Chess: Is it art, sport, or science?

Bobby Fischer got closer to chess than anybody before or after him, and he found something at the center, at the heart of chess.  He found beauty, harmony, and art. To the creative mind, a chess board is like a canvas where the pieces are an instrument for expression.

Chess is art because the relationship between the pieces is able to produce a harmony that can be likened to a beautiful symphony or painting.  Chess is sport because it is competition that is not purely mental but physical, emotional, and psychological as well.  Chess is science because it can be studied and theorized, and truths can be discerned from it. 

A beautiful masterpiece of a chess game, with a logical start to finish, is a work of art in the eyes of chess enthusiasts. There is an intellectual pleasure attained from playing over a masterpiece, as well as an aesthetic quality to the astute chess player’s eye.

Vassily Smyslov, the seventh World Champion of Chess, was not a one-dimensional individual. Smyslov’s second passion was music and he was an aspiring opera singer in his youth. He found many correlations between chess and music.  Smyslov even described the inter-relationship and communication between the pieces as harmonic. He found that what ties the pieces together into harmony is pure logic.

There are different forms of chess, just like there are different forms of basketball. A casual one-on-one game between friends where the outcome does not matter can hardly be described as serious competition. Take the example of a chess game played between two novices for fun and you can see the similarities. For something to be defined as a “sport” there needs to be a competitive element, as well as a physical.

Serious chess games, be it in prize tournaments, college chess matches, or organized chess leagues, are quite intense. They definitely measure up to the “competitive” element of a sport.

It has also been said that one burns almost as many calories playing a serious game of chess as one does while playing a “real sport” such as basketball, baseball, or football. There is something going on in the brain, possibly the metabolic processes that cause the body to burn calories. Another word for calorie is energy. A lot of energy is being expended while one plays serious chess. This proves that chess is very much physical, and therefore is a sport.

What physical skill is required to move pieces? The real skill lies in shooting a basketball well, just like it lies in playing chess well (or playing good moves). There is a real skill involved, and that is why chess is often described as a game where “it’s easy to learn, but difficult to master.”

Chess is a game with many layers. It can be examined and theorems are formulated on what is the best play in certain types of positions. Certain truths can be found in chess; therefore, chess is science.

What is Chess? Is it art, sport, or science? This is a difficult riddle to solve. The answer has been debated for decades, if not centuries.

Chess is a complex game that cannot be easily categorized. Therefore, it must be a combination of all three: Art, Sport, and Science.