Nova Scotia·Q&A

Halifax-born chess grandmaster wins Atlantic tournament

In a pool of 75 chess players, Halifax-born Aman Hambleton won the top spot at an all-ages tournament in Halifax. The 29-year-old chess grandmaster has returned to tournament playing after focusing on building his online chess entertainment website.

29-year-old Aman Hambleton is currently ranked eighth in the country

A man with swept-up yellow hair wearing a blue dress shirt gazes at the camera while the ocean rolls behind him.
Aman Hambleton says chess is a mix of art and science. (Aman Hambleton/Instagram)

In a pool of 75 chess players from Canada and abroad, Halifax-born grandmaster Aman Hambleton won the top spot at an all-ages five-day tournament hosted at Saint Mary's University. 

Hambleton is currently ranked eighth in the country. 

The 29-year-old returned to playing tournaments after taking a three-year break to focus on building his online chess entertainment website, Chessbrah, which has more than 285,000 subscribers on YouTube

"I was really proud to have won the tournament. I was shaking the rust off a little bit," Hambleton told CBC's Maritime Noon guest host Brett Ruskin from his home in Toronto. 

This is a condensed version of their conversation that has been edited for clarity and length.

Aman Hambleton recently won the Pawn Wise Chess Festival in Halifax. He explains the thrill of winning the competition and what skills are needed to be a chess grand master. We hear what's been done at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown following a cyber-attack earlier this year. And on the phone-in, we speak with Steve Skafte about abandoned roads

Do you remember all the chess games that you play? 

I think chess players in general have this somewhat photographic memory just for their own games. It's like their own artistic creation. When you play the game in a serious chess tournament, you sit there for five hours, sometimes more. And all you're doing is trying to learn as much as you can about the position in front of you. I think if you stare at something and try to analyze it for five, six hours, it's going to be imprinted on your brain.

What makes a good chess player?

One of the easiest ways to think of it is, if you're walking through a city and you're trying to get from point A to point B, there's obviously a lot of different ways to get there. Some are going to be more efficient — much more efficient. Some ways can be extremely inefficient — you're like taking really long walks across blocks. You're going the wrong direction. But ultimately, there's a lot of ways to end up at the same place. 

I think it's the same thing with your ability in chess. I mean, there's no one perfect formula, but it's a mix of everything. Pattern recognition is a huge one. Of course, you have to have that strategic mind and the ability to think ahead. But there's also things like pure raw talent. Some people just are born with more of a direction and affinity for chess. And those people are naturally going to start probably at an advantage compared to other people.

Fearlessness is a key part of being a chess great, Hambleton says. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

But then, of course, there's working hard. You know, there's pure dedication and how many hours you can pour into it and how good you are studying. So I think there's a whole mélange of things that you can expect to find in a chess player. And every chess player is a little bit different. 

It sounds like it's a mix between chess being an art, and chess being a science. What do you think?

Yeah, I think especially lately. Chess engines, as they're called — basically computer programs that are trying to solve chess — it's not close to being solved yet, but the best computer engine in the world is significantly stronger than the best human player. And us mere humans, mortals, we use the engines to study as well. That's how we learn. So there's always this scientific, more analytical approach you definitely have to have, computer-backed moves ready at your avail. 

You have to use the engine to study because if you just try to study on your own, somebody who's using the assistance of an engine is going to be miles ahead of you. 

A human might look at a certain position and be like, you know, "Wow, this is incredibly scary. I'm being attacked on this side of the board, my king's in danger." The computer has already worked out that there's no danger in sight. But a human will still look at that position and think, "No, no, I don't want to play this, this is insane. I don't see how I could possibly take this position." So I think that's where the art comes in. 

Is there a way to train your own "inferior human brain" away from that fear in order to not have it cloud your more analytical judgment?

Absolutely. In an ideal world, you should be as objective as possible. There should be no emotions. There should be no "this looks scary" or "this feels wrong." If you're playing chess to the absolute maximum, you're playing the most like an engine, which does not have fear. And I think there's definitely ways to train that to get more comfortable and especially as, you know, technology sort of changes and improves over time.

The computer engine and studying alongside the engine with the use of the engine is becoming more and more commonplace. And, you know, kids are a lot better with technology and computers these days. So chess is becoming a game that kids are getting a lot better at as a result. 

A 10-year-old placed 11th in this open tournament with lots of good players, including yourself, from all over the place. Are you seeing more youth here in Atlantic Canada or on the East Coast kind of getting involved in the sport and competing? 

No doubt. I think that in chess in general, it's becoming a younger and younger game, first of all, for just the sheer fact that it's becoming more of an online thing. And that's sort of what I'm doing. So it just means that there's a ton of free content available online, whether you're looking to just entertain yourself with chess, or whether you're looking to learn something. And there's no better age group or demographic at taking those in like a sponge than than the younger generation. 

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With files from Maritime Noon

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