28 January 2021

Chess vs. Tennis - becoming the game

A recent article on Tennis.com highlighted a number of the parallels between The Queen's Gambit series protagonist (pictured above in a scene playing a racket sport) and champion tennis players. The similarities between the two sports/games are many. Notably, both are dominated by the spectacle of individual matches between highly-prepared professional players who have a supporting coaching team. However, at the same time both are accessible to amateurs at all levels. Lately I think chess has done better for itself, being able to move more of its action online.

On the positive side, both sports require both strategic and tactical mastery, which are mental skills that translate well to other situations. It's not enough to simply play a single move or point well, one has to have a consistent game plan that takes the opponent's strengths and weaknesses into account, while also capitalizing on unexpected opportunities. Here's a relevant excerpt from the article:

Since 2013, US Chess Federation senior director of strategic communications Dan Lucas, himself an avid tennis player, has organized a tennis outing for players and family members during the US Open chess tournament. According to Lucas, “The most obvious similarity is how you have to learn to build a point to be a good tennis player and the way you win a chess game is by slowly building a strong position by accumulating small advantages. Even the mistakes beginners make are similar: New tennis players just want to slam a serve as hard as they can; new chess players like to play one-move threats [which are easily parried by better players].” 

One of the other points made in the article was the nearly all-consuming nature of the game, in which a player's fundamental identity can start merging with their performance and practice. This phenomenon, while common in all sports at top levels, I think can be even more pronounced in individual sports. Even if you have coaches or play in a team scoring event, your performance is still solely up to you during a match. The negative side of this all-consuming focus can be obvious, however, when it leads to becoming obsessed with the game, to the detriment of all other aspects of life. Some aspect of balance needs to be there, even with those who are very serious about it.

Lately I've been on the other side of that coin, not having done much at all on chess over the past couple of months. This has been due to some other projects that perhaps have left me with enough time, but not really enough energy to train and play. I plan to resume this shortly, though.

See other Chess vs. Tennis posts