Dennis M's Chess Site

This is a blog for chess fans by a chess fan. I enjoy winning as much as anyone else, and I've had a reasonable amount of success as a competitor, but what keeps me coming back to the game is its beauty. And that, primarily, is what this site will be about! All material copyrighted.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Who Should We Root For?

In an earlier post, I mentioned Ayn Rand's open letter to Boris Spassky, and one part of the letter really grabbed my attention. After writing that she and all her friends are rooting for Fischer as protest against the Soviet regime, she lists in the very next paragraph a series of Fischer's bad behaviors: "He throws tantrums like a child, breaks agreements, makes arbitrary demands, and indulges in the kind of whim worship one touch of which in the playing of chess would disqualify him for a high-school tournament."

But between Fischer's misbehavior and Spassky's supererogatory behavior during the match, I found her decision to root for Fischer puzzling. (Not necessarily mistaken, just puzzling.) Of course, there were mitigating circumstances in the case of Rand and the Fischer-Spassky match, but I'm interested in the general question: should one root for the worse sportsman (no pun intended!), just because he or she is one of "ours"? That is, are Americans justified in rooting for an American just because he's American, or men for a man just because he's a man, etc., even though they know that the opponent is otherwise more admirable. All things being equal, it's unproblematic, but if things aren't equal, then what?



  • At 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is something we see everywhere. If you are from New York, you are just expected to root for the Knicks over the Celtics. You have to pick either the Giants or the Jets, not the 49ers or the Cowboys. Look at American TV coverage of the Olympics; we sometimes have to watch US athletes while there is a competition of greater overall quality underway that doesn't include an American participant.

    In addition to national, geographic, and gender-based bias of this nature, we often see racial bias as well. Race and international politics combined to create a huge sensation over the rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmelling just before WWII. (Schmelling wasn't a Nazi and reportedly was a very decent guy; he and Louis remained lifelong friends.)

    Many would argue (and I agree) that there is an inherent "us vs. them" mindset that is deeply instilled in the human psyche and that this causes us to find some kind of connection with others and to feel closer to one person or team than the other. Why do so many people root fanatically for a team from their alma mater even though they graduated 30 years earlier and have never met any of the current players in person?

    I think there are two questions to be asked. First, how can we eliminate (or at least minimize) the connections that seem bad for society, such as those based on race or religion, where too often we see someone simply despised for no good reason? Second, how can we use this natural tendency to generate more interest in chess among the public? For example, most of us know a lot about our favorite athletes (i.e., their biographies) and we form a bond with them (or not) based on that, but how many of us know much about top chess players?

    More focus on the players, rather than just the moves, might help raise greater interest and attract sponsorship.

  • At 9:06 PM, Blogger Dennis Monokroussos said…

    I understand that it was meant somewhat in jest, but the management will not permit ad hominem remarks on the site. Thanks for your cooperation!


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