Are Chess Players Athletes?

Chess Guides / By Andrew Hercules

Are Chess Players athletes? An athlete is anyone who competes in an athletic sport such as Track and Field. Although chess can be physically exerting after long hours of play, chess players are NOT athletes because they do not compete based on athletic prowess.

Is Chess Physically Demanding?

Chess can be physically demanding and it’s essential for elite chess players to be in a good physical condition if they intend to perform at their highest level. On a regular basis, games between elite players may last between 7 to 9 hours and the slightest mistake may result in an instant defeat if a player loses concentration. But can sitting in a chair, in silence, in front of a chess board for hours on end reasonably constitute “physical exertion”? The problem is, it is impossible to understand how physically taxing chess can be unless one has actually played it themselves.

Think about your last intense match where you deeply cared about the result and had to concentrate every fibre of your being in making the right move, or when the position was so complicated that it made your head hurt. After long hours of engaging battle, you would have felt exhausted in both mind and body.

How Chess Grandmasters Keep In Shape?

Many of the world’s best chess players recognize the need to be in an excellent physical shape. This includes from Bobby Fischer to current world champion Magnus Carlsen and even former world champion Vishwanathan Anand.

Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer’s demanding exercise regimen allows him to compete for long hours without being drained or lapse concentration. Bobby Fischer had broad shoulders and love swimming and playing tennis. He also emphasized the need to have excellent blood circulation flowing to the head in an interview he did with Cavett in 1971.

Magnus Carlsen

Unlike Bobby Fischer, Magnus Carlsen loves playing football and he’s quite talented in the sport. He also does his opening preparation on a treadmill and brings his personal chef to tournaments to maintain his strict diet.

Vishwanathan Anand

Former World champion Anand, is also a big lover of swimming just like Fischer. Before the world championship match in 2013, Vishny decided to lose a few pounds  as he wanted to be in excellent shape before his encounter with Carlsen.

Similarities Between Athletes and Chess players

  • A common trait between athletes and chess players is that they have a goal, a desire to improve and willingness to commit. Athletes and chess players are both in contention for a prize(Usually medals, trophies and cash)
  • Being an athlete demands skills which also holds true for chess players. Elite chess players spend a lifetime honing their craft, practicing opening variation, studying endgames, solving tactical puzzles, and much more. The regimen of a professional chess player is every bit as demanding as that of a professional athlete.
  • Sportsmanship is practiced by chess players. In chess, it is traditional to wish your opponent good luck before the game and to thank them for the game afterwards. Chess players are required to shake hands at the start of a match and even at the end. Similarly, at the start of a football match, players shake hands after the national anthem in respect and appreciation for their opponent.
  • Chess and athletics both have doping controls. Just like so many other sports, chess players in major events are tested for substances that may provide them a competitive edge. It is arguable if any substances could help a player. Instead, chess players are much more concerned about cheating using technological assistance.

Differences Between Athletes and Chess Players

  • Chess players do not train intensely like regular athletes. For chess, the result of the event is not dependent on physical prowess such as running a marathon or sprint. Chess players solely rely on their mind to do the work. On the other hand, athletes have to depend on their physical abilities developed through intense training and working out.
  • Chess players do not suffer injuries. Arm string injuries, torn ligaments, muscle contractions are all the physical pain that professional athletes may face while competing in their sport. While chess can be mentally draining sometimes, it is nowhere close to the anguish of an injured athlete.
  • Chess players do not have to be over the board to compete. In almost every sport, athletes have to be physically present at the event to compete. During the pandemic, many sports were placed on a pause and athletes couldn’t get the opportunity to participate in their respective sporting discipline. On the other hand, chess was completely the opposite. Many chess tournaments were still being held but this time on online platforms such as chess.com and lichess.org. The chess community online has even grown stronger since most people had to be forced into their homes with nothing to do but play chess 🙁

Is Chess an Olympic Sport?

While many may debate the validity of chess being a sport, the International Olympic Committee has already declared chess as a sport. These reasons include:

  • Chess is competitive as the participating players feel the drive to win.
  • There is an audience of people cheering on their favorite player. In silence of course.
  • Chess requires skills just like any other sport.
  • Chess has rules and behavior etiquette
  • Chess has doping controls

Related Post: Is Chess a sport merely a game?

Andrew Hercules

Hercules Chess, launched in 2020, is a website that teaches you about chess. We started as a chess blog and became a chess training platform in early 2022.

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