'Football is like chess, only without the dice'

6/11/2008 – Football – soccer to the Americans – is one of the most popular games on the planet. Currently the European Championship is being staged, and a whole continent is gripped by football fever. The game also inspires men to come up with profound sayings, paradoxical koans, gems of wisdom. The German striker Lukas Podolsky produced one that will go down in football and chess history. Digression.

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'Football is like chess, only without the dice'

Euro 2008 – the European Football Championship – is being hosted in Switzerland and Austria, without a single British or Irish team among the 16 participants (the British for some reason can field teams from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and probably Northumbria, while other countries are allowed only one team apiece – heaven alone knows why). The European Championship started on June 7th and will conclude on June 29th with the final in Vienna.

In round one Portugal beat Turkey 2-0 and Germany beat Poland 2-0 (with both goals assisted and scored by players named Mirosław Marian Kloze and Łukasz Podolski, who were born in Poland). Holland shocked the football community by trouncing the favourites Italy 3-0, while Spain demolished Russia 4-1. All of it is being broadcast in High Definition TV, and is amazing to watch on a full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel flat panel (Philips 42 PFL 9732 D with Ambilight).

So what torturous excuse are we going to find to publish an article on this subject on our chess news site. Well, football stars, fans and experts are known for the wisdom of their classic football sayings, such as "The ball is round" or "It's a game of two halves". This has moved one of Germany's biggest news portals, SPIEGEL ONLINE, to publish an article on "German Football's Greatest Sayings". And there we find the ultimate piece of football logic, the profoundest of the profound, which made it to the headline of the Spiegel article:

"Football is like chess, only without the dice."

"As any devotee of the game will tell you," the Spiegel writes, "footballers do not always make complete sense in their utterances. Perhaps it is the endorphins rattling around their system, or the sheer exhaustion of running around for 90 minutes. In any case, one can only regard such nonsensical statements with awe and wonder if they, like Zen Buddhism's paradoxical koans, work on an intuitive level that transcends rational thought. This piece of Dadaist genius is attributed to Lukas Podolski, who is currently playing on the German side in Euro 2008. He appeared to be channeling Yogi Berra when he came up with this instant classic from the 'like a fish needs a bicycle' school."

The author of this classic is, yes, Lukas Podolski, the two-time scorer against Poland, who in the original German said: "Fussball ist wie Schach, nur ohne Würfel." Here's the SPIEGEL article, which has thankfully been translated into English and is well worth reading.


Another fan: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portuguese football player,
on the cover of a sports magazine in front of a chessboard.

Carlos Sirgado of Lisbon, Portugal, tells us that Ronaldo probably knows nothing about chess, but is posing for a pun: cheque-mate is the chess term, checo-mate refers to the fact that the Portugese were facing the Czech team, so the headline means "Day of the Czech-mate". And indeed: the Portugese beat the Czech Republic 3:1.

While we are on the subject and have an excuse for discussing football here, are we the only ones to notice that the American version of football – played with an oval ball which you are allowed to handle – is much closer to chess than the European "soccer"? American Football, which in the US is known simply as "football" (just as Chinese food in China is simply called "food"), is played on a checkered field by two players, who have eleven pieces each, some white but most black. The players, known as quarterbacks, plan moves and strategies, which they attempt to execute, with the other player will use his pieces to try and refute the moves of his opponent. In football, unlike in chess, physical violence is condoned, which is why players come to the field heavily armed and padded. In chess the most violent scene we have seen in recent years was Irina Krush flinging away a king at the end of a game.

One more item, before our excuses fade and we have to end our interlude. There is a gentler version of American football called Flag football, where the basic rules are the same as in the professional game, but instead of tackling players to the ground, the defensive team must remove a flag from the ball carrier's belt (it is known as "deflagging"). Flag football was designed in an effort to minimize injuries that playing tackle football could bring.

And it is here that we have a real hero: Carly Man, a young girl in the boy's league, who in 1991 at the age of nine ripped the game to shreds with her running and dodging skills. Watch Carly and be inspired:

Frederic Friedel


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