Is Chess A Sport Or Merely A Game?

Chess Questions / By Andrew Hercules

According to the Oxford dictionary, a sport is defined as any activity that involves physical exertion and skill in which a person or team competes against one another for entertainment purposes. This leads us to the question, “Is chess a sport or a game?

Chess is NOT a sport because players do not compete based on athletic prowess. Chess is rather a game of the mind that has sport-like properties such as competitiveness, skill, international recognition, and doping controls.

Although we know chess to be just a game and not a sport, the International Olympic Committee and over 100 countries have indeed recognized chess as a sport. This decision sparked many heated debates and some individuals argue that the lack of physical activity prohibits chess from being a sport.

Since there is no athletics or physical exertion involved, why do some professional players consider chess to be a sport even though some players have never set foot in a gym? Shouldn’t chess be merely a board game?

Let’s have a deeper look at some of these arguments to find out the answers.

Here are ten great reasons why chess could be considered a sport and not just a board game.

10 Sports-like Features Of Chess

Runners running

1. Sportsmanship is practiced before and after the game

Like most of your favorite sports such as football, boxing, or even tennis, chess players practice sportsmanship and are encouraged to show deep respect for their opponent before and after every match through a handshake.

Even the smallest breach of the chess rules and etiquette can result in the postponement of a game. If you have a losing position, storming off from a game out of anger and disgust is not keeping with the etiquette of the game and can even result in future penalties.

Chess Etiquette and Behavior code

Almost every sport has its etiquette and behavior code and chess is just the same. In most chess tournaments, players are not allowed to:

  • Tip the board out of frustration and storm off.
  • Leave the playing hall when it’s their time to make a move on the chessboard.
  • Possess mobile phone on their person
  • Possess any form of technology that is used to cheat their way to victory
  • Violation of the anti-doping policy

2. Mental strain requires being in a good physical condition

In chess, players must understand the importance of keeping their bodies in peak condition to perform at their best level just like in any other sport.

One of the greatest chess players of all time, Bobby Fischer, advocates the need for chess players to have a good flow of blood circulation to the head. This allows players to have better concentration over the board and to avoid making mistakes.

Even Magnus Carlsen, the current undisputed World Chess Champion, performs his opening preparation on a treadmill, plays warm-up football sessions and brings his personal chef to tournaments just to maintain his diet. Likewise, many other chess contenders for the world chess championships have nutritionists and fitness coaches.

But why does the game of chess requires players to be in good physical condition before a match?
Well, the answer is pretty simple…

Mental exertion manifests itself physically

Imagine sitting in a chair in silence over a chess board for hours trying to strategize and calculate the most complex positions. I don’t know about you, but when I’m at a tournament and the outcome of my game rests on a knife’s edge, the moment is very intense. Complications make your brain hurt when you have to focus all your brainpower on making that critical and decisive move.

After hours of putting up resilience and mental fortitude, you would feel drained and tired in mind, body, and spirit.

These knife-edged chess games can sometimes elevate your heart rate, raise your blood pressure and leave you sweating after the match.

So do you now see why chess requires you to be in good mental and physical condition? Players need to concentrate for up to seven hours straight. Physical fitness becomes an important element as stress and tension build which causes blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates to all increase.

3. Chess Is Competitive like any other Sport


The goal of any sport is to win and the same goes for chess. Perhaps chess is one of the most competitive because of the long study hours that go into training and playing in official tournaments.

In my years of playing chess, I noticed that most chess players have really big egos and some players show little to no respect for a lesser-rated opponent. To some, losing a game against a weaker chess player is like a death sentence. Both their pride and ego are lost. Some may not even recover and may even give up on chess forever. You could very well compare this to an injury in any athletic sport.

Like losing a game of basketball, tennis, or any other sport, professional chess players suffer from the loss of their chess games severely. This feeling of defeat can last for a very long time.

The game of chess is so competitive that when some players lose, they may go into a state of sadness and depression for days or even weeks. How do I know this? Because I’ve been in that same condition before and have witnessed my teammates and opponents go through the same problem.

The only remedy to this emotional trauma is to Learn From your Mistakes. Once you find out where you went wrong, the chances of you losing from that same position or tactic are very minimal.

You can learn from your mistakes by:

  • Analyze your games with a chess engine.
  • Get a personal chess coach to go through your games.
  • If you had miscalculated a line, then work on a few tactical chess puzzles.
  • If you made a positional mistake. Then acquire a positional understanding the next time.

Is Chess the most competitive sport?

There is probably no sport in which two opposing sides are locked in a competitive struggle of such intensity for such a long sustained period of time. If one player happens to lapse in concentration, then his or her whole position can collapse in a blink of an eye.

Drama is present from the start of the game and uncertainty levels rise as the game progress through each stage (opening, middlegame, and endgame).

However, should we consider chess as the most competitive sport? Not in my opinion.  Drop a comment and let me know if you think otherwise.

4. Chess Requires Skills

Chess demands skills that are common in most sports. Acquiring any skill requires learning, hard work, consistent practice, experience, and failures. In order to acquire chess skills, elite players spend a lifetime honing their craft, practicing chess openings, studying the endgames, competing in tournaments, solving complicated positions and so much more.

If we should observe an NBA player, we know for a fact that skill is needed to dribble the ball, perform a layup, pass the ball, and score a 3-pointer. Similarly, chess requires deep and serious study by memorizing openings, sharpening your calculations skills through puzzles, reading books, and familiarizing yourself with endgame positions.

5. Chess is recognized by the Olympic Committee and the EU States

International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee recognize chess as a sport in 2000 and has great plans for the future of chess to be included in the Olympic games and other noticeable events. In 2006, Chess was held as an event in the Asian games in Doha. It was later held again in Guangzhou in 2010.

Chess is considered to be included in the Pan-American games. More importantly, Tokyo is preparing bids for the 2020 Summer Olympics and has called on chess and bridge to apply for inclusion.

Russia is also trying to bring chess to the winter Olympics in late 2020.

Member states of the European Union 

86% of the member states of the European Union recognize chess as a sport which is equivalent to 24 out of 28 states. The rest of the 4 member states do not recognize chess as a sport.

Here is the list of countries that do not recognize chess as a sport:

  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Belgium
  • Sweden

While Sweden is not in full recognition of chess, their sports coaches are making some efforts to include it in next year.

The Importance of recognizing chess as a sport

The image and status of chess vary from country to country. For example, countries like Germany spend very little promoting and advocating chess as a sport.

However, when it comes to Russia and China, we see that these two countries heavily invest in chess and have greater results on the international stage.

The image and status of chess in China and Russia are very strong when compared to other countries. Just these two countries have produced many successful super chess grandmasters.

For example, Russia is proud to have produced world chess champions such as Botvinnik, Spassky, Karpov, Kramnik, and the great Kasparov. While China has many strong elite grandmasters like Ding Liren, Li Chao, Yu Yangyi, Wei Yi, and not to mention the world’s best female chess player, Hou Yifan.

You can therefore see the importance of recognizing chess as a sport. Chess recognition is in correlation to the amount of funding and hence the level of performance on the international stage.

6. Chess Is A Universal Sport

2 men playing chess

Chess is a global game played all around the world. You can go almost anywhere and meet people who enjoy the game of chess. It’s no surprise that many of the words we use in chess are from other languages.

The game sparks interest in people of all ages and is not subjective to gender, race, income, or language. Even people with physical disabilities play chess. Blind people play chess, homeless people play chess, prisoner inmates play chess; everyone can play chess!

Statistics show that chess is played roughly by 700 million people around the world, which is almost a 10th of the population. This universal approach to chess allows international communication and comradery often associated with sports.

7. Chess has Doping Controls

Like many sports, chess has an anti-doping policy. In major international events, such as World Championships, elite players are often tested for banned substances that may aid them in accomplishing victory. More often, the issue lies in computer assistance and sometimes players are scanned if suspected of cheating.

Again players may be faced with hard penalties if violating the rules and etiquette of chess.

8. Chess Players are Ranked Accordingly

 In the year 1960, the chess ranking system was developed. Players were ranked according to their ELO ratings in classical, rapid, blitz, and bullet chess. The ranking system is adopted by many sports all over the world including soccer, football, baseball, golf, tennis, and much more. This is yet another sport-like property of chess that helps to recognize it as a sport.

9. Mental Agility In Chess

Chess is a mind sport and all players must have the mental agility to perform at their highest level. Mental agility is usually emphasized in rapid, blitz, and bullet games where one has to think fast and make quick decisions based on intuition, experience, and gut feeling.

All sports have a mental component just like chess. In tennis, players must have the mental agility to decide where to move over the court in order to keep the ball from bouncing outside the line.

In football, goalkeepers must be able to quickly predict the direction that the ball will go depending on the position of the goal scorer. The same goes for baseball, cricket, basketball, etc.

The mental component is common throughout all sports. The slight difference between chess and other athletics sports is that these competitive sports may be construed as strategy games that differ only in their physical manifestation.

10. Chess Sparks Global Interest

It is such a proud moment to witness your fellow countrymen and women competing in world-class tournaments such as the Olympic games, World cup, and even the World championships.

The level of support and love for the game can inspire a national fever. For example, when American Bobby Fischer challenged Soviet Union player, Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972, millions of people across the world watched intently during that time of the cold war

Chess is also a national accolade as world chess champions have won their national sportsmen of the year such as Magnus Carlsen from Norway, Vishny Anand from India, and grandmaster Topalov from Bulgaria.

Chess Vs Sports

Man playing chess as a sport

Most sports divide their game into separate parts. In hockey, there are 3 periods. Basketball and football both have 4 quarters. Baseball has 9 innings, and cricket is two. Chess is just like these sports too. If you compare chess with hockey, the game is split into 3 parts. But we don’t call them “periods”. We give each part a different name:

  1. Opening
  2. Middlegame
  3. Endgame

The Opening

The opening is the first part of the game. It usually lasts around 10 moves. This is the time when we develop our pieces. In this stage, time is an important element in the opening.

The Endgame

The endgame or ending is the final stage of the game when there are only a few pieces left. Everything that happens between the opening and the endgame is called the middlegame!

The Middlegame

The middlegame is where most of the action is. The strength of a chess player is usually found within the middle game as it requires good calculation techniques, positional understanding, and resilience.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one part starts and another ends. There are no buzzers or bells to signal things in chess. Maybe there should be!

Divided into Periods/sectionsYESYESYESYES
Peak Physical ConditionYESYESYESYES
Practice SportsmanshipYESYESYESYES
Universally knownYESYESYESYES
Played In OlympicsNOYESYESYES
Recognized as a sport by the International Olympics CommitteeYESYESYESYES

Final Verdict – Is Chess A Sport Or Merely A Board Game?

The international Olympic committee has declared chess as a sport due to its sports-like properties. Chess is not just a board game, it brings people from all walks of life together despite your age, race, and ethnic group which is unlike any regular board game.

Whether you want to call chess a sport or not, Chess will always be the game that breeds creativity, sharpens your instincts, develops your patience, and shape you into a smarter and more decisive individual.

If you wish to gain more knowledge about the game of chess and its origin, then make sure you check out my latest post where was chess invented. I’m glad to have settled the debate on whether chess is a sport or a game (for the most part).

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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