Are Chess, Darwin and Swan Lake the best man made art?

Chess is popular all over the world, yet after decades of Soviet domination, few have heard of the era-old pursuit. In his analysis of the game’s rise, the Dublin-based scholar Robert Court reminscences that chess had once been looked on with a mixture of awe and disgust, because so many in the games world believed that chess was an offshoot of madness.

In his 2014 book Star Power, Court extols the endless humanity of chess, its place as a sport in the greater scheme of humanity and not something put on like dance or gymnastics, and its individualistic appeal. But ultimately, he comments that chess is no longer the sexiest sport around, even in a man’s world, and doesn’t fit into a wider “unifying mythology of contemporary manhood”.

Carlsen’s speed chess instruction in Beijing

Elsewhere, he argues that chess is now part of a social game of ‘life and death,’ according to which chess is no longer a form of “popular, elite interplay that defies all evaluation.” Rather, it is part of a fast-moving niche within the broader world of “traditional sport,” in which everyone, including ourselves, is at a global elite.

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