non-stop for however long that game takes. This requires a lot of mental energy which is often achieved through physical exercise. It is scientifically established that mental work requires physical energy, it is connected to our brain’s reliance on glucose as a primary fuel source. This is not to say that chess players consume as much physical energy during a 90-minute game as soccer players but the fact is they do need a great deal of physical energy.
So, purely from the point view of sport requiring physical energy and fitness, chess checks the box. Besides physical fitness, there are other reasons that make chess earn its place in the list of sports. Here are some of them:
If there is one word that is strongly associated with sports, it’s the Olympics. It’s hard to find a single sportsman whose dream is not to compete in the Olympics. So, is chess an olympic sport? And if so, winter or summer olympics? Yes and no. Chess has an olympic recognition but it’s not included in the actual games. In 2000, the International Olympic committee gave chess a status of sport with a vision to include it in the actual Olympic games. For the 2020 Summer Olympics that were supposed to take place in Tokyo, the hosting country was advocating for chess and bridge to be included in the games. But because of COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympics was cancelled and the question of chess hung in the air.
However, there is a Chess Olympiad, which is a biennial chess tournament in which teams representing nations of the world compete. It’s a very prestigious competition that started in 1924 and the next one is scheduled for August, 2022.
There is not a single sport whether with or without Olympic recognition that only requires physical strength. All sports both individual and team have a mental component. Victory is achieved through strategy and good strategy is a product of mental agility. Chess is a combination of thinking on the feet and thinking ahead, which is extremely difficult to do. And since chess is an individual sport, the decision-making is on the players, they can’t count on their teammates to step in and help out.
One of the most solid arguments of the “chess-is-a-sport” side is sportsmanship. Chess has a set of official rules and behavior code that all players must follow. There is a strong respect towards the game that is reflected in the compliance with these rules and codes. Players can be held accountable for poor sportsmanship such as not shaking the opponent’s hand, cheating or using mobile phones or computers. Also, chess has an anti-doping policy and elite players are tested for banned substances. Plus, there is a special focus on lies related to computer assistance.
All chess players have to demonstrate high standards of sportsmanship.
Just like any other sport, chess has a ranking system. Currently, there are two main types of rating systems used by organizations such as FIDE, the US Chess Federation (USCF or US Chess), International Correspondence Chess Federation and the English Chess Federation:
- The Elo System.
- The Glicko System.
You can learn what each system entails here. The bottom line is, in chess there is a certain ladder that players have to climb and that’s done using ranking systems.
If you are very impatient and jump right to the conclusion to see “so, is chess a sport or a game?” then our final verdict is that chess is a sport.