Sportsmanship, Online Chess and the Local Club
I first discovered the Internet Chess Club in 1995, during the Kasparov-Anand match, and thought it was the greatest thing since won ton soup. Tournaments all over the world were broadcast live, strong GMs would watch along with the amateurs and offer their comments just for the love of the game. Better still, I could play these strong GMs on a regular basis, something that had previously required spending a significant amount of money and travel. This was paradise!
What's interesting is that although I signed up for membership, members didn't have too much of an advantage over the server's guests. Guests could watch all but live GM games, and had virtually unrestricted communication privileges.
Much has happened during the past 10 years, and it can be seen in the gradual restriction of guest privileges. At some point, guests lost the right to speak in some channels, then in most, and now in all but one. Likewise, ICC changed the default setting for registered users to block communication from guests, though leaving it on for guest-guest communication. Needless to say, that has also been changed.
Nor is that all. Guest anonymity has helped eliminate the normal social impediments to various forms of bad sportsmanship; one fairly amusing sort goes like this: player X is beating player Y, but Y isn't resigning. Instead, Y simply lets the clock run until he (or she, I suppose, but it's the guys who seem to have the corner on this market) loses on time. Good old-fashioned spite in action. Well, X isn't going to tolerate that - defeat must be COMPLETE. Accordingly, X will now show his utter superiority in the realm of spite by adding time to Y's clock. LOTS of time. Frankly, I think X and Y deserve each other, but ICC has responded by disabling the "moretime" command from guest accounts.
There are other typical guest behaviors, some more amusing, some less, but they take their toll and leave the atmosphere less pleasant than it ought to be and than it once was. Nor is the members' realm a land flowing with politeness and helpfulness. In OTB chess, shaking hands, thanking one's opponent for the game and generally polite interactions are the norm; online, saying "good game" or "thanks" is often an invitation to a stream of invective. Add to this rematch-harrassment, the occasional abusive shout, and it can really get to one after a while!
In short, while online chess really is a pretty neat thing, it's not paradise.
On the flip side, I'm starting to value the OTB chess scene more than I used to. From the "consumer" standpoint, the local club can't compete with online chess. Unless you live in a town with international tournaments and have grandmaster buddies, the internet clubs have more to offer in terms of pure chess content.
But face to face interactions are important: for community, for mentoring, for friendship and, for the stronger players out there, to give something back. My own chess achievements are modest by some standards, but had it not been for all the people who took the time to play me when I was an up-and-comer, even what I did achieve would probably have been impossible.
In conclusion, those of us who play online need to do our part to improve the atmosphere when we can, and all of us should do what we can to support our local clubs. See you in real life!