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Football and chess

In an article yesterday in the Game section of The Times, Matthew Syed defended footballers from the accusation of being thick and draws a comparison with chess. He says that the same intelligence of pattern recognition – choosing the right option – is common to both. Developing the chess argument he cited Gary Kasparov’s defeat by the computer Deep Blue. Leaving aside the conspiracy theory that the computer had a human inside and that Fritz, a modern computer frequently used for the best line, is the better comparison, it is simply not true that Kasparov has to analyse 2 or 3 options and the computer 200 million. A chess match is like a family tree: you have to explore lines down several generations and the capacity so to do separates the grandmaster from the journeyman. One grandmaster could think 20 moves ahead to see a minor tactical advantage .

I  can see a comparison between chess and boxing. Both are not dependent on outside factors : dice, the hand of cards dealt, rackets or machinery, and 2 contestants start on level terms. Syed argues that as football has 22 men and chess 16 pieces there are actually more options in soccer but again not so. He already admits the computer has 200 million options and the amount of potential moves exceed the atoms in the universe. To me the more interesting proposition is intelligence on the field of play to intelligence (or lack of it) off it. Here there are some grounds for comparison. Bobby Fischer is widely regarded as a genius on the chess board but once off it a deeply flawed human being. Paul Gascoigne is much the same. Beyond this negative, I cannot see  that any comparison between the two games assist the argument that footballers are thick or not.

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About Jakub Celakovsky

An irregular club player without pretensions to greatness, Jakub Celakovsky is a student of chess and has contributed articles to many publications on the subject over the years. He came to Britain with his parents in 1981 and runs a pub on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, where he lives with his wife and two children. More Posts