Are Chess Players Afraid of the Variants?
Background — Why the Question?
As we limp our way into the 21st Century, judging by the Internet, the Variants seem to be losing ground. Websites, if still up and running, are not updated for years, forums that dare mention any variant are as deserted as Death Valley complete with tumbleweed. Yeah there are pockets of resistance here and there but rumours of blatant persecution exist. Some (and I emphasise this) ‘Chess’ players regale the variant player with taunts of Chess has ‘enough to offer’ or ‘I can’t be bothered with this; Chess is enough, why can’t you be content with that’ or simply look on white faced and then recover with a mutter and shuffle off.
Despite the taunts, probably from a minority it is true, the reality is; that as Chess enjoys a resurgence in popularity; the Variants are elusive shadows in the margins, and like Lepers gradually dying and dwindling. The mighty Chess machine churns out databases, DVD’s and software as if there weren’t enough info already on the 64 square game. Memorisation of opening strategies replaces tactical skill, and the merchandise machine responds with book after book that seeks to give the player the ‘killing ability’ — the instant win! Yes Chess is over analysed and its vast complexity is revealed and almost killed by miraculous software, so miraculous it seems that people are willing to give their souls to the computer and use them to replace themselves on the board [the growing problem of the Tournament cheater].
It would be easy to blame the money, investment in Chess is high but not as high as other ‘sports’ by a wide margin. You could easily argue like a true Darwinian that it is survival of the fittest and that Chess is the perfect game, but we are not talking about replacement just development, a challenge to orthodoxy, but like a sort of medieval Inquisition the Chess Pope has decreed us [the Variants] heretics (heresy = choice) and we are excluded. We carry the mark of Cain around begging software developers for a few crumbs, clinging like limpets to Zillions of Games or ChessV as a lone Basilica of our faith. A romantic view for sure, but all explorers are romantics at heart. We are explorers and we know the world doesn’t owe us a living, but our resistance comes from a monolith that was given birth by people like us! Why are we not incorporated as developers of the immortal game that has been kept immortal by its variants, why can you make an analogy between the ‘snobbish’ view toward ‘Classical’ music, born out of ignorance and prejudice; the label is a marker; there is only music — there is only Chess!
‘Heresy = Fear ’
People are comfortable with rules, they order their life, indeed the Catholic Church would argue that without rules there is no freedom and part of me would agree. Modern Humans exist in this world as an adjunct to the natural world, an existence that has to be maintained with vast amounts of energy and ingenuity. The world around us is a constant threat, never a friend, and this spurs us to distance ourselves and to create ‘order’ our ORDER. Order is necessary to promote artificial constructs like ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’ which are our greatest achievements, but the pain of the 20th Century and the chaos of 911 have infected us very deeply. Whatever the agents of this chaos may have been ‘they’ have touched modern life profoundly and muddied the waters of ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’ into ‘fear’ and ‘terror’ — Phobos and Deimos the consorts of Mars the God of War. It never really went away — I mean war of course — but now its fear is everywhere and we ever more cling to our illusive God of economics to save us, to discover that the natural world is killing our God and us with energy depletion.
Why this excursion into politics? Why talk about war? Well if you really need answers to those questions I think you are on the wrong site. Chess is war, but ordered, civilised war, stripped of its gruesome reality to its essential elements of strategy and tactics. One human pitted against another with a ‘controlled’ universe ahead, equal, controllable — known…
Now we have hit the nerve centre of the problem, more and more the game of Chess has moved from enigma to the known, to the realm of control, to the realm of relative comfort against a world far too complex to apprehend. The Pentagon now pushes the envelope of game theory whilst Chess players ‘limit’ themselves to the comfort of the known. So what have the variants become?Osama bin Laden; image of chaos, destruction and fear, as mythical as any Leviathan or Titan ever created by the mind of man! Breaking the board seems as catastrophic an event for Chess as the destruction of the World Trade Center.Just as the medieval Church responded in its way to heretics, the world of Chess has retreated to its bunker mentality with George Bush’s words ringing in their ears; “your’re either with us or your’re with the terrorists!”
We are ALL scared! Our commonality gives us an edge along with our ability to use our ingenuity to evolve. Deep Blue was the Chess 911 and its hallowed halls have been ringing ever since in an attempt to ‘control’ the computer. We in the Variant world say don’t control it embrace it, but change the rules, evolve the game and let the air into it again. Replace the shackles with freedom and explore the enigma of the evolving Chess world an ongoing challenge where no one has gone before…er…sorry about that an excursion into the messianic; crucifixion is a common fear for many a Variant Heretic.
We want the variants to be explored and not to die, we want to embrace the uncertainty and return to the great days of Chess when it was fresh and new.Try Omegachess or any other variant and feel ‘controlled’ insecurity, where your wit and imagination is all there is — no books, no props. Once again just you and the challenge. The logic is still there, the familiar is still there but there are new elements which enter the game not with a fear born out of ignorance and prejudice, but with wonder and awe.
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ — don’t be a chess Dinosaur, evolve, be as courageous and brave as the old GM’s — play the Variants and liberate the game!