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Friday 2nd Feb, 2002, 7.10am

Great Britain's women's curling team had just won gold at the Winter Olympics.
The BBC had the TV rights and, because over the previous few years they gradually lost the rights to show the more interesting sports, they are in breathless hype mode over the whole dismal ice-fest (12 different ways to slide).
Suddenly, Britain has their first gold medal for 18 years and it's VE-day all over again.
A fact list appears, with curling stones used as bullet points.
The last point is "curling has been described as chess on ice".
Pawnpusher chokes on his coffee.

Four days later, The Steve Wright Show, BBC Radio 2

A quiz game contestant says she plays croquet.
The presenter asks her to explain how croquet works.
The contestant says, "well, it's a bit like chess on grass..."
Pawnpusher snaps his pen and thinks "enough!"

What is it with these chess comparisons? These sports are clearly nothing like chess.

I decided to do a survey of the use of chess metaphors, and was stunned by how many unlikely things are compared to chess...

Croquet - http://hometown.aol.com/croquetala/PBPArticle.html
"Everybody says it's chess on grass, and that's not a bad comparison," Alman says. "And like chess, you may think you're doing well -- based on your skill and your estimation of what your opponent will and can do -- but you have to rethink the whole thing, every turn. You can't get stuck in a pattern. It's a different game, every turn."

Golf - http://www.webgolfer.com/may01/j_danials.html
"He considers it a challenge to play tough courses, because it pits him against the designer. "It's like chess on grass," he said. "Once you start to play well, then you're out there playing Pete Dye or Jack Nicklaus."

Football - http://www.mg.co.za/mg/news/99apr2/30apr-soccer.html
"TOP-CLASS international football is chess on grass, a battle of brains as much as brawn with a credo that stresses the importance of making no mistakes while forcing your opponent into them."
- it is also used regularly by match commentators, usually when 2 evenly balanced top sides have been playing for at least 20 minutes with no goals or scoring chances. It comes across a bit like a plea to bored viewers not to switch over.
- http://www.blakjak.demon.co.uk/soccer.htm
"Football today, it's like a game of chess. It's all about money."

Cricket - http://www.do-it.co.uk/cricket.htm
"Quirky it may be but cricket does make for a sort of outdoor chess on grass at times: is that a good thing?"

- http://pages.zoom.co.uk/neil.holmes/UKinsight/uk003.html
"Two teams of eleven bat for two innings each, and the team with the highest number of runs wins. Such simplicity belies complex strategies for dismissing opponents and restricting their scoring opportunities, so much so that cricket has been labelled 'chess on grass' (and to those poor souls who can not grasp the complexities of either game, just about as exciting)."
- http://www.wwisc.freeserve.co.uk/Allen.htm

"'Chess on Grass' that's cricket, it's all about tactics."

Curling - http://s-kurukuru.jst.go.jp/room/sp/sports_e/s02_sld/d1_curl/c10_tx.htm
"Since curling takes strategy--cleverness--as well as physical strength it is sometimes called "Chess on Ice."" [note: also includes a "chess on ice" illustration!]
- http://www.wisinfo.com/newsherald/mnhsports/283185815936188.shtml
""When you play chess you have to have strategy and make your moves accordingly. It's the same with (curling)," said Besler."

Rugby - http://www.rugby365.com/stories/classic_rugby/CR_000713_18058.shtml
"Youíre having to think all the time and itís becoming a bit like a game of chess"
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport/hi/english/rugby_league/world_cup_2000/group_4/newsid_996000/996336.stm
"The first 25 minutes of any match like that are like a game of chess, with one team trying to find out the other's weaknesses."

Boxing - http://www.smh.com.au/atlanta/articles/lhosking.html
"Boxers are always thinking about what move they're going to make. It's just like a game of chess, you have to outsmart the other bloke. You have to anticipate what he's going to do and react quickly."

Tennis - http://www.cliffrichardtennis.org/get_into_tennis/rules.htm
"Tennis is like a game of chess, with limitless different approaches"

Running - http://www.risnews.com/11a_study/pursuing_excellence_continually.htm
"Running is like a game of chess. Itís a mental game of outwitting the part of your brain that tells you to stop; that enough is enough; the part that gives your ego a good kick in the rear to keep going; and the part that tells you to push yourself beyond one more step."

Yacht Racing - http://www.time.com/time/magazine/intl/article/0,9171,1107991018-33644,00.html
"It's like a game of chess played in Formula One cars by two rugby teams" - whoah! my head hurts.

Sword Fighting (Kenjutsu) - http://www.kobushikai.org/galleria/g6.html
"Old style sword-fighting (kenjutsu) is sometimes like a game of chess. Game of sudden shifts, avoidance and counterstrokes from unexpected angles."

American Football - http://badger.ussu.info/sports/20011114-01.shtml
"American football is like a game of chess, however the same could be said about many tactical sports."

Formula 1 - http://www.formula1.com/news/headlines00/preseason/s1404.html
"Formula1 is a bit like a game of chess. While everyone else is going away to make new bits if car and engine do you go away and think 'How can we play the game more cleverly'?"

Rock Climbing - http://www.pub.umich.edu/daily/1998/apr/04-02-98/arts/arts6.html
""mentally, it's like a game of chess." He said climbers must pick their route before they climb and imagine in their minds exactly how they are going to do it."

Paintball - http://paintball-extreme.virtualave.net/firstday.html
"Like a game of chess, good players know that paintball is all about strategy"
- http://www.actionpursuitgames.com/articles/whatispb1.html
"Like a game of chess, being able to think quickly and decisively is what makes you a star."

Pokemon - http://www.anzwers.org/free/pokemonelite/sgmindmaster.html
"Believe it or not, but Pokemon the Card Game is like a game of chess. Pokemon is a bit more unpredictable, but the same fundamentals are still there."

Lightsabre Fighting (!) - http://www.starwars.com/episode-i/video/lynne/lynne06.html
"I wrote them very much like a game of chess played at a thousand miles an hour. And every single move is check"

Love - http://www.mrbean.net.au/~johnvmc58/McIlwain/agiftof.htm
"Love is like a game of chess. There are so many moves we can make, but making the right move at the right time is the skill in the game of chess. Likewise, in the game of love."
- http://personal.bellsouth.net/atl/m/m/mmolenda/poetry/Love_Can.htm
"Love is like a game of chess, You make a move and wait, See what happens next, It's all a matter of fate." - yup, sounds just like one of my games!

Life - http://www.mega-sp.si/news/category_news.asp?IDCategory=21
"Life is like a game of chess, So complex, it is one big mess. There is always more and no less, Attack or defend - that's chess."
- http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/b/bg/
"Life is like a game of chess. Every move you make has a consequence. If you make the right moves, you'll make it, but if you make the wrong moves, you get a 'check-mate' and you could lose."
- http://www.ceebd.co.uk/ceeed/un/uk/warnbmba.htm
"Life is like a game of chess. There are winners and losers. The Warnborough MBA aims to provide the necessary skills to win on the global chessboards.....Don't be a pawn, be a player and win - it's your move."
- http://www.ite.edu.sg/~ctweb/orientation.htm
"Life is like a game of chess. We make one move and we end somewhere."
- http://www.teenink.com/Past/1996/7368.html
"My mom once said to me, right before she died, "Life is like a game of chess; it's hard, it's confusing, it's long, but never drop your king and give up." Well, I feel like my king has fallen, and I'm an innocent, little pawn looking for a leader."
- http://www.counseling.org/CTOnline/archives/ct0798/chess.htm
"Chess is not merely an idle amusement ... life is a kind of chess." Benjamin Franklin, from Chess Tactics by John A. Bain. (thanks to Steve Luck)

Marriage - www.geocities.com/siliconvalley/lab/7378/epigrams.htm
"Chess is like marriage. You cannot have a mate without a check." - Brian Wood.

Weather Forecasting - http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2001/2001-12-11-weatherderivatives.htm
"Industry still has no control over the weather. But dealing with it is being seen as less a game of chance and more like a game of chess that revolves around probabilities and tactics."

The War on Terrorism - http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/113001/opi_7959726.html
"The war on terrorism is like a game of chess, with each "piece" moving in its own unique way for the common good. Chess is a slow, deliberate game. So is the war on terrorism."

Making a Marillion Album - http://www.marillion.com/band/other/meegan_brave.html
"It was a bit like a game of chess you would always have to have the complete album in your head no matter which section we were working on."

The Physics of Solid Matter - http://www.ph.bham.ac.uk/physics/admissions/courses/course_phys.html
"The physics of solid matter is like a game of chess: we know the basic rules of how the pieces interact, but we can still be amazed at the resulting complex patterns and dynamics."

Selling Life Insurance - http://www.insuranceiq.com/columns/closer/closer20011224.asp
"In effect selling Life Insurance is much like a game of Chess: Beginning Game (prospecting to find clientsí needs), the Presentation, and then the Close."

Painting - http://www.puckergallery.com/BK105_enl.html
"Painting is like a game of chess" Samuel Bak once told me; "you have to foresee things, but you can't foresee everything."

Hair Restoration - http://www.midwestrealhair.com/hair.html
"Hair restoration is like a game of chess, you are always thinking of the third and fourth move, not just what you need to do now."

Advertising - http://www.successprofessor.com/scientific_advertising/scientific_advertising12.html
"Advertising is much like war, minus the venom. Or much, if you prefer, like a game of chess. We are usually out to capture others' citadels or garner others' trade."

The World - http://www.johnyam.com/light003.html
"The world is like a game of chess - it's unpredictable."

etc, etc

Now, if these comparisons really work, they should also work in reverse.
How often do you hear a game of chess being described as "just like curling" or "just like hair restoration"?
Thought so.

What these analogies do tell us is something about the public perception of chess.
It seems that chess is usually invoked,

  1. when the subject involves tactics or strategy
  2. to suggest deep thought is involved, or mental sparring
  3. to suggest a subject is boring or extremely drawn out

Whatever the reason, I'm sick of hearing these weak, lazy and pointless comparisons. So I'm starting a group called the CMLO - Chess Metaphor Liberation Organisation. The aim is to discourage the inappropriate use of chess metaphors by naming and shaming the perpetrators, and emailing each one asking them to stop it, now!

If this kind of thing annoys you too, and you want to do something about it, here's what to do.

When you see or hear chess being lazily used to describe or comment on something totally unrelated:

1 . click for a standard CMLO email [this may not work, or you may only get part of the message due to a bug in Outlook Express, so here it is as a text file, and here it is in html - just remember to put "CMLO - notification" as the subject and BCC the email to [email protected]]

2. enter the email address of the perpetrator

3. enter the 'crime' details in the space indicated and send it.

This email will also automatically be carbon copied to Pawnpusher, and the most entertaining or annoying ones will appear here.

Happy hunting, comrades!



Comrade Steve Luck was first out of the traps, emailing in these glittering turds...

Phlebotomy - http://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/contractors/trials/bcinternational/index.html#bcinternational4
"Phlebotomy in France is like Chess: To be successful, you must anticipate several moves in advance."

Titan (a "Fantasy Monster Slugathon") - http://www.pyro.net/~bankler/rev_titan.html
"This is the worst description of a game I've ever given. Titan is like Chess. But: You roll dice to move your pieces You can move some or all of the pieces each turn The board isn't simply a checkerboard, it's a weird creation, where each square has terrain favorable to certain pieces and pointing off in certain directions Each capture isn't a simply move, each capture has a sub-game of backgammon to resolve it. There. That should offend the chess purists. Titan isn't really like chess, but that's good enough."

Negotiating - http://www.bizoffice.com/library/files/negotiate_win.txt
"Learning how to negotiate removes pressure, stress and friction from your life. This is something internationally known negotiator Roger Dawson emphasizes on the subject of negotiations. You see, negotiating is like chess."

Clay Court Tennis - http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport/low/english/funny_old_game/newsid_1369000/1369327.stm
"And I'm fed up of so-called sports fans telling me that clay court tennis is like chess. I agree! And who'd want to sit in the baking sun watching Kasparov beat... another good chess player."

Analog Circuit Design - http://madvlsi.ece.cornell.edu/quips.html
"Analog circuit design is like chessójust because you know how the pieces move doesnít mean you know how to play the game."

Jazz - http://www.patrickhazell.com/School%20Programs.html
""Blues is like checkers and Jazz is like chess," Hazell said trying to explain the difference between jazz and blues."

Lennox Lewis boxing - http://coxscorner.tripod.com/lewisrah.html
"Lewis is like chess champion who can command the ring with the same consummate skill as Bobby Fischer had over the chessboard, or likewise he is also capable of attacking with the intense ferocity of a Gary Kasparov dominating his opponents in the opening, through the middle-game and finishing them with a thunderous combination."

Tennis - http://www.timberhilltennis.com/fromthepro/pro_200008.html
"Tennis is like chess. It takes the same kind of patience to be a winner. In many sports, impulsiveness and aggression are attributes. Not so with this one. In tennis the player is rewarded if he can keep his cool, sit back, and wait for the big opportunity. The guy who canít wait to hit winners is usually punished in defeat."

Sustainable Resource Management - http://www.esb.utexas.edu/drnrm/ClassTopics/general/CourseDetail.htm
"Sustainable is like chess without "checkmate." Sustainable is a question and not an answer. When there are no choices, the game is over, and cultural extinction is the result."

Fighting HIV - http://www.the-scientist.com/yr2001/mar/hollon_p1_010305.html (requires registration)
"a physician's battle to shut down HIV replication is like chess against an opponent too strong to be driven from the board"

ISA Investing - The Times, money section, Saturday March 23rd, 2002
"'Like a chess grand master Isa investors should not be rushed into a hasty move despite the approaching deadline"

He also points out http://www.jlevitt.dircon.co.uk/snooker.html, where new honorary life member GM Jon Levitt attacks one impressively stupid chess metaphor with a shovel.

Nice work Steve! Welcome to the CMLO.


Tom Tann writes...

"this may not be what you are looking for, but in american football commentary the term "chessmatch" has become cliche. It is used to describe a game between closely matched teams. (i.e. low scoring and dull). Also, recently a comedian named Dennis Miller was added to the talking heads on 'Monday Night Football' (a very popular TV show). He has recieved much criticism for his commentary which often makes use of vocabulary beyond the scope of the typical viewer ( as well as his fellow commentators ). One night I heard Dennis quip that a certain quarterback reads defenses like "Kasparov reads a Najdorf Sicilian". I thought this was brilliant. Using the chess cliche created by his cohorts to expose them as the cretins they are. I think the response was something like "duh?". Bravo Dennis."

thanks Tom, great example of satire from Dennis Miller. Wish we had someone like him over here to keep our mind-numbing soccer commentators on their toes.

Stuart Wallace has joined the fold, nailing this piece of gibberish from the Daily Telegraph newspaper (uk)...

One of our foot-soldiers spotted your use of chess to describe football.

The exact quote is: 'They take risks (in Cole's case, sometimes too many),
they break free, they make things happen in the international chess marathon
of formations and mutual negation.'

It appeared Paul Hayward's article on Joe Cole in the Sport section on
Wednesday May 15th, 2002.

I would like to explain more fully as to why Paul's use of a chess metaphor
is inappropriate on this occasion, but unfortunately I do not know what 'an
international chess marathon of formations and negations' is. Does it come
with custard?

Comrade Mark Howitt writes...

"Another intersting snippet from the Daily Telegraph was when Sol Campbell was deemed "the England squad's resident Kasparov" upon news that he'd brought a chess set with him to the World Cup. However the modest potential World Champion declared "We haven't got a clock! We aren't very good!"

Death to the chess hacks :)!"

Comrade Graham Moore sent in this long list of examples...

Here is an extract from the US Chess Federation website, comparing chess with politics: "Politics, like chess, is often difficult to define. There can be elements of art, science, sport, and even war. Great politicians from Benjamin Franklin to Winston Churchill have often used chess as a metaphor for their own activities. If the art of politics is "to bring change without war," and the art of diplomacy is "to reveal the truth without having to speak it," what are chess politicians like? Or chess diplomats?
Well, whatever the answer is, every organization needs leadership, a means of effecting change, and a certain diplomacy." This was taken from the following webpage:


The following website looks at "A Creative, Aesthetic, and Feminist Approach to the Life Lessons Learned by Students Studying Chess as an Integral Part of the School Curriculum -and as a Non-school Educational Experience". Wow!
Here is the obligatory quote: "Imagine that chess is like music. One could compare the rules for the way the pieces move to the notes written on a sheet of music. The practical knowledge of these rules can be seen as understanding as much about chess as knowing the name of each individual note on the page without ever hearing them played by a musical instrument. The absence of a sense of the artistry of chess in the context of a game, is like not understanding that individual notes combine in harmonies and rhythms to form music."


Did you know that in 1624 Thomas Middleton wrote a play called 'A Game of Chess'? No? Well apparently this 'notorious' play "provoked a scandal when it appeared in 1624 London by veiling its satire of people in high places a little too thinly behind a metaphor of chess play. Its nine performances were so popular that the government closed The Globe Theatre".
Sounds a little like the musical 'Chess', doesn't it? I wonder if there is an element of plagiarism there?


This guy's article is about exploring metaphors used in politics so the following quote is not used in a glib way as so many, many others are: "It has long been noted that we understand war as a competitive game like chess, or as a sport, like football or boxing. It is a metaphor in which there is a clear winner and loser, and a clear end to the game. The metaphor highlights strategic thinking, team work, preparedness, the spectators in the world arena, the glory of winning and the shame of defeat. This metaphor is taken very seriously. There is a long tradition in the West of training military officers in team sports and chess."


Darre, Picasso and Matisse: Friends or Rival? Hmm, an interesting one, no?
Here is Yve-Alain Bois' explanation of their relationship: "Chess is a very interesting metaphor for explaining the relationship between two artists like Matisse and Picasso. They needed the challenge of an adversary in order to become better themselves. They knew it." Ah, but could they play chess, huh?


I've been dipping into the archives of the official Liverpool Football Club website:- http://liverpoolfc.tv - and in particular the fans' match reports. It quickly became apparent that the chess metaphor is used quite a lot by these 'amateur' writers. It also became quickly apparent that these fans a) can't write and b) know nothing about chess. Check out these examples (there's a lot more where they came from!):

"The fans simply had football's version of outdoor chess to curse as the ball was shifted sidewards, forwards (a bit), backwards, sidewards, backwards and so on in the opening sparring."


"The vast Cardiff pitch played host to a chess match for the majority of normal time as Liverpool sat deep but created the better openings and Birmingham worked hard without illuminating the occasion."


"Liverpool came into this game in an unusual position, having to go for the outright win. Tactically it would be interesting whether Liverpool would go for all out attack throwing caution to the wind, or the cattenachio chess game." Cattenachio chess game?


"Heeding manager Gérard Houllier`s pre-match caution, Liverpool gave their visitors more respect than they merited in the first half-hour, which was more like a chess match than a football match. But once the Merseysiders realised Porto had little imagination going forward they began to express themselves to telling effect."


"As in 1984 and 2000 Roma were unable to beat the Reds. It looked like a chess game, with both teams fearing each other's ability to wait and counter attack."


I hope you enjoyed these examples, particularly "football's version of outdoor chess" and, of course "cattenachio chess game" (I've checked this word on a number of online dictionaries - including Italian - and it doesn't exist! However, working in a multi-lingual call centre, as I do, I asked an Italian-speaker friend of mine if he knew what he was talking about. Apparently, the word is cattenaccio and it means defensive tactics! It is used in Italian football (and chess?) circles all the time. Interestingly, it also translates as jalopy or old bus!).

A batch from comrade Dan Scoones...

SpiritWars is just like chess, except that it's a little different.


Bobby Fischer once said chess is like basketball - you keep passing the ball back and forth until you find an opening. Trung says fencing is also a lot like chess, because it's one on one - your opponent makes a move and then you have to defend yourself.


Basketball is like Chess&


Hockey Its like chess, only it's played careening at high speed on thin metal blades.


"That team that went over to Canada in 1972 were pure Soviet players," he says. "They had been taught to see hockey as a game of gentlemanly manoeuvres, almost like chess on ice.


Sex is like chess. Actually, sex is nothing like chess. If you think sex is like chess then you've been playing too much chess. But relationships now there's something that requires as much patience, forethought and stamina as chess. If you want to check your mate, play wisely.


Home Time Trouble Tournament Player Types Scumbag Tricks A Guide To Axa-Speak Scotch Gambit The Grob, The Bad & The Ugly Amazing & Untrue Facts T-Shirts King's Gambit 3.Bc4 Pipe & Slippers Notes from a small tournament Chess Accessories Links The Nursery chess metaphor liberation organization chess lookalikes chess clubs in the British Isles Who's The Greatest? Beast-o-Meter