Why I Don't Play Chess

I only picked up chess in my mid 20's, and fell completely in love with the game. At 32 now I barely ever play, and am far happier for it. Through chess, I came to a number of realisations about what I want from games/hobbies in general.

I moved to Dubai recently, and started attending local meetups here. I even started my own mini-club. I quickly realised that the guys I was playing with were almost all much better than me. That they put more time in, and they had more history with the game. From this I saw that, just in order to get good enough to have any fun at these meetings, I would have to put in more time and effort than I even had available to me. I found myself having less and less fun. Winning felt okay, and losing felt like dying.

I have since moved on to other board games. Competitively: Magic the Gathering. And many other Euro-style board games that are not based on such zero-sum 1:1 competition (e.g. Caverna). MTG especially has been a god-send for me, as anyone can win a magic game, due in a large part to the randomness that is an essential part of the game. On top of the randomness there is the theme that is built into every card, and every magic colour in the game. This balances out the pure calculation of deck building and sequencing play with a healthy dose of imagination.

I grew up eschewing randomness at all costs, being fiercely competetive and hating the idea of winning/losing as a result of something as arbitraty as a die roll, or card draw (heck I even refused to play 30 Seconds with a die). But I've come to love randomness. When I sit down to play a game of magic my skill level is highly important to the outcome of the game, but so are the cards which I draw. That means that people of all skill levels can sit down and compete with each other. In chess a 300-500 ratings difference basically means that the weaker player has something like 20% chance of winning. For a game that I would want to pursue as an after work activity those odds really just aren't good enough for me.

  1. So I guess I've learnt that I need to keep in mind that I pursue any hobby purely for enjoyment.
  2. That it's easy to lose sight of that. That, for me, enjoyment must come from more than just winning.
  3. That I can't get this from chess in the long run, and that I am not willing to put the time and effort in to any game with 100% knowledge (like chess). Where it is 100% skill vs skill, as this is too competetive.
  4. My hobbies need some element of randomness to bridge those skill gaps, and add flavour to encounters.
  5. Theme helps to, to keep my imagination involved in the game, not just calculation. Why should I just move abstracts around a board when I can play against other people, while imagining a small family of dwarfs, collecting goods, tending their farm in the forest, growing their little family, and building their home in the caves they dig out of the mountain.