by: Perry Ang, Camille Falcon and Kelseyann Go
Last February 17, 2013, Sunday, our group decided to attend the UAAP Chess Tournament for Women’s and Men’s held at the 9th floor auditorium of FEU University. Staying there from 12:30 pm to 6:00 pm, we were able to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the game of chess, where the value of patience, critical thinking and discipline is highlighted and where every move you make counts.
The competition was just beginning when we entered the air-conditioned auditorium. The place was cold and we could see people wearing jackets. The teams from the different schools participating — UST, UP, UE, ADMU, FEU, ADU, NU and DLSU — were all crowded in their respective booths as we saw them huddle into a circle and shout out a cheer, exuberating team spirit.
As the competition began, the noise died down; and from the chilly atmosphere of people talking and the smell of fast food wafting in the auditorium, it suddenly shifted towards a more serious atmosphere, hearing only the occasional whispers of the audience as the games began.
How Does It Work?
The players shake their hands before the game begins. According to our key informant, the tournament is played for 14 rounds (double round robin among the 8 teams), and each round consists of 4 games, meaning each school has players from Board 1 to Board 4. Only one round is played per day, which means that there will be 14 game days (6 weekends and 2 Wednesdays); thus, having 56 games in total. Each game won gives the team 1 point, and a drawn game gives 0.5 points, which means the highest possible score for a team is 56 points. The team with the highest point total after 14 rounds wins the UAAP Chess tournament.
How was Our Presence Felt?
Around 5 minutes after the games begin, we were able to observe a very interesting tradition that has been continuously done over the years. The substitute players and team captains began to approach their fellow team mates who were currently playing, giving them drinks and food. When we asked our key informant, “Won’t they be distracted?” he told us that foods such as chocolate help in stimulating the mind. He, who was also part of the team, then gave a drink to one of his teammates playing, showing a sign of support and encouragement.
What was happening outside the Auditorium?
At around 3 in the afternoon, we took a break to look around the place, we went just outside of the auditorium where we saw the statistics of the standings of each team in the competition. At that moment, Ateneo was currently in 7th place. And as we continued to look around, we found two people playing chess. One was from Ateneo, who was done playing his round in the competition while the other one was an alumni from UST. As we watched them play, we saw how different it was from the games being played inside the auditorium. Our key informant explained that their game is called “blitz chess”. A fast-paced game where each player is given only 3 minutes to make his moves; thus, the game will only last for a maximum of 6 minutes. This is totally different from what we saw in the competition where each player is given 1 and a half hours, and they are given an additional 30 seconds every time they move, so the games can literally go on endlessly, as long as they make a move before their time runs out. Later on, as they left, we decided to play as well.
How did It All End?
As each match begins to end, people from the audiences began to stand and the noise began to escalate the same way it was as we entered for the first time in the auditorium. And as people waited for the night to end with the awardings, the tight competition between FEU versus UST for the men’s division still continues (they’re the only teams left playing). As of the start of Round 14, UST (32.5 points) is 0.5 points ahead of FEU (32 points) who is aiming for a 7-peat this year, which suggests why they are relentlessly battling against each other until the very last minute, with no one giving up easily. With some computations, UST needs to only score a tie (2-2) in the last round to seal the championship or as we heard other players term it: “tabla panalo ang UST”, so FEU must score at least a 2.5-1.5 in order to continue their championship streak. At 5:30 pm, three of the boards were already done playing, and three of them ended up in a draw (1.5-1.5), which ultimately leaves the decision to the last board playing. If FEU wins, they win the championship; if the game is drawn or if UST wins, UST wins the championship. According to our key informant who can enter the game premises, FEU is winning, because he is ahead by 3 pawns. But perhaps due to time pressure, and also the pressure to win the game, he blundered. After a long and tedious bout, UST won the game, and thus emerging as this year’s champion, effectively dethroning FEU from their reign of 6 years.
What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
There is a big difference between watching an actual UAAP chess match and playing chess against someone under similar conditions as those playing in the UAAP. When we were observing from the audience, we could not decipher what was going on in the actual game. It seemed as though they were simply just making their moves and pressing their clocks until the game was finished. The game seemed very distant and wasn’t something we were able to really immerse ourselves in. From this perspective, we weren’t able to really understand how it is to actually play in an actual chess game with all its influences and pressures. And one may end up being bored from watching and to some extent, be frustrated by how long a game would take just to finish.
Our outlook and view of the game really changed when we tried to play the game. Chess under time pressure is clearly different from the casual chess that people usually play. Being restricted by time, one has the chance to make more careless mistakes because he did not think his moves through. More than just watching the players make their moves, we had to experience the stress and pressures of thinking of our own moves with the obvious goal of winning. In line with this, contrary to the usual mentality of impatience of the game to end, when we are the ones playing, we would actually want the game to go on and on hoping that with more time, we are given a higher chance of winning. We also learned that anything can happen in a chess game, and one can never know the result for sure until the game is finished. Winning games can turn out to be lost, and losing games can turn out to be won. It takes only one wrong move, and the tables may turn. Chess is not only a mental game, but also a psychological game. Outside pressures like the FEU versus UST game can affect one’s game. One can also be intimidated by the opponent’s actions (how fast he moves, and how confident he seems when he moved), and this may affect one’s game as well.
In conclusion, participant observation is highly insightful especially when used to gather data in chess matches. More than just watching or asking people questions, we really immerse ourselves in what it is like to play chess and compare and contrast the data we gathered with our assumptions. We break these assumptions if they contradict the data we gathered or the data we gather may further justify our assumptions.
What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Our key informant was, Perry Ang, one of our group members and one of the members of the Ateneo de Manila University Chess Team. Given the fact that we were well acquainted, we could ask him a lot of questions and consult him whenever there was something we didn’t understand considering that he is knowledgeable with how the game goes due to his prior experience of participating in these kinds of tournaments.
Not all of the members of the group were knowledgeable about the rules of chess. Our key informant filled us in on these things and also on how the games are managed. He told us how many games are played a day, how the matching up is done and how to win over-all. He filled us in on all the fundamental details of the event and the game to give us a firm foundation for our better understanding of both the game and event. Another important bunch of information our key informant told us was the context of the tournament, especially during the last round wherein UST was going head to head against FEU. This added to our understanding of why the atmosphere in the venue seemed to be so competitively quiet. He filled us in on the standings of Ateneo and informed us about the leading teams in the men’s, women’s and junior division. Furthermore, he told us that the leading teams of the men and women’s division were on the stage playing against their corresponding competitors.
Looking beyond the event and the viewing of the chess games that were played during that day, as a chess player himself, Perry gave us information on how a player copes with the stress and pressures of a game. According to him, what all players need to win is practice. They would watch videos of previous matches of their opponents from other schools and would analyse and understand their playing style. With this, they are able to anticipate their opponent’s moves if ever they were to play against each other. Also, he mentioned that in the chess team, they would play against each other so that they would be able to practice. This is obviously not the same as a real UAAP match but this would still be able to help hone their abilities. Lastly, he told us that before the match begins, the players are advised to drink Gatorade or eat chocolates because this stimulates the mind. Chess is known as a mental game so the stimulation of the mind would be very useful and important during a match.
Without our key informant, there would be a lot of holes in our data because as mere spectators, there is certainly a limit to the amount of data we would be able to gather. He was able to fill in the holes in our data and gave us a good foundation for our collection of data. Furthermore, he was even able to go beyond the event and chess game itself and gave us more in depth data.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
Through participant observation of the UAAP Chess tournament, we learned that a game of chess is actually not as simple as it seems to be, and that there are outside pressures and even psychological effects that can affect a player aside from the game being mentally exhausting. This is because we have been able to observe them in their actual environment and put ourselves in their shoes by trying to actually play the game.
At first, we were able to observe the small details of the players—their mannerisms and their actions. Some players have their foreheads wrinkled while intently gazing at the board, with their eyes moving from side to side. Some players are rocking their legs nonstop while clutching their hair. Some are always standing up and walking around, looking at other players’ games while others excuse themselves to go to the bathroom after every other move. Overall, every movement the players make exuberates a tense atmosphere throughout the auditorium. It makes one feel that the venue is not an auditorium; but rather, a battlefield where lives are on the line. We were surprised upon knowing that the games would be played for almost 4 to 5 hours and shuddered at the intensity of the competition because we still cannot think how a “simple” game of chess can be this competitive.
But through trying to put ourselves in their shoes by actually trying out the game, we understood the game better, and realized why the players were acting in such way. This is because one wrong move can cost you the game. Every move should be accurate; otherwise, it would give the opponent an advantage. We then deduced (and was also confirmed by our key informant), that the one who loses in a chess game, is actually the one who made the first mistake, and one could only imagine the pressure a player feels while on the board thinking of his next move. Add to that the fact that your team’s fate is on the line, and every point counts. The pressure is surely immense. But of course, we never experienced that kind of pressure, because we aren’t too experienced in the game of chess.
All these, we wouldn’t be able to truly understand if we didn’t do participant observation. Because what a survey or interview might give is just this—perhaps a narrative like the one above. And most probably, we would still be puzzled and confused at how all these feelings can be present in a chess player while playing the game, because we wouldn’t have been able to participate in the game ourselves. Using a survey questionnaire or interview, we would probably be at a loss when we hear a player’s response.
For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
In general, a questionnaire or interview might be better when one is trying to find out objective facts about people or their opinions, or when a researcher needs to ask a large number of respondents, or when participant observation is impractical. At the same time, conducting surveys and interviews from different people coming from different places help avoid observer’s bias which participant observation is very prone to.
Through surveys, one is able to gather both qualitative and quantitative results and be able to think through one’s survey questions properly. On the other hand, conducting interviews with different people allows you to form your conclusions based on different perspectives as compared to relying on participant observation wherein your generalizations are more personal and based more on what you feel and think.
It is important to note that some events are difficult or impractical to observe or participate in. Victims of disasters like typhoons and earthquakes can be an example of this. Just like in our UAAP Chess tournament observation, one may not be able to fully understand what these victims might tell you about their experience, because we haven’t experienced them ourselves. But, it is sensibly impractical to do participant observation in these events because we would also be risking our own lives. Thus, interviews would still be a better tool in studying the experiences of typhoon and earthquake victims.