Making moves: Chess proving ever more popular in NZ


Chess is the most popular it has ever been in New Zealand, with new players picking up the pieces every year. 

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It has hit somewhat of a sweet spot in popular media with the success of Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and with the internet providing a space for any enthusiast group in the world to connect. 

The New Zealand Chess Federation’s 129th NZ Chess Congress is underway right now and the national final is being held later today.

There are two more rounds left to play – one today and one tomorrow.

President of the NZ Chess Federation Nigel Metge said the game is as engaging as ever, contrary to some opinions, offering the brightest minds the opportunity to shine.

The current leader of the New Zealand competition was Daniel Gong, who he said had faired unusually well up to this point. 

“He’s leading with six-and-a-half points out of seven, so he’s virtually certain to win it and is a wonderful result for a young man under 20,” Metge said.

“At this level where you have a group of strong, fairly equal players, it’s very unusual to have a string of wins and Daniel has done that. He’s had six wins and one draw. 

“The next player below him is an international master and he only has five points out of seven. That’s a good score, but significantly behind the leader.”

Metge played on the lower board in the competition. He plays as an intellectual pursuit for fun, joining his first chess club in 1970 in Auckland when he was 13 and hasn’t looked back. Players are now considerably younger than they were back then.

“We have loads of players in New Zealand who are playing below the ages of 10, so we now play age groups.”

There are a number child proteges competing in New Zealand, he said.

“Your true proteges – I think Bobby Fisher was one of the youngest masters even when he was 15. But now the youngest grand master in the world was an Indian boy at 12 years old, that’s pretty impressive.”

Fears that chess has become mechanical with the advent of computer optimisation and ‘played-out’ are unfounded, he said. The game may be even more interesting now, with undiscovered moves, than ever before.

“Every generation seems to think the game has been been played out. The computers, especially these fantastic neural network machines – there’s one called Alpha Zero – have actually shown that there’s more to discover. 

“There are new ideas that humans haven’t discovered yet. So instead of it killing the game, I think it energised the game.”

The recent chess world championships, won by Magnus Carlsen of Norway, proved how exciting the game can still be, he said.

“The first six games were very, very even and Magnus won the sixth in a record number of moves and played a beautiful, nearly perfect kind of game and after that his opponent kind of collapsed. I think there’s plenty of life left in chess.”

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