Chess in cyber space: a smart move?
July 25, 2014 11:40 am
By Gillian Tett

Parents are tapping the most brilliant chess brains in India, Bulgaria and Moscow to deliver online tutorials for their offspring via Skype

Afew months ago, on a glorious summer’s day in New York, I travelled to a stuffy school hall and spent many hours watching one of my daughters take part in her first chess tournament.

It was instructive on several levels. For one thing, my daughter was the only girl on her eight-person team, and in a stark minority in the hall. Second, she was also one of the few children who did not have a Chinese, Indian or Slavic surname. Never mind the fact that, in theory, chess should be one of the most gender- and culture-blind games in the world – like so many of the so-called “stem” subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), this is a place where ethnic and gender cultural patterns remain rife.

But the third fascinating thing about kiddy chess – like the adult variety – is how it is being subtly overturned by technological change. Indeed, if you want to get a sense of how computing power is remaking our 21st-century economy, the trends with pawns, knights and kings are distinctly revealing.

Think about it. One hundred years ago, if two people wanted to engage in a chess match, they needed to meet face-to-face in a room, library, garden or so on. So, too, if anybody wanted to watch others compete in a chess tournament or get lessons. Chess was a real-world, human game.

Some of that “real-world” experience survives: hence the fact that in the US and elsewhere, children still congregate for hours in stuffy school halls, while their parents pace the corridors outside, drinking bad coffee and fiddling with their iPads. (Chess, I have discovered, is not a great spectator sport. Not only does it take hours, but the proud parents are not often allowed near the board.)

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