Clearing the Path

After reading Vanessa Sun’s article a couple days back, it struck me how many of the things she addressed that I took for granted. I never realized how blessed I was to have been able to learn chess at a relatively early age, to fully appreciating the people I’ve met, and again – to just how much of a vital role my parents have played in my success.

As much as I relate to everything she mentioned, I feel as though it is also necessary to think of the cons of starting chess at a very young age. Now, I’m not saying anything she said was wrong – I most definitely believe in and benefit from basically everything she says, but as a parent or child is trying to decide whether or not to devote much of someone’s childhood to chess, I believe that it is necessary to also understand the problems and unhappiness that it could create in a child’s life.

Time. Like all things, there are two sides to this. Sure, you have more time for chess, more time to improve, more time to learn, more time to meet people. But on the other hand, weekends don’t exist in your life anymore. Hanging out with your school friends becomes a rare occurrence. After all, your weekends will be you sitting in a chair at a chess board for more than ten hours of the day at a time. Depending on how serious you are, there will also be chunks of your week being devoted to personal study or private lessons. All of this, plus the way the society around you (your town, your state, maybe even your country) will view the fact that you play – either it comes off as a “great! You’re the coolest!” or a “What are you? You play chess….competitively?” All of this unfortunately creates an imbalance in the child’s life. While happy with the game (crossing my fingers that this is true, or at least will be in the future), they also feel as though they are missing out on a lot of school events or really anything non-chess related.

Something that needs to be addressed, before any of us can really talk about chess promotion to the extent that we want to and before we can create as large of a participating population as we can, is how to take away these negative factors.

At the time of the Girls Closed tournament, I had also been invited to a week long beach trip with my friends – but as much as I wanted to participate in that, I knew that participating in the Girls Closed tournament was not something I could allow myself to miss. 

Personally, I think chess gets a bit of a bad rep when you’re young – it’s a “nerdy” thing to be doing (not saying that’s bad, in fact I pride myself in being a complete nerd nowadays – but childhood me wanted to be “cool”). It takes up your time. Losing, let’s be honest, is never fun – but especially as a child.

So how do we do it? How do we go about making chess a more accessible and yet a not overly dominating factor in our lives? How do we make chess something that can be regarded as an asset to a young child wanting to fit in?

For me, finding that balance was accepting that if I want to be able maintain both friends at school and at chess – I have to work. Never let any single thing take over. It’s not necessary to do a complete chess training ritual everyday – sometimes a single tactic can go a long way. And in terms of making it more of an asset, the only thing we can do right now is slowly introduce it to as many people as we can and be humble and normal about it – if we make chess out to be an odd or special thing to be doing, then that’s how those around us will take it.


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