CBS WIRE had a chat with CBS’ very own chess champion Ellen Fredericia Nilssen, who at 21, possesses the women’s champion title and is one of the best female players in Denmark. We asked her about prodigies, planning and bringing the game beyond the board.
“When anyone asks me what I love about chess, I tell them that it is a learning experience. When you’re dealing with chess, you never stop learning. And it’s a game where you can never be perfect; there’s always something you can improve at. There are just so many nuances in the game – despite it being mostly in black and white. And so many different ways to play it.”
But chess can also go above and beyond the board. With endless variations and ways to approach this complicated game, theories seem to extend beyond the game and into everyday life, according to Ellen Fredericia Nilssen:
“I always say that we can use much of what we learn in chess in real life as well. And it might seem kind of abstract in some ways, but there are so many mental aspects of chess that are useful in everyday life. There’s so much decision making, so many ups and downs and learning to deal with defeat and hard times, but also knowing how to learn from your mistakes. And when you win, you also know how to deal with it, apart from just being happy. Then there’s the whole concentration part – you have to stay focused for a long time, and can take what you learn from chess and apply it to so many aspects of the real world, or the other way around, where we take what we know from the real world and apply it to chess.”
There’s no such thing as the right time – it’s really just important to start
Ellen Fredericia Nilssen lives a busy life. What with tournaments, teaching, voluntary work, and full time studying, fitting everything into the 24 hours of the day is a strategic feat in itself:
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit difficult. Besides full-time studying, playing chess and doing training sessions, I engage in many other activities to commercialize chess. I stream on Twitch, and I’m also in a partnership with the chess platform called Chess24, which involves all sorts of different activities. And then I’m currently working as a volunteer for the Danish speed chess championships, which is a tournament that I created, with the best chess players in Denmark playing online against each other. So besides playing chess, there are many work tasks related to it as well. It’s actually quite rare for me to sit down and study chess properly.”
Now, chess might seem like quite a difficult sport to join. The combination of an excessively strategic gameplay, a brain-twisting reputation and the common trope of young child prodigies somehow magically mastering the game at an increasingly young age can be off putting. But as Ellen Fredericia Nilssen comments:
“It’s never too late to start. It’s not like starting to play football, where you initially have to get into really good shape or otherwise you would only last two minutes. In chess, it’s never too late to start learning how to play. It’s a way of challenging your brain, no matter how good you are. Everyone thinks ‘Oh, I should have started this when I was younger!’ I started when I was ten, and sometimes I’m sad that I didn’t start younger. But there’s no such thing as the right time – it’s really just important to start.”
And of course, the question has to be asked. Does she hear lots of references to The Queen’s Gambit?
“Yes, I hear them all the time. When the Queen’s Gambit miniseries came out, I think I was contacted by at least one journalist every day for a very long time. I made it onto Go’ Morgen Danmark too, for some weird reason. So, I’ve heard it a lot, but then again, I’ve watched the series twice.”