What Fr. Z is up to.

After several decades, and not of the Rosary in this context, along with other things I had loved to do and that I was good at and I that I had shelved because of seminary and priesthood, I’m getting back into chess.

I’m beating intermediate level “bots”.  I’m losing to the higher ranked “bots”, unless they keep coming at me with the same openings or defenses.

Compared to how I played decades ago, my opening game sucks.

But, my middle game sucks.

On the other hand, my end game sucks.

But my end game is a little less sucky in suckingness, even though, paradoxically, fewer pieces on the board usually make for more complicated strategy.  Maybe my end game sucks so bad that I don’t even know just how bad it really sucks.

This, however, both discouraged me and spurred me at the same time.

I can understand super famous match games.  I can understand entirely crazy positions and bizarre developments or traumatic experiences.

Still… sheesh.

I’m not going to be Magnus or Maximus in chess.

At least I can be Maior … autem me.

In worldly endeavors, so too in the spiritual life.  You can be better than you are now, with elbow grease and God’s grace.

When you love something, you engage your will so as to potentialize all your gifts.  How crucial it is to know this in order to live our God-given vocations in the way God asks, so that we can fulfill the tiny part He ordained for us from before the creation of the cosmos, and chess.  Love must first be given to God.  Everything else follows.  All else is less good.

Supply the grease and grace will come.

That video was a spur, as is the unbelievable explosion of young people following chess online in live videos.

Great Caesar’s Ghost, what is happening?

It is not an exaggeration to see tens of thousand of viewers live and hundreds of thousands of views of archived live chess play.  No.  Really.  Tens of thousands of people watch chess games, on line, while one of the players comments… on his moves, on his favorite drink, on his moves, on whether hot dogs are better than hamburgers, on his moves, on whether some 25 yr old “pog” (not sure what that is), played against the Pirc.  Sometimes, during their hours long podcasts they also are streaming their latest play list, which makes chess seem like the favorite game of Hell.  Never mind the scrolling live comments on the side, recorded for perpetuity and the Final Judgment.

It’s enough to raise your hands to heaven and whisper … “Really?”

The video above, as I write, has 1,315,527 views in the 174 from Apr 30, 2021 till now.

7560 views per day.

Young skulls full of mush are competing, coached by masters, in online tournaments for SIX figures.  And I do NOT mean the famous painting in the museum of my native place depicting Dante.  I’ll give a shout to Robert Royal’s ongoing online courses on the Divine Comedy, presently in Paradiso.  Magari. Utinam.  HERE  I’ve always wanted to teach Dante.  Dante is complicated and alluring.  What a kick it would be to teach Dante with Royal and Anthony Esolen, who made “the great translation”.  (Part 1, Inferno US HERE – UK HERE).  I digress.

Chess has its complicated, alluring complexities and its enticing engagement with the “other”.

How much more complex and enticing is Scripture, the orations of the Church, her history, mission and FOUNDER, who is wholly OTHER?

7560 views per day.

That’s more than my daily live-streamed Masses. (Those tens of you who followed, drop a line for developments.)

About my level in chess.  Maior if not Magnus.

I invoke Piccarda, whose ascent to her level was swift (cf. Purgatorio, 24.10-15 and Paradiso 3.85).

I renew an invitation for CLERICS (bishops, priests, deacons) who play chess to drop me a line. Maybe we could have a private (very “clericalist”, set apart) chess group. HERE

BTW… if I have Fr. Z’s Kitchen, I might have to have Fr. Z’ Workshop.

I’m presently fixing up and old, dinged-up wooden folding chess box.  Maybe this is self-reflective.  I haven’t done any wood working since .. since… when I was still winning at chess and when Fischer played Spassky and when I read Tolkien, a huge divine force vector, for the first time.

I need more tools.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Right now I’m working through the 100 Days of Dante.


    Magnus Institute has an 8-week archived course on Dante taught by Esolen. It’s free for monthly donors. There is another course that specifically studies Aquinas’ influence on Dante. The courses here are excellent.


  2. Danteewoo says:

    I enjoy chess quite a bit, but I suspect that my bishops are working for the other side.

  3. Ariseyedead says:

    Woodwork and Dante and Chess, oh my!

  4. PeterC says:

    Here’s an idea… provide still shots of a liturgical action, identify what’s going on. I can imagine Father smiling:
    Mass in the presence of a greater prelate, prayers at the foot of the altar!
    Low Mass, second ablution!

  5. Clare says:

    Put the tools on your Amazon list!

  6. Kathleen10 says:

    Totally tangential, excuse me. But the image above, your banner, is likely a scene from America in the days before civil rights for blacks and it occurs to me how much better white Americans can comprehend how black Americans experienced life and why some feel the way they do. Watching Australia right now and the terrible police and government brutality against the people only wanting freedom, suddenly things look quite different as we look at police in a new way. Won’t it be ironic if our current situation ends up uniting white and black Americans more than any other time in history. The Democrats would be horrified.

    This man is brilliant. My gosh.

  7. Not says:

    Loved Danteewoo’s comment about Bishops.

    My young teenage grandsons play chess. Great to see them play in silence with no bickering.

  8. JonPatrick says:

    Both my wife and younger son are avid chess players. They both have subscriptions to chess.com. My son plays online games with people from all over the world. It is fascinating the ability we now have with the Internet to do this. My wife prefers to play the robots. Occasionally I will play them although I am not in their league. I should work on my game especially the openings and understanding how to develop my pieces and pawn structure.

  9. I have a Chess.com account but with an anonymous name. Perhaps I should get one that is more visible and something can be organized. I watch my budget and see what happens. I believe in paying for services online whenever possible.

  10. preacherman says:

    Aside from the afore mentioned chess.com…any recommendations of online resources for adults, or children wishing to get into chess? I’m thinking apps or sites to play the bots you mentioned.

    I feel like letting some AI dominate me in chess might be healthier then indulging in the next random television series in the evening. While I’m a cleric it would be generous to call me a beginner at chess and thus have no business offering to play in a clerical chess group.

  11. You might check out


    If you want to do something more complicated, there’s Area with an engine like Stockfish. Hard to set up but robust.

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