Chess as a sport: 12 mind-changing considerations defines “sport” as “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.” Chess while may share various characteristics of sports such as being skill-based, entertaining, competitive, lack the physicality necessary to be classified as a sport.

Sports are the masses’ way of being able to compete with individuals/groups of people in a more peaceful and organized way. There’s always been a large debate whether chess can be classified as a sport, where very interesting arguments have been presented.

Chess have always been in this blurry line of being a sport and a non-sport at the same time.

That will be the topic of this article, to present the reasons why chess should also be considered as a sport. I will not be ignorant of course and will also spew out the counter-arguments, but ultimately, it is to spark a discussion.

I just want to pick your brains a little bit in order to answer this question, I think this will be an interesting topic overall. The discussions I have found online are also crazy and I will be sharing all of them here. Okay, let’s get started.

Pro-sport vs. Anti sport: Both sides of the “chess as a sport” argument

I will be presenting proponents of both sides arguing chess is a sport and those who do not, giving us a precise view of the general picture. I’m going to regard those agreeing chess is a sport as being “pro-sport”, which usually constitutes avid chess players both for leisure and competitive purposes.

And I will be referring to those who disagree as “anti-sport”, which usually are made up of people that are not that familiar with the game. Of course the classification of populations is just stereotypes, some chess lovers would agree that chess is not a sport and the other way around.

But the word “sport” does it really means the way we think?

Context of sports, chess, and how it relates with one another

The definition of the word “sport” can transform over the context the term is used. In schools, chess is obviously considered a sport since it qualifies within the pretext of being an “extracurricular activity that students participate in outside of class time”.

A more sophisticated stage however would have a different standard since the distinction matter more. In other words, the context of the setting will determine the answer to the query and is, therefore, an important consideration.

Without further ado let’s head straight to the meat of the topic. Here are the reasons why chess may perhaps be considered a sport:

1.) Universality of chess as a sport

The quality of involving or being shared by all people or things in the world or in a particular group.

Pro-sport argument of universality in chess

The quality of something to be recognized on a world-like scale is unique to very specific activities. Such reputation shared by most sports is their ability to be so widespread and known that everyone has an idea about their nature.

Recognition of course is an important factor when qualifying an activity as a sport, where playing hula-hoops, for example, is physically demanding yet is not universal that everyone knows about them (not a sport). But chess is! and the frankly should be enough of a substance to at least have a shot in the sports category.

Anti-Sport argument of universality in chess

There are debatably several other more popular engagements such as walking and sitting which is universal, but not a sport. Walking for example is pretty much known by anybody characteristic-wise, since well, everyone performs it; and is physically centric by the way but still not a sport.

Chess is not even physically engaging at least in the visual context, and would already be considered a sport? In terms of universality, there are more applicable candidates that are sufficiently qualified than chess, at least physically (walking).

2.) The recipe of sportsmanship, chess as a sport

Fair and generous behavior or treatment of others, especially in a sports contest.

Pro-sport argument of sportsmanship in chess

Sportsmanship is one of the prime components of sports-related activities, which can be briefly defined by the proper application of etiquettes within the competition. I mean it is within the name “sportsmanship”, and is a signature that proponents of the sports community prides themselves on.

A level of sportsmanship is greatly practiced in chess! you know why? because of the fast-paced nature the tournaments of the game are formatted. In chess tournaments yes, there is some mix of emotional letdowns but players have to move on! the next game is up and they have to be present, therefore relieving conflicts if there is any.

Anti-sport argument of sportsmanship in chess

The word “sportsmanship” although appears to be derivative from the description of an actual sport, is a completely different thing entirely. Because it deals with the behavior, and although it is prevalent in sports, it can also be observed in other unrelated activities.

Accepting a loss in a poker table, or congratulating a competing individual for winning a spelling bee contest can be accepted as a form of sportsmanship. But does it make poker a sport? What about spelling bee? No, and chess shouldn’t be an exception.

3.) Skill-based component of chess as a sport

The ability to do something well; expertise.

Pro-sport argument of chess when it comes to skill

As with any other activities that can be classified as a sport, chess involves a hard investment of time to learning corresponding skills. It separates the game from other more bland involvement such as walking that we’ve discussed earlier since it takes some talent to perform.

It is not something insignificant that everybody can do well without hard work, therefore earning the distinction. It’s important since without the element of skill, it would just be a normal everyday capability
uncharacteristic of a sport.

Anti-sport argument of chess when it comes to skill

Almost everything that requires performance will have some entry of skill into it and is actually pretty common. Gambling, gardening, academics, cooking, laundry, driving, or even the choosing proper place
to buy clothes have a degree of the skill built into it.

This makes anything skill-related less special and therefore is not be enough of a prerequisite to categorize a sport. It should make all of the engagement mentioned above qualified if that’s the case, perhaps even
more than chess since it’s observably physical.

4.) It has a competitive nature, chess as a sport

The act or process of competing.

Pro-sport argument of chess when it comes to a competitive nature

Almost any instance of the showcase in any sports involves two opposition competing for a single goal, team or individual. It also separates a major variety of everyday tasks that may perhaps be physical, yet has no competition (walking, jumping, skipping, etc.).

Chess has a lot of such components! a game couldn’t be played if there was no opposition to compete with. This may not fully nail chess in the sport category, but is still a good consideration nonetheless (since competition is that much valued).

Anti-Sport argument of chess when it comes to a competitive nature

Again, just to fact that chess is competitive in nature doesn’t make it a sport, after all even “everyday” things can become a sport by this classification. Just take the given example we have presented earlier (walking, jumping, skipping), which are not sports! but can be by this definition (if there’s a competition).

A contest for walking or jumping may seem to qualify for the subject (sport) but they really not, since there are other characteristics they don’t have. Such as a community of people that recognizes them, formal regulations, or even if the activities that require skills, again, the competition is not enough.

5.) Anti-cheat Mechanic (Substance/Digital) of chess as a sport

A system implemented in sports or similar pursuits competitive in nature, to detect malignant possession of digital/substance that would boost performance.

Pro-sport argument of chess when it comes to the anti-cheat mechanic

One similarity of activities that are recognized as being “sports” is having some kind of control for limiting and detecting performance boosters. Such includes substances that improve physical capabilities, but also digital devices where statistics and data can be stored.

Chess does have the same kind of treatment to players, where everyone is obligated to be investigated for irregularities. This is a trace of a system that is aware of the activity’s universality, competitiveness, but also
sportiness, to not get allowed being tainted by underhanded tricks.

Anti-sport argument of chess when it comes to the anti-cheat mechanic

Again, this is just not enough of a reason to warrant inclusion of the “sport” status, since drug abuse is even involved in regular jobs where the tester is important. Testing for anomalies regarding the actors of any activity played competitively is not special, it’s not a primal distinction for something to be a sport.

Apart from this, most sports are primarily concerned with “physical boosters” rather than digital ones, since their nature is usually physical-related. The digital test (in sports) can apply, but the very fact that chess participation would not get any benefit from most substances (if any), greatly invalidates this idea.

6.) Serious Study of chess as a sport

A detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation.

Pro-sport argument of chess due to serious study

Investments of the players to reach their “absolutely peak” for the sport separates the activity from more everyday engagements. The cost of the time, money, and energy make an immersion something special that can only be performed by selected people, such as chess!

Aspirants of the game usually spend years of trial and error in order to be relevant in the system, some even started when they are still toddlers! The fact that there’s a lot of upfront “study”, makes chess similar to a sport, if not one itself when it comes to limiting the highlights to only deserving individuals.

Anti-sport argument of chess due to serious study

A prerequisite for dedication and determination is not a precursor for something to be considered a sport, since it applies to everything. Business, academic, losing weight, or even religion requires a degree of persistence to be known and significant.

All of the examples mentioned above will never become a sport just because people within have “worked hard”. Determination might be necessary when playing a sport but does not define it in any way entirely.

7.) Rules and Etiquette system of chess as a sport

The customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

Pro-sport argument in the rules and etiquette of chess

Earlier I’ve mentioned “losing weight” as a candidate with the potential to be a sport if there are other ingredients such as an etiquette system! A customary code that regulates the player’s behavior is definitely one of the signatures of being a “sport”.

After all, a proper structure that monitors corresponding treatment to players and the game makes the activity more observable and acceptable. Chess has the exact etiquette system! and pretty intricate too, it has a rulebook that contains regulations locally and internationally, which also changes over time.

Anti-sport argument in the rules and etiquette of chess

Organizational structures run by humans will obviously have some form of ethical system, it is not defining.
Corporations, your family, or even your friends, all follow an abstract set of etiquettes for interaction.

These “rules” help provide a formal description of navigating these parameters, the fact that chess acquires that is not surprising. As for the rule book; spelling bees, poker, or even your new vacuum has them, it’s just a way to give instructions when dealing with specific situations.

8.) Promotion of chess as a national pride, chess as a sport

Is the feeling of love, devotion, and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment.

Pro-sport argument of chess when it comes to national pride

The opportunity of being able to represent a country in a competition makes sports so appealing and interesting, which chess also does. Chess participants come from all over the world and therefore have the diversity and capability to promote national pride.

Sparking passion in people’s hearts of similar interests should at least be enough of a reason for something to be considered a sport. After all, national pride makes the term “sport” significant in the first place, since it means people care about it.

Anti-sport argument of chess when it comes to national pride

National pride applies to every industry where someone has found a degree of success, attributing it to the nation. A singer, biologist, or lawyer that has given a positive reputation is enough to inspire the “national pride”, making it less important.

It just happens that successful individuals participating in sports belong to a nation that is proud of its people, which is not bad. But it does tell us that national inspirations are common and seen in sports, but are not a primal indicator of.

9.) Olympic recognition of chess as a sport

the privilege of being acknowledged by the Olympic committee (as a sport) and be displayed as one of their games.

Pro-sport argument of chess on olympic recognition

In 1999, chess has been given the opportunity to be recognized as an actual sport where a year later an exhibition match between Alexei Shirov and Vishy Anand was played at the Sydney Olympics to commemorate the event.

Members of the world chess organization are still in pursuit of the inclusion of this beloved game in the summer Olympics.

Although currently not the part of the Olympics, there’s been a move for such step in 2020 and 2024 to chess events finally be held side by side with other “sports”.

Anti-sport argument of chess on olympic recognition

The Olympic community is primarily interested in the marketability of activity over its actual objective reasoning, money is on the line. An interest that has “eyeballs” per se has enough popularity and support needed to make a game relevant, making it a matter of acknowledgment a matter of opinion.

Even if it’s finally been recognized by the committee, there’s still no solid arguments for making chess a sport other than there’s a potential for business.

10.) Being a mind “sport”, chess as a sport

Pro-sport argument of chess as a mind sport

is a game of skill where the competition is based on a particular type of an intellectual ability as opposed to a physical exercise.

Being identified by a reputable community of “sports” is the first big step to being classified as one, in fact, one can say it’s only a matter of time when this debate will be over. The term “mind sport” is a way to categorize activities with characteristics of other sports primarily focused on the mental over physical, which chess is.

Even if there is no visual representation of physicality involved in chess, there are still other traits that can make it being a sport reasonable. The definition of sports has transcended the realm of just being physical, more vicious and defining descriptions can be applied that make chess a candidate.

Anti-sport argument of chess as a mind sport

There’s a reason why a completely different classification has to be made (mind sport), which is to provide a distinction from such games to real sports. Being categorized as a “mind support” does not make it in any way closer to being an official sport, as it’s a different thing entirely.

Sports historically and culturally are physical in nature, where including mentally-related competitions would change the definition from how it’s coined.

11.) Chess is a physical game, chess as a sport

Pro-sport argument of chess as a physical sport

This is the meat of the topic, and the perpetrator of making this debate in the first place, is chess physical? Visually it’s not, two people pushing would not seem physically demanding, yet studies on how it affects the body tell otherwise.

“In October 2018, Polar, a U.S.-based company that tracks heart rates, monitored chess players during a tournament and found that 21-year-old Russian grandmaster Mikhail Antipov had burned 560 calories in two hours of sitting and playing chess — or roughly what Roger Federer would burn in an hour of singles tennis.”

ESPN article

There’s even a case to be made that chess puts more physical toll than some other popular sports, easily making its inclusion very sound.

During the first Karpov vs Kasparov match during 1984-1985, Karpov, not a big man to begin with, lost 22 pounds during the course of the 5-month match due to stress and other factors.

Anti-sport argument of chess as a physical sport

Although chess players express the game requirements in terms of physicality, the duration of participation will easily tell the difference. This does not mean to say that there is no degree of physicality during the engagement, but the focus is primarily mental not physical.

Someone can still play chess while being physically disabled, yet the same person is incapable to play other sports.

12.) Poor definition of “sport”, chess as a sport

Pro-sport argument of chess due to poor definition

The root of the problem, the term sports in itself change over the course of history and is pretty blurry about its requirements. Seeing chess be included in future sports competitions is not that “weird” from the viewer’s perspective since the term “sport” in the first place, is not well-founded.

There are too many factors for something to be considered a sport, physicality is just the striking one that people can remember the most.

Anti-sport argument of chess due to poor definition

Historically, from the dawn of gladiators, sports have always been physical in nature where only corresponding characteristics ever change. The definition of sport changes over time yes, except the physical part! and what most people use as a precursor for something to be a “sport” is physicality.

If we’re ever going to follow what’s accepted traditionally, chess is not a sport due to its inability to express some physically demanding attributes.

Importance of the sport status in chess

Okay, there are pretty detailed arguments here but what’s the use? well, three things: viewership, government funding, and symbol. The Olympic Commission and similar larger organizations only feature activities that are considered a sport, where traction (viewership) to chess will increase if there’s a sport status.

Similarly, government amelioration for supporting less fortunate athletes can only be eligible for participation in a sport; extra funds can inspire more people to the game. Lastly symbol; a sport is not only represented by something physical but also a larger relevant figure in the world, chess being a sport will have a symbolic significance to the players.

Final thoughts

A sport has a deeper meaning than what people express it to be, and chess will have a lot of benefits for being one. There of course have been well-sounded arguments for proponents of both sides, the pro-sport and anti-sport.

Whatever your mind may be, I’m just glad that you are caring enough to even argue in the first place (about chess), which is a big deal. Sleep well and play chess.