Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Child Prodigies And Chess

On Sunday night, I went out for dinner with my brother-in-law Steven and his family and Weng Siow and his family. Our whole night was peppered with talk about chess, chess and more chess (much to the dismay of my wife).

Weng provides a very interesting insight into chess. For example, I did not know that my last opponent Bob Sewell from Parramatta, was actually a chess coach.

During the evening, our conversation drifted to one of child prodigies. Weng mentioned of how certain promising youngsters like Moulthun Ly with a phenomenal rating of 2345 (he was well on his way to being a GM given his enormous talent) has dropped off the chess radar as they grow older and dropping chess as a result to pursue other interests.

Weng also had discussions with Peter Parr (of Chess Discount Sales) as Weng sometimes takes his son Dylan along for competitions. The conclusion that was arrived was that chess makes a very poor profession.

Don't get me wrong. Chess makes an excellent hobby.... but a poor profession.

The life of a chess professional is indeed a rocky one and one that does not pay well in contrast with other professions where high intellectual capability is very much prized and rewarded. Even Australia's 2nd GM Zhao's main profession is not chess but another profession outside of chess.

When I hear of the potential of young chess prodigies like Max Illingworth and future youngsters like Anton Smirnov, Joshua Lau, I start to wonder for how long can these youngsters can continue to take up the chess mantle.

It's pretty sad that even in a sports-crazy country like Australia, chess is pretty much consigned to the back-burner and is usually mentioned as an after-thought. The promotion of chess also seems to stop at the school level. Beyond that, chess is not widely regarded in the same league as other physical sports like tennis, rugby, soccer etc. Part of that reason stems from the fact that the target audience is miniscule unlike other sports and as a result, big sponsors are just not willing to put any money in chess .

What does this mean for chess? I don't forsee the chess culture in Australia changing for the next couple of years. Chess will continue to play a minor rule in the school curriculum but beyond that, chess is unlikely to be promoted as well as other mainstream sports and because the sponsors aren't there, chess is simply not feasible as a profession.

As a result, pursuing chess as a career will continue to follow the slippery slope of the law of diminishing returns.


  1. Ironically I was having the same sort of discussion about music (my actual profession) with a friend tonight.

    If someone were to choose Chess (or music) for a profession that means they have to REALLY love it.

    A great jazz player named Phil Woods once told a master class that, "...if you want to be a professional musician, make sure that you HAVE to do it..."

    Chess as a profession is probably the same way.


  2. reminds me of a couple jokes:

    Q: What's the difference between a professional chess player and Large Cheese Pizza?

    A: A large Cheese Pizza can feed a family of four.

    Or my new favorite:

    Q: What's the difference between a chess professional and a Mutual fund?

    A: The mutual fund eventually matures and earns money.

  3. It sounds like Australia and the US have the same problem when it comes to young talent: there isn't much of a future in chess, so eventually the talented young players move into other careers.

    I've read postulated solutions such as "government support" (what is it about socialism that's so attractive, anyway) and I cannot support them. If chess could come to be regarded as a legitimate sport, appreciated by the mainstream, then sponsorship could work. But trying to change a country's opinion of an intellectual sport is most challenging.

  4. kinda the same thing here in the states. here chess is for nerds and is not that popular, and the thought of playing "professionally" isn't even considered. i want to change the way chess is seen, i want to make it more popular, i just can't figure out how...

  5. Tommyg: I totally agree. Far too many times, esp. with parents, they tend to view chess in a similar manner. Nice for the kids as it aids in their mental development.... as a career, nope.

    blunderprone: LOL. Great jokes. Thanks. :)

    greg, chessloser: Exactly my sentiments. I find it sad that as a nation, chess is not conducive as a viably sponsored sport because it requires people to think and be mentally active. But then why do people like to watch and play poker? Is it because of the gambling element? The risks/dares put out by the card players? Chess has an element in that as well and if properly televised, can be good.

    I'm not sure how many of you know but a long time ago, BBC UK used to televise a series called Master Games and it was successful but for some odd reason, it was pulled and the series never resurfaced.