Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chess as Art, Chess as Violent Sport, Part II

In Chess as Art, Chess as Violent Sport, I declared, "It is not accidental that top level chess is dominated by young players; chess is very strenuous and thus energy and physical conditioning often outweigh the value of accumulated experience/wisdom." The recent deaths of two players at the biennial Chess Olympiad (hosted this year by Tromso, Norway) further highlight the physically demanding nature of chess.

In Why Chess is Really an Extreme Sport, Stephen Moss details why chess tournaments are so much more demanding than the general public may realize:

At the Olympiad, participants were playing a game a day over a fortnight--11 rounds with just a couple of rest days on which to recuperate. For up to seven hours a day, they would be sitting at the board trying to kill--metaphorically speaking--their opponent, because this is the ultimate game of kill or be killed. In some positions, you can reach a point where both sides are simultaneously within a single move of checkmating the other. One false step and you will have lost. This imposes enormous pressure on players.

These days, some top players use psychologists to help them deal with this stress. They are also paying increasing attention to diet and fitness. I was staying in the same hotel as many of the world’s top players during the great annual tournament at Wijk aan Zee on the Dutch coast in January, and was struck by the regime adopted by Levon Aronian, the Armenian-born world number two, who started each day with a run followed by a healthy breakfast.

After listing the poor health habits that contributed to the early demise of some of the former Soviet Union's great chess players and the equally poor health habits typical of the average club level player, Moss concludes:

So next time someone suggests a nice, quiet game of chess, or paints it as an intellectual pursuit played by wimps, tell them they’ve got it all wrong: this is a fight to the finish played in the tensest of circumstances by two players who are physically and mentally living on the edge. We all need to get fitter to play this demanding game, and society should recognise it for what it is--a sport as challenging, dramatic and exciting as any other. Such recognition would be a tribute of sorts to the two players who sadly played their final games in Tromso.

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