Sunday, 29 July 2007

Ban the chess simile!

I'm an easy-going kind of guy. It usually takes a lot to upset or annoy me. For instance, my 12 year old washing machine has just broken - a few weeks before I am due to move house. I managed to brush it off with a shrug and a laugh (it helps that my very nice mother-in-law has offered to wash my clothes).

There is, however, one thing which is guaranteed to get my goat and quickly have me foaming at the mouth like a lunatic: People using chess as a simile for totally inappropriate things.

Don't know what I mean? A few examples from a quick Google search should help (I'm not making these up).

* Marketing is like a game of chess
* An appellate brief is like a game of chess
* Writing is like a game of chess
* Beating hackers is like a game of chess
* Relationships are like a game of chess
* Federation Cup Tennis lineups are like a game of chess
* Contemporary Warfare is like a game of chess
* Fighting Cancer is like a game of chess
* The Soccer U-20 World Cup is like a game of chess
* Californian politics is like a game of chess
* 'Cold Reading' by psychics is like a game of chess
* Fencing is like a game of chess
* Search Engine Optimisation is like a game of chess

Argggggggh! None of those things are like a game of chess - and that's just a small sample of some of bizarre things that people compare to chess. Why do people who wouldn't know a rook from a bishop think they understand chess well enough to compare it to something else?

It seems that chess is usually used in this way to indicate something that is strategically complex and requires careful thought. Fair enough, but that doesn't make any of them actually like chess, does it?

This sort of lazy thinking drives me crazy, and I reserve special scorn for those who have some experience of chess and yet STILL use chess as a simile - you know who you are. I say it's time to take a stand - ban the chess simile now!

End of Rant. Normal service will be resumed in my next blog post!


Loomis said...

I also dislike the chess analogy, but for a more practical reason -- they mess up my google alerts!

Blue Devil Knight said...

I appreciate any reference to chess in the popular press. You will miss them when they start saying "International diplomacy is like a game of Soduku."

An analogy doesn't have to have everything, or even much, in common to be apt. If there is heavy thinking going on, especially calculating "moves" (i.e., actions) far into the future, with some goal in mind, that's good enough for me. And that describes almost a good deal of life's situations.

Ryan Emmett said...

I suppose I should be grateful for any mention of chess, but I'm not. Especially on the occasions that it is ill-informed (which is normal).

It is, of course, even more annoying when chess is used as a simile to suggest that something is boring.

kingscrusher said...

Ryan, I was just wondering if you would like to join the blog-columnist team I am putting together at

We are developing a number of blog-addins for chess blogs, and also a feedback platform for any articles you blog.

I am impressed by your writing skills. If interested, please can you register at and message Kingscrusher.

Best wishes

Ryan Emmett said...

Hey kingscrusher, I'm a sucker for flattery, so I've registered at your site. :)

Let me know the details and I'll see whether I could help.

I should say that I'm about to move house, so I may be without an internet connection for anything up to a few weeks, so I won't be able to respond to you again for a little while!

Dan Scoones said...

What a great article! A few years ago my friends and I had a laugh when a curling match was described by the commentators as "chess on ice." Our rejoinder was, "No, it's more like shuffleboard on ice!"

Jack Le Moine said...

I’m sorry I have to contact you like this but I can find no other way to contact you.

Announcing the first ever Chess Blog Carnival to be held on September 1, 2007 at my blog.

There are now thousands of carnivals on the web. Almost every area of interest has its own carnival. Except for chess blogs. Until now.

The advantages of having a chess carnival: (1) For bloggers – to showcase a sample of their work to the chess community; (2) For readers – to sample content from a wide variety of chess blogs in one place. A Chess Blog Carnival will also encourage quality work. If a blogger knows that his piece is being showcased right alongside pieces from the other blogs, then that serves as a motivator right there.

I don’t mean to be presumptuous in doing this. I just know that instead of complaining about nobody doing something, pointing fingers, and endless discussing, sometimes it’s best that someone just steps up and gets the ball rolling. That’s what I’m doing. If someone else wants to take over, then that would be fine with me. In fact, I need all the help on this that I can get.

First, hosting. The successful carnivals rotate blog hosts from month to month.

Second, publicity. The successful carnivals have a number of blogs who post an announcement on the upcoming carnival on their blogs and keep doing so each month.

Third, participation. Successful carnivals have a large sample of work from their blogging communities. Note here, bloggers don’t do any additional work. A carnival is not for original pieces written just for the carnival. A carnival is for work that has already been posted onto the blog.

I’ll still to contact as many blogs this weekend as possible. I’d like the initial roll-out of this venture to be as high quality as possible. Once people see what a chess carnival can look like, then they can have a better idea of what this is all about. Please help!

Here the link for further information on this:
That page includes a link to submit a post from your blog for inclusion in the carnival.

Jack Le Moine

likesforests said...

Anyone who thinks relationships are like a game of chess--when one side wins, the other side loses--is doomed to remain single!

Ryan Emmett said...

Dan - thanks for your kind comment. "chess on ice" is a great example!

kingscrusher - I tried to register but I don't think I got the confirmation email. Can you send again please?

Jack - interesting. I'll have a look and let you know. If you want to contact me privately then email me at ryan.emmett at


Samuraipawn said...

Just read your contribution to the first Chess Carnival and I remembered the first time I read about how to become a "Chess Tiger". Lol! I loved it and it was probably that book that grounded my love for crazy gambit play.

Keep up the good work!


Aleph said...

"Broadcast communication idiots, since the days of audio-over commentary, have continually made incorrect comparisons to ANYTHING resembling a chess match. This cliche' attempt to enhance the intelligence factor of a situation has got to calm down. There is a soft little embolism of sharp, horrible pain forming behind my eyelids from the continual attempt to refer to football playbook strategies or hockey board checking as 'incredibly technical displays of cunning and tactics, much like a grandmaster playing a chess game.' Shut the fuck up, you dimwitted little space monkey. Have you no idea the kind of power you have over a billion drunken fans hearing your play by plays?"

An excerpt from No damn you, it's nothing like a
chess game

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks to Samuraipawn and Aleph for your comments. I've been offline for a while because of a house move, but I should be back blogging regularly soon now.

Btw, Aleph. That's a really acerbic article! And I thought I was annoyed by the chess simile!

Anonymous said...

Well my buddy says chess resembles ( is ) life. And I think if you contemplate enough you will find this to be true. But I think this also requires delving into mankinds past and what we are to strive to be :) Start with the picture of Egyptians playing chess? And then read well the scriptures. And if you truely understand you will be amazed!!