Chess as Art

The book How Life Imitates Chess written by world famous chess player Gary Kasparov has a very interesting paragraph describing how the dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp interpreted Chess:

The artist Marcel Duchamp was an energic chess player. During a period of his life, he even resigned art for chess and said that the game had “all the beauty of art and even more.” Duchamp confirmed this aspect of the game when he said “I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” And it’s true that we can’t ignore the creative element of chess, even though we must analyze this in contrast to the fundamental goal of winning the match.

On the blog of Julian Gallo (great site, written in spanish), I’ve found a beautiful definition of Chess written by Stefan Zweig:

(…) the only game that belongs to all peoples and all ages; of which none knows the divinity that bestowed it on the world, to slay boredom, to sharpen the senses, to exhilarate the spirit. One searches for its beginning and for its end. Children can learn its simple rules, duffers succumb to its temptation, yet within this immutable tight square it creates a particular species of master not to be compared with any other – persons destined for chess alone, specific geniuses in whom vision, patience, and technique operative through a distribution no less precisely ordained than in mathematicians, poets, composers, but merely used on a different level.

You might remember Gary Kasparov for his mythological match against IBM’s Deep Blue. One thing that has always fascinated me about that historical moment of gaming, is the claim Kasparov made saying that psychological tactics were applied by IBM to make him play under big pressure and hence, let the big machine win.

Apparently, the whole Deep Blue game worked as a great publicity stunt for IBM and when they won the rematch, the company’s stock went way too high on Wall Street.

Sometimes, games aren’t just a game.

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10 Responses

  1. isn’t it then likely to say : when an act of doing something involves deep passion by the doer, the doer will almost certainly claim the act as art? and if agreed by a highly suggestive number of doers, will the act be officially almost certainly acclaimed as art?

  2. Yeah, asbsolutely.. why not? Art isn’t such an important adjective afterall. That something is art, it doesn’t mean it’s good, heavenly or anything… it just means it’s not made with commercial purposes and it has intrinsic value.

  3. Santi, you should look at this:
    http://tale-of-tales.com/blog/2008/03/21/we-made-a-new-game/
    Read the ideals and objectives of the guys of these indie game studio 😉 really interesting

  4. First time visitor. I think I’ll be coming here often.
    Chess is described by many players as an Art form. On the one hand there is a great deal of artistic work invested in the creation of Chess Sets, produced by plastic artists such as sculptors, ceramists, glass designers or carpenters. It is wonderful to see how so many gifted artists approached the task of building an original Chess table and its Pieces, making use of contemporary art currents and tendencies.

    On the other hand we have the game which is played on them, a symbiosis of strategy, anticipation, reason and chaos. In essence, Chess is a table game containing a definite set of rules and a limited amount of variables which the skilled player is able to predict, hence the competitive nature of the game: player versus player. When the player reaches an advanced level of game knowledge, of the preconceived tactics and movements, he is likely to consider it an Art, as mathematicians also claim there is art in the creation of formulas and complex equations. It is a superior level of human thought and reasoning. Chess is a game created to the human mind’s dimension, for its enjoyment and genius.

    The issue with Deeper Blue, however, is more dubious. On the first hand the creation of a computer system that was able to play against a superior player, in this case Kasparov, providing strange and ambiguous signs of human traits such as passion. On the late 18th century there was a similar device, long before the silicon era, which became known as ‘The Turk’. This automaton toured around Europe and was able to win matches against celebrities, chess enthusiasts such as Napoleon as well as many others. This attraction was fascinating and intriguing: how could an automaton operated by cogs and wheels play the chess game, let alone win great players? Today it is almost certain the original plans for this machine included a small space below the table where a small person could hide and dictate the next moves. After all, the ‘Turk’ was never claimed to be invincible.

    In the documentary ‘Game Over’, the same principle is suggested. Was in fact Deep Blue and Deeper Blue (the second version which actually defeated Kasparov) a marvel of technology or just another ‘Turk’, a seemingly autonomous mechanical system which was being aided on the backstage by a group of chess experts trying to defeat Kasparov? Unfortunately, there is no valid way of telling as the system was destroyed and there is basically nothing left of it. No further attempt to create another system of this kind was done by the creator IBM.

    What remains is the vivid image of the Man defeat by the hand of the Computer. For this reason I cannot hold this example as relevant to the world of videogame, unless it is interpreted as a cautionary tale. After decades of videogame playing I’m happy to say that this medium is not about the supremacy of computer processing; it is about the player blending with computer for a shared experience. Games and gaming systems are conceived for the player’s pleasure, not for his personal frustration or as an example of the triumph of technology over Humanity.

  5. Hey nice site. Anyways chess tips. To become good one must learn from ones one mistakes And successes. Chess analysis pro 7000 I found very useful in helping my chess development. I’d recommend it. Next keep the pressure on. And learn to hold the tension on the board instead of running out of tension with no advantage gained.

  6. Perhaps I can interest you and your readers in our Chess in Art series?

  7. […] Chess as Art « Games Are Art […]

  8. What an awesome post, great reading and great video, you can really see that kasparov is desperate against deep blue. Although I am a lousy chess player I can appreciate the beauty of the game, the strategy and thinking it requires are a true test to the players.

  9. […] Chess as Art « Games Are Art […]

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