As many of you may have figured out by now, I'm an "old fashioned kinda guy" who likes "old fashioned kinda things". I have a very limited repertoire of interests: sports and chess. That's about it. I don't watch much prime-time television (other than Sportscenter), I don't play video games, or hunt, or fish or toil in my garage over an "old beater". I spend more time reading now than I ever have in my life and the only real exercise I get is playing with my kids in the backyard. That being said, I am very passionate about the few interests that I do have and probably spend an unhealthy amount of time pursuing them. One hobby that I have picked up over the last few years is the game of Chess. I absolutely love it (although I'm not very good). I play all the time with my son, online with people from all over the world and against the computer in between. I have 5 boards in my house and at any given time, I can be involved in between 2-5 games (against man and machine) at the same time. I usually win 2 out of every 5, but it's not for lack of trying. Believe it or not, Chess IS a sport. Like any sport, it requires both a game plan and strategy. It involves focus and determination. And it requires the ability to learn from your mistakes. As a freelance baseball writer, I have spent countless hours researching the history of America's National Pastime and was very surprised to learn that many similarities exist between Baseball and Chess and that they share a common history.
The Dictionary defines both as the following:
Chess: A game for two players, each beginning with 16 pieces of six kinds that are moved alternately on a board according to individual rules, with the objective of checkmating the opposing king.
Base·ball: A game played with a bat and ball by two opposing teams of nine players, each team playing alternately in the field and at bat, the players at bat having to run a course of four bases laid out in a diamond pattern in order to score.
Albert Einstein also realized the mental similarities between both games and was quoted as saying that "Chess grips its exponent, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom and independence of even the strongest character cannot remain unaffected." And "You teach me baseball and I'll teach you relativity...No we must not. You will learn relativity faster than I learn baseball." In short, both "sports" are a thinking man's game.
Most baseball fans don't know that Jackson Showalter, who is credited with inventing the curve ball, was also a U.S. chess champion in the late 1880's or that Henry Chadwick, "The Father of Statistical Baseball" published a number of articles on the contemporary chess scene in the nineteenth century. They are also unaware that chess and baseball both established their first national organizations in New York City only a few months apart. The American Chess Association started in October 1857, while the National Association of Baseball Players began in March of 1858. One of the earliest baseball clubs was even named after chess hero Paul Morphy. In fact, between 1857 and 1860, both contests enjoyed national popularity and set a precedent for future sports in regards to game coverage and statistical analysis.
In 1859, an intercollegiate baseball and intercollegiate chess match began simultaneously as part of a single event when Amherst College and Williams College met on a neutral site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to engage in a "trial of the mind as well as the muscle." Amherst won at both sports, and the teams, were heralded as "Athletic and Academic Champions." The Amherst Express newspaper summed up the "double-header concept" perfectly by printing, " The students of Amherst rejoice not merely in the fact that in this contest their Alma Mater has borne away the laurels; but also in the belief that by such encounters as these, a deeper interest will be excited by these amusements, which, while they serve as a relaxation from study, strengthen and develop body and mind."
Back in the day, coverage of sporting events rarely occurred above the local level. Chess and Baseball were the exception and for several decades, both contests competed daily in the papers across the country. Although respect for Chess in the sports media has declined over the years, ESPN Classic still lists several Chess matches in its "Classic Moments," section featuring the biggest sports events of the 20th century. They include when World champion Gary Kasparov beat IBM supercomputer "Deep Thought" (programmed to scan up to 720,000 chess positions per second) two-games-to-none in 1975.
Even today in the modern game, managers and players have repeatedly used the game of Chess in countless analogies and references. Take Dale Murphy who played for the Braves, Phillies and Rockies who said, "Baseball and chess are the two greatest games in the world. The strategy in both games is similar in a way. You never really hear about coaches in other sports maneuvering their players like chess pieces, but in baseball, that's how a manager often describes his job." Murphy approached the board with the same tenacity he showed on the field and defeated all challengers in the clubhouse except one in 1987. In fact, he showed so much potential that many believed he would become the first major league All-Star to earn the rank of "Grandmaster".
So the next time you see Joe Torre swapping the line-up, changing his rotation, shifting the infield or signaling for a steal, try to picture Bobby Fischer executing a Queen sacrifice or a Kingside attack with the same goal in mind - to outwit their opponent and bring home another championship!
Source: Chess and Baseball (1998) by Robert John McCrary, past president of the U.S.