Is Chess a Sport?


There are several debates in society that appear destined to rumble on forever. The great chicken and the egg debacle; the sound of a falling tree in empty woodland; the ability of animals to see things human simply cannot. No matter what solutions are offered, there’s always a counter-argument.

Another supposedly unanswerable question you can add to that list is whether or not chess is considered a sport. Some defiantly claim it’s the oldest, most sophisticated sport there is. Others suggest that it’s nothing more than a board game. Let’s look at the evidence to see if we can’t put this riddle to bed once and for all.

The Case for Chess Being a Sport

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sport as: “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”.

If we take this definition as gospel, it’d be fair to say that chess does indeed fit into the sports category. Players do exhibit some form of physical exertion (albeit minimal) as they move pieces across the board and slam the stop-clock in professional matches, and there is also the element of competitiveness as one person squares off against another.

The Case for It Being a Game

But to finish the investigation here would be too easy. The very same dictionary defines a board game as: “A game that involves the movement of counters or other objects round a board”.

All of a sudden it becomes clear why this debate is still alive and kicking today. Chess fits this definition just as comfortably as it does the description of “sport”. To settle this once and for all, we need to go a little deeper by exploring the views both camps.

Sport v Game

Whilst chess does require some “physical exertion” – it’s more a match of the mind than it is of the physique. Players have to use their heads to work out where their opponent’s next move is coming from and what they can do in order to counter this move. That may sound more like a board game than a sport – and it’s true that chess participants do not need to be in a “fit” physical state in order to sit down and square off against a fellow player.

That said, it’s important to remember that tactics - like those used in chess - are implemented in many sports all around the world. American Football is the absolute definition of a modern day sport given its robust nature, and whilst it is an undeniably physical game, much of it revolves around using tactics to “trick” the opposition and emerge victorious. Tactics are part of sport, and chess is perhaps the most tactic-oriented game that there’s ever been.

Those who laugh off the claim in chess to be a sport do so because it has a reputation for being a way to kill time when the weather makes playing football or rugby impossible. In many social circles, chess is thought of as a last resort – something that had its day in the sun many years ago and is now only played by the older generation or when the weather renders scuppers the opportunity to initiate other forms of physical activity on a sports field.

However, contrary to popular belief, chess isn’t just a game that’s played indoors on a rainy Sunday afternoon by those raking in their pension funds. It’s played all over the world by people of all ages at a variety of different levels – from beginner right all the way up to professional, and adopts a player ranking system uncannily similar to the ones used in tennis, golf, or any other individual sport for that matter. But the big plus point for the pro-sport category is the fact that chess has officially been recognised as a sport by the Olympics since the turn of the millennium.

Chess Is Technically a Sport, but the Debate Will Continue

Chess might look peculiar when placed alongside the sports that dominate the headlines in the modern day, but overall, there is evidence there to suggest it deserves to fall into this category.

If you're still not convinced that chess is a sport, then maybe you should have a look at the imaginatively titled Chess Boxing - where brains and brawn collide in a combination of chess and boxing.