Chess, is it really a sport or not? I couldn't decide, so I went to see one of Shropshire's best players, 17 year-old Simon Fowler, to get his opinion.
Simon's record speaks for itself; he has won many important junior tournaments around the country, and plays at local, county and even national level, and has competed abroad in several different countries, including Belgium and the Czech Republic. He has also held the titles of British Under 16, Under 15 and Under 12 Champion at various times.
|"It really takes something like that to put you on a high."|
In February 2005, he beat Swedish Grandmaster, Jonny Hector, which he modestly describes as ‘kind of unusual’. This is an amazing achievement, and to give some perspective, it's something like a local tennis enthusiast beating Greg Rusedski
or Andrew Murray. Not only that, but he has recently become the highest graded chess player in Shropshire.
Simon originally became interested in the game through his older brother and sister, who have since given up the game. Meanwhile, it has become a passion for him: "It's a real mental challenge and it's totally down to you.
"If you play most games you can't always help whether you win or lose because there are 10 other people on the team; whereas with chess it's all you. That's what makes it exciting for me." Simon also describes himself as very competitive, and freely admits that if he ‘wasn't very good at chess’ he would ‘probably have given it up by now.’
A year 12 at New College in his hometown of Wellington, Simon is studying maths, further maths, physics and music. This leads to the obvious question, do you have to be good at maths to play chess?
"Well, you don't tend to find many chess players who aren't good at maths, but mainly you need logic and memory to plan your next few moves in advance. Patience too, that's essential… If someone can't be ar**d to sit at a board for an hour, they won't be very good at chess!" He is also a cricketer for the Wellington club, and plays both the cello and piano to a high standard.
Many stereotypes surround the game of chess, but Simon was quick to denounce them as unhelpful: "I think it's a vicious circle… that's who you think of so that's who gets involved". He also commented on the lack of female players, which he put down to the same problems of perception and stereotyping, and also down to most girls being ‘too sensible to get obsessed with chess!'
We also came on to the subject of possibly Simon’s greatest rival, Tom Pym, who is a year younger and from Newport. Tom has recently achieved great success in winning the prestigious Ampleforth Junior Masters Tournament in November, but the two rarely compete in the same competitions. Sportingly, Simon describes Tom as being both friend and opponent, but commented that Tom ‘tends to be more consistent’ than he is, and wished him good luck.
Finally we came back to my first question: Is chess a sport? And the answer surprised me: "Personally I wouldn't class it as a sport, to me sport’s physical. People only call it a sport because it's competitive." The term mind game does seem to fit chess well, as it is based on mental, rather than physical prowess.
Chess is a game that requires intense concentration and patience, as opposed to stamina and co-ordination, which may be the reason why it doesn't have a wider appeal. However, if you are interested in taking up a challenge, get in touch with a local club and have a go.