How Elite Chess Players Burn Over 6,000 Calories


In the five months it took to complete the 1984 World Chess Championship in Moscow (between chess legend Garry Kasparov and then-champion Anatoly Karpov), Karpov is said to have lost over 22 pounds. Despite protests from both players, the championship was canceled due to their physical conditions. It is, so far, the only World Chess Championship to end without a result.

The transformation of chess, however, was not isolated to this tournament alone. The six-game championship in 2004 left Rustam Kasimdzhanov 17 pounds lighter. And in 2018, a company that tracked grandmaster Mikhail Antipov’s heart rate concluded that he burned 560 calories in just two hours. Sitting motionless. Play chess. (An average-sized person would need two hours on a treadmill to break 500.)

Last week, ESPN took a closer look at the consequences of stationary sport on the body. ESPN spoke with Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford University researcher who studies primates. Sapolsky explained that some chess players react to the game like any elite athlete, burning more than 6,000 calories a day during tournaments, due to tripling breathing rate, high blood pressure and contractions. muscle. This means that during tournaments they can lose two pounds every day.

Anatoly Karpov versus Garry Kasparov, 1984
The 1984 World Chess Championship

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US chess champion and world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana told ESPN he will drop from 135 to 120 pounds during intense tournament play.

Marcus Rachel, a neurologist from the University of Washington, and Philip Cryer, a metabolism expert, explained that the phenomenon is the result of intense stress, which increases the heart rate and causes the body to produce more oxygen. . Stress can also cause players to lose appetite and sleep, two potential weight loss factors.

These observations are now causing more chess champions to focus on the physical and mental side of the game in their preparation for the tournament. For example, Caruana runs, swims, and plays tennis, and his body resembles that of a football or college athletics player.

2018 Championship Game First Kick Ceremony
Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Chess Champion (R) and Fabiano Caruana, US Challenger.

Tristan FewingsGetty Images

The current World Chess No. 1 champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, sought advice from Olympic coaches after realizing his own victories took longer and caused more fatigue. Carlsen now runs and exercises religiously. He even hired a personal chef to travel with him and watch his macros. During matches, he chews gum to increase brain function without expending too much energy. He also adjusted his posture so as not to twist his neck.

In November of last year, Carlsen faced Caruana to defend his world title. The athletes drew all twelve games of the time-controlled game, the only time in the history of the World Chess Championship that this has happened. Finally, in a rapid chess tiebreaker, Carlsen retained his title and defeated Caruana.

Carlsen will put his body on the line again next year when the championship returns in 2020. Until then, he will hit the treadmill.

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