In many ways, basketball and chess share some amazing similarities. There are different attack and defense strategies, a seemingly unlimited number of possible moves per possession, and when it comes to the smallest details, very few (if any) games are exactly the same. It only takes one wrong decision to jeopardize one’s chance of winning.

“You have to think a step or two forward,” says Hornets striker Gordon Hayward. “If you want to be good, you have to think the way more. In basketball, you have to think what would the defense do if I did this? How would they defend me in certain ways? In chess, there are very similar concepts. What would they do if I did these? The move? How do they defend this square or this piece? How can I exploit this defense?”

Over the past few years, Hayward has been trying to master this brilliantly complex, often insane game. The premise of chess begins as follows: Competitors take turns moving 16 pieces – a king, a queen, two bishops, knights, ravens, and eight pawns – around a 64-place square board. The power of pieces varies based on their maneuverability and each piece is able to capture any opposing piece simply by taking it out of its square.

The goal is to “checkmate” the opponent’s king, which means that the king no longer has any moves to make without being captured. The more pieces on the board, the better the chances of winning. Classic games can last for hours or even days in some cases. To say a strategy, critical thinking and patience required for chess would be an understatement.

“I played with my mom when I was a kid,” explains Hayward. “During the pandemic, everyone is at home, you are on your own. I just started watching YouTube videos and schedules of people playing and wanted to get better at it, so I just started playing more regularly.”

Instead of a traditional chess board, Hayward basically uses Chess.com to play. “I think Chess.com does a really good job of letting you play on your phone or PC. You can have a game right away,” he says. “Right after the match, you can analyze it, see what I did wrong, what was the best move you should have taken, which could have been done, and where you could have done it. As a competitor, that really attracted me. You can play, learn and improve and that is something not limited On video games only. That’s why I started playing again and I’ve been playing ever since.”

For classic chess games, players have up to an hour and a half to make a move. The style of chess favored by Hayward is known as Blitz Chess, and it is a fast-paced version where each player has a predetermined amount of time – usually about 10 to 15 minutes – to make all of their moves over the course of the entire game. Blitz chess requires more intuition according to Hayward, and can be more attractive both to play and to watch, thanks to its faster tempo.

Hayward wasn’t the only one turning to chess as a way to pass the time during the long, lonely quarantine hours. Top players from all over the world have started livestreaming more online and are paired with their debut Queen’s gambit – The critically acclaimed Netflix mini-series based on a fictional chess prodigy – In late 2020, chess saw a huge surge in popularity.

One of those famous players, Daniel Naroditsky, recently linked up with Hayward for about four hours on Twitch Stream a few months ago. Naroditsky is referred to as “Danya” in the chess community, and is currently 162second abbreviation-World Ranked Player, Resident Grand Instructor of the Charlotte Chess Center (Grandmaster is the highest title in chess), chess columnist New York times Interestingly, he is a big fan of basketball too.

“I’ve worked with a couple of great teachers now and it’s amazing how good they are,” Hayward says. “[Daniel] He is one of the best blitzkrieg chess players in the world. The best players make it look so easy. This is the equivalent of anything professional. When they coach you, you feel like you can win every game. It makes it very easy and fun to play. Once you’re on your own, you’ll say, “Man, what step did they ask me to do?” You start forgetting things, but it sure was fun.”

International Master Levi Rosman – better known online as GothamChess and pictured below – is another notable content creator and chess master Hayward learned from. “I’ve already taken its course,” he says. “He texted me and asked if I was actually Gordon Hayward. He is a big fan of basketball, so we reached out to him. So, I went to his broadcast schedule and he gave me a lesson.”

Even with basic chess knowledge, trying to keep up with Naroditsky or Rozman to smash Hayward is as easy as solving a calculus problem in a foreign language. The dialogue is incredibly accurate and it is almost impossible to decipher all the strategies being discussed in real time. On hardwood, Hayward’s basketball IQ, decision-making, and sense of control set him apart from the vast majority of his peers. When it comes to chess, the roles have been reversed – he is now the curious student who learns from the experienced master.

Chess players are ranked by a complex formula called the Elo rating system, which is what the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and other major organizations commonly use. The higher the rating, the stronger the player. The great Norwegian Magnus Carlsen is currently the best chess player in the world with a classic rating of 2859, while the peak ratings of Naroditsky and Rosman are 2617 and 2333 respectively.

Hayward’s classification is unofficially correct around 1200 at the present time. As he explains, “Anything from zero to 1200 is considered a beginner. Anything 1200 to 1700 or 1800 is considered intermediate. Anything above that is considered advanced. So, I’m still a beginner, but at the higher end of that. My goal is to get to 1700 or 1800.” The upper-middle part would be really good. Just like anything, you have to practice.”

He adds, “When you play a ranked game, if you lose, you lose points, and if you win, you earn points. Depending on how many games you play with this account I have, if I win against people in my range I only get 10 points. When I lose, I lose Anywhere from 10 to 6 or 7 points. I have to win a lot in a row. It’s frustrating because sometimes it’s about one move. If you play someone better than you in a better way, you’ll never beat them.”

Hayward isn’t the only NBA player to play chess. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Klay Thompson are supposed to play, although Hayward has yet to face either of them. Having additional means of unleashing competitive energy is very common throughout the league, whether it’s in chess, video games, cards, golf, or something else entirely different.

“It’s another outlet for competition,” Hayward says. “I think people are drawn to the competition part of it. I’ll play on the road or the bus – we’re on buses a lot. At home, I probably play a lot. I’m just against you. I think with chess, once the game is over I can see where I went wrong and how to fix it for the next game.” “.

Life as an NBA player and father of four leaves little time for other pursuits, but listening to Hayward’s chess talk, there is an undeniable passion and genuine curiosity for this somewhat outsider interest. Hayward’s ornate basketball career is an obvious and visible byproduct of his work ethic and intelligence, and now, he’s also making all the right moves on the chessboard in his quest to reach this coveted 1800 rating.

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