Last weekend my company held it’s Christmas party in Edmonton at the Cree River Resort and Casino. There happened to be a kid’s chess tournament going on that Sunday at the Edmonton Chess Club and I figured my two kids would enjoy playing in it so I signed them up. They had always wanted to play in other tournaments in Edmonton and sometimes last year we specifically drove into Edmonton for some of these junior tournaments. I was surprised when they both told me that they didn’t want to play chess anymore and that chess was for nerds! ........Ouch. I didn’t want to push them into the tournament, so we spent the afternoon wandering around the mall and then driving home.
How did chess get such a bad rap? Two years ago they wanted to play in tournaments all the time and they did very well. My daughter had a scholastic rating that put her in the top 10 in the country for girls in grade 4 and my son came second for grade 2 at the Alberta Provincial Chess Challenge. Now they don’t want to play. I know this is partly because they didn’t do so well in their last tournament, which was the 2008 Alberta Chess Challenge. My boy was very sick that day and was so drugged up on cold medicine he couldn’t stay awake between rounds, and my daughter got very discouraged after a loss and played badly. A bad result can be very discouraging, I know it is for me, but this is not the only reason for their change in attitude. I think the main reason is the way our society puts down intellectual endeavours. Children pick up on this very quickly. It’s not that they don’t want to play chess, it’s that they don’t want their friends to know they play chess. Chess has been branded with the nerd label and apparently being good at chess gives you zero social status.
Being good at sports on the other hand is cool, but I guess this has always been the case. I can remember growing up my two older brothers were both gifted athletes and received the rewards and accolades that come with that, such as popularity and an attractive status to the opposite sex. I loved sports just as much, but being only average athletically; I never received the same rewards. Still it seemed to me that being an average hockey player was better than being a good chess player and if someone asked me what I did for fun I would list the sports I played rather than chess. This attitude is still engrained in me. Recently when I was going to Medicine Hat for a tournament and I was asked at work what I was doing for the weekend, I thought twice before answering. Do I really want these people to know I play chess? They might think I’m a strange, geeky, weird nerd - if they haven’t figured that out already. I reasoned that we are all grown-ups here, and I shouldn’t have these childish fears, so I answered truthfully and said that I was playing in a chess tournament. I could tell by their expressions and their questions that they couldn’t understand why someone would want to do that. If I had said that I was going to a curling bonspiel I know I wouldn’t have got the same reaction.
Maybe the nerd label will one day be removed from chess. I know when I was younger computers were associated with “nerds” but today every kid wants a computer. I think intellectual achievements are just as important as athletic ones but I know that society does not agree with me yet so I will continue to encourage athletic activities for my kids and I will try to convince them to play chess again, but it might be a losing battle.