Chess and Golf for amateurs during the pandemic

by Alexey Root
9/2/2020 – During the pandemic, in-person chess almost disappeared while golf survived relatively intact. In this article, WIM Alexey Root and her co-author, amateur golfer and US Chess Senior Tournament Director Reka Sztaray, compare golf and chess under COVID-19 restrictions, as well as discuss costs and team competitions in both sports.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Golfing six feet apart

Reka Sztaray is a senior and a member of the golf team at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, CA. She wrote, “Rarely, if ever, is one within 6 feet of another golfer (after all, it is a sure way of getting knocked in the head). My school plays at our local course, the Stockton Golf and Country Club, which has an 18-hole course and an indoor building for its members. While the indoor country club amenities — such as the restaurant, pro shop and bar — closed with the rest of the state, our course remained open for tee times, with added precautions. Holes on the green were made shallower (so as to not require players to touch the flag, but rather allow them to lift their ball right out), the driving range had fewer stalls, and high traffic areas, such as the water fountain, were closed. So, while certain luxuries were inaccessible, the essence of the sport continued largely uninterrupted, until a brief, one-month period of tightened security measures by California forced closure. I can attest that this was a shock to the golf community (alright, maybe that is a tad dramatic from my part), who immediately began to lobby for reopening, seeing as it was a low-risk sport. After this one-month period, the club reopened, continuing the previous precautions. Golf has seen no other interruptions.”

Online with the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club

Judit Sztaray, Reka SztarayReka’s mother, Judit Sztaray, is the General Manager of Youth Outreach and Events at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club (MICC). MICC has moved entirely to online chess, as its physical building in downtown San Francisco remains closed. The online MICC imitates, somewhat, what it offered in person.  For example, one over-the-board tradition for almost 50 years, the Tuesday Night Marathon, typically attracted around 100 club members. Each played one game in 2 hours with a 5-second delay (G/120, d5) on seven consecutive Tuesday nights. A commentary team broadcast live from the MICC office, with visits from players as their games finished. 

During the pandemic, there are two Tuesday night online games, with each game played at game in 35 minutes with 2 second increment with each move (G/35+2). Each member of the commentary team works from home but broadcasts together on Twitch.  

For a perfect Tuesday, Reka advises, “Play a round of golf in the morning and play in an online chess tournament in the evening! Both chess and golf offer excellent opportunities to remain in touch with others in a time when physical social distancing seems to be key in keeping healthy.”

[Pictured: Judit and Reka Sztaray]

Affordability: Chess versus Golf

To play over-the-board chess, you might buy a chess set, board, clock, and scorebook. At the high end, if you shop on Amazon, a chess set and board is $35.99, a chess clock is $37.95, and a scorebook to keep your games in one place is $12.99 for a 100-game book. Total: Under $100, and probably less if you shop at your national federation’s official outlet. 

Reka SztarayReka wrote, “Golf is a different story. Single clubs often fetch well into the hundreds, and for a complete, high-quality set, you may need to look into the thousands. My eBay-bought, Cobra set (the one I use currently) costs $600. But an equally important factor is that chess places little emphasis on the quality of the equipment, but rather on the ability of the player. Carlsen could beat me just as well on a mousepad board as on a DGT board. While I’m sure that Tiger Woods could easily par with my old $50 set, golf equipment quality does have a lot to do with a player’s results. Even at my high school level, upgrading to new, quality clubs made the world of difference for my golf.” 

An entry fee for a chess tournament may range from around $20 to $100. A membership to the United States Chess Federation (US Chess) costs $26 a year for Reka (as a young adult), which allows her to play in any US Chess-rated chess tournament. Travel costs to chess tournaments (hotels, airfares or gas for cars) are often the highest expenses in over-the-board chess. 

Reka shared, “Golf requires high membership prices. My family’s membership at our local country club for weekday golf privileges costs $400 per month. This includes use of a pool, restaurant, changing rooms, and bar, but it is certainly not a cheap price to pay.”

Professional instruction in chess may cost more than professional golf lessons. Reka wrote, “My lessons with Hungarian GM Gabor Kallai were $60 per hour. At my golf club, I take lessons from one of the pro shop players for $40 per hour. Our local professional LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) tour instructor charges $45 per hour to young adults. I would compare the GM to the LPGA tour instructor, in terms of professional knowledge.” 

Reka concluded, “So, on the surface, chess seems so much more affordable than golf. But, like with so much else, there are more cost-effective solutions if you are looking to play golf. Instead of a $600 set, eBay offers very nice, second-hand clubs. With the proper sale (talking about those Cyber-Monday deals!), you could reduce your costs to a much more affordable price. Country Club memberships also aren’t a necessity. A popular membership called Youth on Course is a program that costs $20 (in Northern California) per year and allows you to play at participating courses for $5 or less per round. Finally, group lessons are an excellent option for relatively cheap instruction and includes a competitive 9-hole round every weekend. Stockton has group lessons at Swenson Golf Course. Bottom line? If you want to start either sport, don’t be daunted by the sticker price! Like car dealerships, you can always find a cheaper option!” 

Reka Sztaray

Reka as a chess tournament director | Photos: Jean-Rudolph Cendejas

Individual versus team competitions

Reka wrote, “Team competitions are where the two sports are (in my opinion) the most similar. Neither is technically a ‘team’ sport per se. Chess you play against your opponent and you golf against…well, yourself. Yet, both have a successful team side. In my school’s golf league, a team consists of 6 players, the lowest 5 players’ scores count toward a team total. In golf, you try to get your ball into the hole in the fewest number of strokes, so the team with the lowest total wins the match. In chess, usually 4 players play against another team of 4, sitting in rating order and the team with the most cumulative points wins the match.”

US Chess Senior Tournament Director and FIDE Arbiter Judit Sztaray said:

Under US Chess rules, the captain of a team has the following responsibilities: registration of their team, making sure they arrive on time and that their lineup is correct. During the match, team captains can be consulted about the consequences of draws, but only if asked. Captains cannot look at the game of the player making the request and it is important to note that captains cannot ‘force’ a result upon a player. After the match, captains also are responsible to report the result of the match to the tournament director and check wallcharts for accuracy and report any discrepancies.

FIDE is a bit more detailed about what captains can or can’t do. For example, it states that the team captain must not stand behind the opposing team during play. Per FIDE rules, if the team captain or the player wishes to speak to one another, they shall first approach the arbiter and only in the presence of the arbiter can they talk. This rule is usually followed in US Chess tournaments too.

The team captain is allowed to advise his or her team’s players to make or accept an offer of a draw, but the captain must not intervene in a game in any other way. The captain must not discuss any position on any board during the play. Players can also ask the captain if they may offer or accept a draw.

Saint Mary’s High School, Stockton

Reka (center, long hair) with her teammates from Saint Mary’s High School after defeating Lincoln High in 2019

Reka wrote, “In golf, any team member is allowed to offer advice about your lie (where the ball is), what club to use, etc. When we go out on the course in pairs (two teammates vs two opponents per hole), I often ask my partner for advice or support during a match, it helps to have another opinion!”

Reka wrote, “One of the best decisions I made in high school was joining my ladies golf team. Playing with and travelling with so many fine ladies, working together to do our best, is a wonderful experience that I would encourage everyone to try.” Judit sees a similar spirit in the MICC team members. She wrote, “It is an immense joy seeing players compete together, fight each game not only for themselves, but for their team.”

How Bobby Fischer battled the Sicilian

Fischer liked to play aggressive but basically sound lines against the Sicilian and many of his variations are still very much alive and a good choice for players of all levels.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register