Wednesday, 8 December 2010
I like chess. It's one of those games that is both extremely simple and infinitely varied. I hadn't played it for years, but was prompted to download an app onto my phone after reading something in the newspaper at the weekend. You can get all sorts of incredibly sophisticated games in the App Store, of course, but chess just seemed like one of those that would work well in the format and help to while away the odd dull moment.
Indeed, the game itself is very well realised, with all sorts of options around online play, computer opponents with differing skill levels, puzzles, video tutorials and all sorts. There's one fundamental problem though: I'm crap at chess.
Like cryptic crosswords, this is one of those things that I think I ought to be good at, but actually I'm really bad at and can never quite understand why. Even worse: it's something that other people think I should be good at too. When I was at school, I was once made captain of the chess team on precisely those grounds. I got to travel with the team to a nearby school and matched up against their captain, presumably their best player. I promptly tried to do the only thing about chess I could remember: I went for checkmate in 12 moves (or whatever it is). Not very surprisingly, I was foiled, but was somehow still in a good enough position to kill him off in about 25 moves and within 5 minutes. He was nearly as startled as I was by what was clearly a fluke.
"Best out of three?"
"No chance, mate"
So we sat there, waiting for the other games to finish in awkward silence.
Needless to say, I promptly retired from competitive chess with a career record of 100%.
I enjoy chess. I like the history around it and the way that various sequences of play have names and a well documented history of who used them and when. I watched, fascinated, when the British Grandmaster, Nigel Short, was taken to the cleaners by Garry Kasparov in 1993 (an event that took place in London and was - hard to imagine now - televised). I even took the trouble to learn a few tactical rudiments... although I can't remember any of them now. Something about lines of power across the board?
I remain useless, as each game I play against the computer on my phone tells me. Maybe it's down to practice, but I seem to suffer from a blindness to the most obvious moves. No matter how cautious I think I'm being, suddenly the computer.... on level 2 out of 10.... will take my queen in a move I have singularly failed to anticipate. Never mind. There's a backwards button, so I move back a couple of moves and try something else My queen is saved, but the reprieve is only for a move or two, and inevitably I am swiftly crushed. It's most dispiriting. Chess is supposed to be about thinking through the various options and carefully weighing up a strategy several moves ahead of play. I want to be good at this. I remain annoyingly bad, and it bothers me.
I'll keep trying to see if I improve at all with practice, but the chances are fairly high that my offended intellectual vanity will lead me to delete the application from my phone and from my life in a fit of pique in the fairly near future.