By Kelly Phillips Erb
I adore board games. I like to think I’m decent at backgammon and checkers. I’m pretty good at Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. And I can hold my own in Risk for a while, though I’ll never win—it is not a game built for a middle child. But one game that I’ve never been able to figure out? Chess.
You’d think that my lack of chess-playing prowess wouldn’t come up very often. But you’d be wrong. You see, chess is having a moment.
The game—thought to have been around for over 1,000 years—has witnessed a recent surge in popularity thanks to Netflix’s miniseries, “The Queen’s Gambit,” starring Anya Taylor-Joy. The show debuted in October of 2020 and became Netflix’s most-watched scripted miniseries in just a few weeks.
The show’s name comes from an opening move in the game of chess—when the white side sacrifices a pawn to try to draw the black side out of the center.
I know this not because I’ve seen the show—I have not—but because of my daughter. She became a fan of the show and, subsequently, of the game.
She’s not alone. Retailers have reported increased interest in the board game out of the box and online. From “The Queen’s Gambit’s” debut to April 2022, Chess.com saw its monthly active users increase to nearly 17 million from roughly 8 million.
So what’s the appeal? I think there are lots of reasons that folks learn to love chess. For starters, physical characteristics don’t matter much—you can play as easily at age 8 as 80. Being taller, stronger, or bigger doesn’t give you an advantage.
Ditto for external factors, like wealth. Unlike with some games, you don’t need a lot of money to prepare for or play chess—you can make the same moves with a plastic piece as a marble one. Having fancier gear doesn’t give you an advantage.
There’s no language or travel barrier for chess players, especially in the age of the internet. My daughter regularly plays chess online against players from all over the world.
No matter who you are, everyone starts at the same place, and you can get better if you keep trying. That’s not because it’s a physical skill that requires fine-tuning, but because you can look at it critically, figure out what you did wrong, and learn from those mistakes. José Raúl Capablanca, world chess champion from 1921 to 1927, noted, “You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win.”
And while you can learn from your mistakes, you don’t have to know everything about the game of chess to do well. You don’t have to guess at every single potential move on the board. You just have to figure out the ones not to make. Once you’ve done that, you can focus on the remaining possibilities. It works the same way in tax. None of us knows everything, even if you’ve been practicing for some time.
The key in tax, as with in chess, is to weed out what looks wrong and focus on making the best choice out of the remaining options. And at Bloomberg Tax, our experts offer great commentary and insightful analysis on federal, state, and international tax issues that can help you figure out your next move—and stay in the game.
The Exchange… It’s where great ideas intersect.
—Kelly Phillips Erb
Which former world chess champion defiantly spat on a US Treasury Department order prohibiting a rematch against former Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky?
Answer at the bottom.
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Bobby Fischer. Fischer was warned that he would violate American economic sanctions if he played Spassky in Yugoslavia.
He went anyway, declaring, “This is my reply to the order not to defend my title here,” before spitting on a letter from the US Treasury Department that warned him he could face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to 10 years for “trading with the enemy.”
He subsequently was indicted and never returned to the US to face charges.
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