The Catholic Gentleman: Chess

Chess

Every Catholic Gentleman should have at least a cursory knowledge of chess.  The game demands a certain amount of patience, prudence, and restraint, virtues every Catholic man should work to achieve. Popes Leo XIII, Gregory VI, Innocent III, Leo X, John Paul I, and John Paul II are just a few of the noted Church figures reportedly proficient in chess.

St. Gennadius, the first Catholic saint associated with the game, used the game to help his contemplative concentration.  He was so exceptional at chess that his pieces were linked to various miracles in folk lore and have been preserved since his death in 936 A.D.   Father Rodrigo Lopez de Segura, a Franciscan, is considered by many to be the first unofficial world champion in chess, and his authoritative book on modern chess is still useful to today’s players.  Chess champion Bobby Fischer, who died in 2008, requested a Catholic burial shortly before his death, leading many to believe that he secretly converted to the Faith in his later years.

Chess is a fascinating game for the Catholic Gentleman because it is one of the rare intellectual games which involves zero luck.  There are no dies, cards, or wheels to distract from the fact that this is a game which pits one man’s whit and intellect squarely against another’s.  Even though there are several persuasive studies which show that most players use board recognition and memorization much more than was previously recognized, how good a man’s chess game is remains unquestionably a combination of practice and intellect.  It is an intensely manly and competitive game which can also be enjoyed over a fine glass of scotch.

One of the reasons I enjoy playing chess against my dad when I see him is because it gives us a chance to talk.  Faster games which require frequent communication about the game itself often impede the flow of conversation and prevent topics which require more than two or three minutes to discuss.  My dad and I can play a chess game for thirty or forty minutes before someone interrupts the conversation with “check” or “are you going to move at some point today?”

Chess is a game which takes a significant amount of patience and commitment to learn.  The game could be learned at a fairly basic level if one were to devote two hours a day to its study for a period of two or three months.  The game itself is not complex.  All the pieces move in an orderly and predictable fashion, with shockingly few rules for a game that has been widely played for over a thousand years.  Similarly, most basic “openings,” or common patterns of the first five or six moves memorized by most chess players, are not difficult to pick up.  The steepest part of the learning curve will be board recognition, or the ability to look at the board and project what moves an opponent will likely attempt over the course of three or four turns. Recognizing which pieces are vulnerable and when to attack is a skill which simply takes time to learn.

Chess; a game wholly worthy of the Catholic Gentleman.

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