This question came up during the Topalov vs.
Kasmidzhanov game being broadcasted by ICC. Someone said, “Spassky says
chess is like tennis.” It's well known that Spassky loves to play tennis;
he did so during his world championship match in 1972.
Chess does have things in common with tennis. However I think chess
is more closely related to boxing. Well, all three can be long, intense
wars of attrition. Only boxing and chess can have quick knockouts, tennis
games must go the distance. All involve a mano a mano match up. Its just
you against your opponent. All can involve long term and short term
planning. All can involve exploitation of weakness and strength. Tennis
matches are always decisive, where as chess and boxing matches can
end in a draw.
The issue that separates tennis from chess and boxing is
that in tennis it is never really hopeless. I recall the famous 1984
French open finals match between John McEnroe vs. Ivan Lendle. McEnroe was
up 6-3, 6-2. This is as hopeless as it gets in tennis. However Lendle
rallied back to win the match 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 5-7, 5-7. In tennis
hopelessness is only a state of mind. In chess and boxing positions can be
With chess if you are down material and have no initiative, you
can’t win. As with boxing, if you are hopelessly behind on points in the
later rounds and you are not a knockout puncher, its over. It can also be
hopeless if you have taken a beating over 10 rounds and you have no energy
or strength to initiate a lethal attack. Tennis is a game of scoring
points, winning games, and winning sets. Chess only scores points when the
The chess game itself is not about scoring points, its
about accumulating advantages. These advantages can be traded for other
advantages. When enough advantages are accumulated a game can become
decisive. With tennis you start a new after each point. What you did in
prior points does not have to affect your play. You start fresh with each
point. If you are losing, all you have to do is player better than your
opponent and you can win. With tennis past errors or mistakes can be
forgotten and over come. This is not the case with chess and boxing, you
are limited in chess by your prior moves. Your game history determines
what you can do in the future. Past errors are lasting and impact the
course of the game.
In boxing mistakes have a lasting effect also, they
can lead to swollen or cut eyes and bloody noses. Poor visibility or
impaired breathing is lasting and impacts the ability of the boxer to
attack and defend. With Tennis only a mistake in the last game of the last
set of the match is catastrophic. However with chess and boxing
catastrophic mistakes can happen at any moment, regardless of who’s
winning or losing.
In chess you have the one move blunder, like hanging
your queen. In boxing you have the one punch knockout. In tennis momentary
lack of concentration does not lead to catastrophic loss, however in
boxing and chess one lapse of concentration can be deadly.
Tennis does not have a time factor, the match ends when 3 sets are won.
With chess and boxing, time is a factor. Classical chess games are played
with the following time controls 40 moves in 2.5 hours.
With boxing, a match
consists of 12 3-minute rounds. In tennis outside issues have impact
on the game: the balls, the court surface, the wind, and the weather. With
chess and boxing you have none of those elements. It’s just you and your
opponent. Its just about strength and weakness. In chess and boxing you
have no one to blame but your self.
What separates chess from tennis and boxing is that the two chess
combatants decide the intense struggle. In chess there is far less
interference between outside officials. With tennis you have the lines
judges who make calls, in boxing you have the referees and judges.
is a violent sport, your goal is to crush your opponent physically. Chess
is also a violent sport. Bobby Fischer said it best "chess is war
over the board. The object is to crush your opponents mind." Boxing
strategy involves hitting your opponents with punches and slipping and
ducking your opponents punches. Bobby Fischer says "Chess is a matter
of delicate judgment, knowing when to punch and how to