DENVER, CO—“One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war…” Those nine words chanted before a chess match by high school chess clubs across Colorado will soon be silenced, thanks to new regulations banning pre-game thumb wars.
Whether it’s spirited or gentle, the pre-game thumb war has historically offered chess players a window into the soul of their opponent. It gives them the opportunity to enjoy a brief moment of human connection before letting their brains take the wheel. It reminds them of why they fell in love with chess in the first place.
Thumb wars are the emotional crux of every chess match.
But the National Foundation for Chess Safety and Integrity (NFCSI), the governing body behind the ban, says pre-game thumb wars are a quaint relic of the past that set the stage for game-ending thumb injuries.
“We understand this ban will be unpopular, but safety is our number one concern,” said a local spokesperson for the NFCSI. “Over the past few years, thumb war etiquette has fallen to the wayside. Unfortunately, this opens the door for bad actors to use pre-game thumb wars as an opportunity to handicap their opponent.”
Many chess players and their coaches disagree. They say NCFSI’s assessment is mostly off base, and that rolling out the ban statewide is a mistake.
“Here in southern Colorado, chess doesn’t attract these so-called bad actors the NFCSI claims they’re protecting our players from,” said a coach from a Pueblo County high school chess club. “We’re talking about kids who swallow their retainers at night and can’t digest fibrous vegetables. Not fierce chess superstars willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. You’d have to go to Cherry Creek to find kids like that. So why are we being forced to adopt this ban that doesn’t apply to us, but effectively strips away every semblance of sportsmanship from the game?”
While high school kids often disagree with everything adults say, their stance on the thumb war ban couldn’t be more aligned.
“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the pre-game thumb war,” said a junior member of a Douglas County high school chess club. “There’s something mentally grounding about linking hands and fumbling digits. It reminds us we aren’t just opponents meeting in a staged battle over a chess board. We’re also humans with cracking voices and clammy hands.”