MMA Opinion: Checkers vs. Chess
Do you remember that time Holly Holm went all Garry Kasparov on Irene Aldana or when she pulled that Magnus Carlsen on Ronda Rousey? What's that you say? You did not know what level and type of chess game she was playing in order to adequately compare it to those two greats? Now, taking that tongue out of the cheek, a more straightforward question. How would someone know if a fighter was playing chess versus checkers if they did not know what high level chess looks like?
This writer has mentioned before that it is probably not completely fair to suggest that fight fans have nothing valuable to say simply due to them never having fought before. It is probably also alright (olive branch extended from this ex chess player) for fighters to speak of aspects of fighting or particular fights as reflecting chess or a chess match as opposed to checkers whether or not they have played the game. It is an idiom more so than an educated statement after all in the fight context. But there is actually something to it if said fight-related folk wanted to dig deeper. There really are parallels.
This is a fact: A chess board after three moves – white, then black constitutes one move, not two (did you know that?) – can be in nine million different positions. Yes, you read that right. White opens (always), then black, white, black, white, black = nine million different possibilities. As awesome as that sounds and as effective as it is to show how deep chess is, it is also a lot like MMA in that a whole bunch of those nine million positions are essentially worthless and never entertained by real players. There are tried and true fundamentals that dramatically narrow the options down in chess. Just like in MMA, where it is not going to happen too many times that Fabricio Werdum is going to run and deliver a flying kick to Travis Browne's head or Jorge Masvidal is going to flying knee Funky Ben Askren into oblivion, there are not going to be lots of surprises in those first three moves. There are standard openings that have stood the test of time.
The bigger lesson here is not so much how chess and MMA are alike or different – though a great discussion is in there somewhere no doubt. It is more that in order for anyone to know that, they have to know both things. It is impossible to intelligently compare two items when you only know something about one. Fans of MMA love that first "M" a lot. The sport has evolved so fast that there are few people who in just a few years will have not trained in the whole panoply of MMA from their start. This doesn't even take into account those outliers who may be called technical brawlers that somehow play checkers and chess simultaneously – for review go watch the recent fight with Carlos Condit and Matt Brown. It will be truer than ever that those who refuse to adapt and evolve will indeed be playing the equivalent of checkers while the next generation plays chess. Suggestion for anyone who wants it: Just like Georges St-Pierre surprised everyone with taking up gymnastics and pro boxer Juan Miguel Marquez took up ballet to improve his footwork (I'll let you decide if a movement coach is a good idea), go learn a little of the game of chess. Whether it makes you see more in MMA or not, it is a good use of the old synapses. And then at least if you see some chess-like action in a cage, you can say it and mean it.
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