This thread is for all those who appreciate playing, kibitzing, and philosophizing about chess. The discussion will be framed by three questions. First, when and why did you start playing chess? Second, what do you like about chess? Finally, what openings do you play and why?
Now, I realize that convention has it that the OP typically responds to responses rather than answering his or her own questions right away. The trouble is I am two people. As Provoker, I am of a curious and inquisitive nature. As Provoker', I am an experienced and freethinking philosopher. The questions were driven by the one, while my answers are driven by the other.
1. I learned how to play chess when I was about six. By seven, grade two, I was required to report to the principle's office every lunch (as I was deemed a liability in the schoolyard). Here I would play the principle in chess with the chief ambition of having him submit to my will, draw pictures, and make lists of all sorts of things--though I had a special interest in weaponry, survival kits, and profile assessments of my peers. While this took place, there was a mathematician who our daily teacher brought in a couple of times a year. He would do all kinds of tricks with numbers, dice, shapes, and so forth. It was from him that I got a taste of the magic of mathematics. It was the interest in poetico-mathematics, coupled with an interest in solving visuo-spatial problems including jigsaw puzzles, that I was naturally predisposed to liking chess. But it was the over the board struggle between two titans that interested me still more. In grade 7, I won the tournament to represent my school and placed 3rd in a Toronto region school tournament. Yet, for most of my life I was busy with other things, and had a hard time finding opponents before the Internet took off, so I only played recreationally and never fully fostered my chess ability. With the onset of university, I started getting back into it. I established an account with the Chess Federation of Canada (CFC) where I have a rating. Chess cooled off for me for a bit while I pursued some other things, but lately it's come back and I'm crushing people with 1700 ratings, did about 500 in games with an opponent rated at 1800 in 1 minute blitz, and today I did about 500 in 15 minute games with an opponent rated 2000. My goal is to eventually achieve International Master status (rating of 2200). At this point, I've beaten the computer with it set at 2200 with the King's Indian opening, so given that I've peaked at 2200 I think with ample dedication I can get my rating up to that.
2. In expounding on what drew me into chess I have already detailed some of the things I like about the game. Additionally, as Garry Kasparov points out, chess has an enormous educational value. It teaches one to take responsibility for one's actions. There is no luck in chess. If you lose, you have only yourself to blame. As such, one must accept that one wasn't intellectually bulletproof and that one made a grave miscalculation (or several) at some point. In other cases one may have lacked the will power and focus to follow through with the practical application of his idea. Chess is a game where mathematicians attempt to use concrete pieces with definitive values to establish mathematical proofs over a board. A lack of conviction in one's own proof, such that one deviates from a critical step, can be enough to lose. Too much confidence in one's proof and an inability to compromise the plan as new information becomes available can also be a path to ruin. Knowing when and when not to change course is a matter of delicate judgment.
Personally, it wasn't just the math and shapes that appealed to me, but that chess is a warlike game and I am a warlike person. Bobby Fischer put it this way, "chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent's mind." As Carl Von Clausewitz points out in 'On War,' war is a duel, similar to wrestling, where each tries to compel the other to fulfill his will. This is of course profoundly true. Indeed, many thinkers have opined on the similarities between chess and warfare. However, as Tolstoy points out in 'War and Peace', one of the chief differences is that in chess the values of the pieces remain fixed, while in a war (he was referring to the Napoleonic Wars) a company can be stronger than a battalion. Thus, in real warfare strength is relative whereas in chess the chessmen have fixed values. (Note: despite Tolstoy's thesis on this point, under certain but very rare conditions a knight can provide more utility than a queen. This could be the case when one's pawn is being promoted and rather than opt for a queen (which theoretically has a higher value) one chooses a knight (perhaps the knight results in checkmate)). Still, it should be carefully noted that both strategy and tactics are critical in chess just as in real warfare. Like warfare of all kinds, chess is very taxing on the nervous system. As Anatoli Karpov points out, there are times in a chess match where his heart rate reached as high as 160 BPM. During the 84-85 World Championship matches between Karpov and Kasparov, Karpov lost a lot of weight and looked borderline ill by the time it was over. Or just take a minute to think about how Bobby Fischer looked during his match with Boris Spassky in 1972. He looked like death. Thus, since the mind and body are inseperable, if one is to maximize one's chess strength, then in addition to everything else one must be in good physical shape because maintaining peak concentration for hours on end is very taxing on one's body. Thus, physical activity, while often over looked, is a critical component of any strict chess regiment.
If boxing is the art of hitting and not getting hit, then chess is the art of attacking your opponent and gaining material and position without being attacked and losing material and position. Above all, to be good requires a keen sense of danger, will power, and focus. This is where intuition comes into it: one has to be able to smell danger. The further away one can smell danger, which naturally requires one to see several moves ahead, the more equipped one is to prepare defenses and initiate attacks.
3. Openings. Chess can be broken down into three stages: the opening, middlegame, and the endgame. It has been asserted that the opening is the most important part of the game. This is true. If one emerges from the opening up a pawn or with a superior position, it gives one a great advantage in the middlegame. My opening repertoire consists of the following. My favorite opening as black is the King's Indian opening when white plays 1.d4. Without getting into the notation of the actual moves, here is what I like about this opening. First, the opening is asymmetrical. In chess, like in economics, advantages flow from unidentical economies. If all economies were identical, there would be no reason to trade. But so long as economies are unidentical advantages can be had and countries can specialize and trade. The economist David Ricardo called this the law of comparative advantage. Taking this organizational principle, the King's Indian is an asymmetrical position whereby black specializes in building up the king's side and white builds up the queen's side. In the initial stages of the opening, black allows white to have the center of the board, while black fianchettos and castles on the king's side. Eventually, once forces are mobilized and at a certain level of development, white will typically begin an attack on the queen's side, while black attacks on the king's side, given that white has castled on the king's side, which doesn't always happen. It can be correctly pointed out that the King's Indian opening is based on a closed position. As students of MBTI, one could probably link a preference for closed and semi-closed positions with Jness and a preference for open positions to Pness. In closed positions, there are no suprises in that there is a limited number of viable moves so long as the position is closed. As such, one can see danger coming several moves ahead and can calculate accordingly, whereas in an open position where there are millions of contingencies it is easier to be suprised. As a thinker with a preference for judging, I prefer a clear definition of where things stand so that I can focus my energies on long-term planning and dispassionate calculation. While asymmetry ensues as black attacks on the king's side and white on the queen's side, it is absolutely necessary that black focus on pawn structure and trade off any weak pieces. Passed pawns are critical. Black wants to lock white out of the king's side, while at the same time have pawns in place to prevent white from attacking the queen's side and forcing her to regroup. Left defenseless with a swarm of pawns spearheading the attack, followed by the fianchettoed bishop, two knights, a queen nearby, and rooks stacked at the bottom of the H-file, white is left to the wrath of black with her chessmen with nothing to do. Boxed into a corner by the dynamic created by black and left straightjacked by black's constriction, white is compelled to submit to black's will and watch the boa tighten his constriction as he attacks a defenseless white with no troops in place. This is why I like the King's Indian as black, which is often regarded as a hyper-modern and razor-sharp opening. It should be noted that I also play the sicilian defense when white plays 1.e4.
As white, I typically play either the King's Gambit, Bishop's opening, or the King's Indian. My favorite is the King's Gambit. The King's Gambit accepted goes as follows: 1.e4 e5, 2. f4 exf4, 3. Nf3 (or Bc4)..and so on. This opening was often played by Paul Morphy--sometimes called the God of chess. As a sidebar point, in my opinion Morphy's play, which is very romantic and poetic in nature, illustrates the value of creative contemplation in chess. His games are beautiful works of art that are unparralleled. In this sense, we can distinguish Morphy's wildly intuitive and aggressive play with the pragmatic though still revolutionary style of Bobby Fischer. In any case, here is what I like about the King's Gambit. It's aggressive. It's tantamount to saying "what are you looking at!?" As a result, it creates a certain mood and can be seen as very intimidating, enhancing white's power. If black accepts it's perfect, if black declines it will make for an interesting game, if black plays a counter-gambit to match white's egotistical opening (as in, 1.e4 e5, 2. f4 d5) then that's equivalent to, "not much!" to the above question and war ensues. Despite opting for a hypermodern opening as black (King's Indian) with white I am fond of this 19th century romantic opening that most grandmasters don't play anymore. In essence, white makes a gambit which can be defined as a material sacrifice for sake of gaining a better position and rapid development. In addition to making the first move, which is an advantage in itself in chess, white gains incredible momentum, initiative, and development if the gambit is accepted. Moreover, black will often try to save that one rediculous pawn and in the process destroy his position and retard his development. As a result of rapid development and a positional advantage, if white plays his position correctly he'll usually win the pawn back several moves down and attain a positional advantage. The King's Gambit is an open position, affording white a range of opportunities to be creative with combinations and attacks. The danger of the King's Gambit is not in the position per se but in the greediness of the gambit player himself. Namely, that with so much momentum and development white may launch a premature attack and, if survived, will come out of it down material. And when one is down material in an open position the opponent can force checks and trade off material. If one has 7/8s the material of the opponent, one is at a disadvantage. If one has 2/3s the material of the opponent, one is at a huge disadvantage. Thus, it should be noted that as a matter of principle if one is down material one should never trade off material willingly since it makes one worse off. That said, the King's Gambit has been very lucrative in my experience, it's been a corridor to creativity, and has yielded lots of fruit.
In conclusion, chess is one of the oldest games around. It isn't going anywhere. There are more possible chess games than particles in the universe. After only three moves made by each side there are 64 million possible games. Needless to say, chess will never be exhausted. I will continue to play chess, read chess books, and analyze the games played by the best. I will continue to strive toward International Master status defined by a rating of 2200. It should be noted that both passionate creative contemplation and dispassionate calculation are effective approaches to analyzing chess positions and possible contingencies. Though other elements including a person's integrity, character, will power, ability to focus, also contribute to chess strength. The opening is the most important part of the game. As a result, those who have a larger opening library in their mental capacity typically have the advantage. It follows that if one wants to be a better chess player, extensive knowledge of opening theory is critical. Personally, I'm taking up the Nimzo-Indian right now. I will report on the progress of this opening in the future. For those of you who appreciate the music of chess, I hope my post was rewarding.