Athletes or Geeks? What's the preferable image?


By Paul Truong

One of the stigma that chess faces is it is a game for geeks and nerds. Whether we in the chess community like it or not, that is the perception, especially in the United States. Therefore, are we helping ourselves and our sport by pushing for stuffy dress code?

For nearly 15 years from 1987 – 2001, I was in suits and ties every single day, 7 days a week. I always had about 150+ dressed shirts, 1,000+ silk ties, 50+ designer suits, and 20+ pairs of Oxford shoes in my closet. This was how I had to dress when my business was located in New York.

Me back when I was running my company

When I was the Captain of the US Women’s Olympiad Team in 2004 in Calvia, I took with me 14 suits, 14 ties, 14 dressed shirts, and 3 pairs of shoes for 14 rounds, in addition to less formal clothing for off days. I even brought with me special iron and steamer. I would never put on a wrinkled shirt or suit. So as you can see, I have no problem with “looking professional” according to FIDE dress code.

However, my business is Marketing. I have 30+ years of experience in this. I can virtually sell any image. But one question I have to ask myself, and I would like to put it out there for chess fans from around the world, is what image do we really want for chess? Do you want chess to be a sport, or you have no problem with the perception that chess is for nerds and geeks?

2017 Webster University Chess Team

I have no problem that players, especially for the World Championships or Candidates Tournaments, etc., are required to dress up (suits and ties for men and nice outfits for women) during the Opening or Closing Ceremony. But is it really necessary during the games? I agree that for adult professional tournaments, no shorts or beach sandals should be allowed. But what is the problem with polo shirts with logos from sponsors on it?

There is no argument from me that players must have good hygiene and well groomed. But do we need to have the image of our players in stuffy suits and ties only, especially when most players will only pack 1-2 suits with them, and by the 3rd or 4th round, they are wrinkled and dirty. Same with dressed shirts. How many players will actually iron their shirts other than me and maybe less than 1% of the more serious players.

I think it is equally, if not even more important, that players, especially professional players, are taught how to speak and how to conduct themselves in public, especially with the media. Many players cannot put two coherent sentences together, and some behave incredibly unprofessional after losing a game.

Many other sports have special training for rookies. Why not chess? I proposed this to FIDE & the USCF more than 10 years ago. I suggested that we teach our players at a young age the good etiquette and appropriate behavior in chess. I offered to create an entire guideline for free. I was laughed at. Their main objection was chess players are who they are and it is impossible to teach them so let's not waste time.

What do you think? What should it be? Athletes or Geeks? What image do we want for chess? I would love to know what you think!

Women's Olympiad Team from Barbados

GM Torre of the Philippines

Swedish Chess Olympiad Team

PamAm Youth 2017 in Costa Rica

PamAm Youth 2017 in Costa Rica

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

The answer is, "It depends." It team competitions, it is reasonable to have a uniform. For chess, I prefer the Webster University uniform to those that look like athletic wear. Chess may be a sport, but it is not an athletic sport. But what is reasonable for Webster University is not reasonable for an elementary school team. If they can get T-shirts with the school logo, great. If they can't, that's quite understandable. I would still expect that, as representatives of their schools, they would hold to their schools' dress codes. (The players from Fork Union Military Academy here in Virginia show up in uniform.)

In individual events, it also depends on the circumstances. For a weekend Swiss, and even for something like the U.S. Open, the players are representing no-one but themselves. If they want to look like bums, they are welcome to look like bums. If, however, they are playing at an invitational, such as the SPFGI, then whatever dress code the organizers choose is what should be worn. He who pays the piper calls the tune. If you don't want to abide by the dress code, don't go.

For professional players, invitational or not, they are representing the chess profession, and should dress like a professional in any other field of mental endeavor. Computer geeks may look like bums back in the computer lab, but when they go to a meeting with a customer then a good pair of pants and a polo shirt make a reasonable minimum.