Why Chess Players Should Be Physically Fit
Fitness might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of chess. But imagine this: when elite chess players compete, with everything to lose, the mind works overtime, the blood pressure is high, the lungs work harder than usual. If nothing else, consider comfort. When US Grandmaster Bobby Fischer was preparing to face reigning World Chess Champion Boris Spassky of the USSR in the 1972 World Chess Championship match in Reykjavik, he demanded that his special chair be the accompanied. When Spassky saw the chair, he asked for the exact same one for himself. At the time, men were considered eccentric. After all, chess players have always been considered difficult. But maybe Fisher was on to something, because these days chess players place more importance on fitness.
Talk to ESPN in September last year, American neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky said a chess player could burn up to 6,000 calories a day playing in a tournament. “Grandmasters maintain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners,” he said. Sapolsky should know, because he’s been studying the effects of stress on human health for more than three decades. In fact, the deaths of two chess players within hours of each other during a Chess Olympiad in Norway in 2014 led to a slew of articles about how the body reacts to hours spent sitting in front of each other. a chessboard trying to outsmart an opponent. Stephen Moss, author of The Rookie: an odyssey through chess (and life) (2016), wrote in The Guardian at the time when “there were almost 2,000 players taking part in the event, a good number of them – mostly men – aging, unfit, sedentary”. For a sport that uses both hemispheres of the brain and requires intense concentration, a certain level of fitness is important for success.
Elite chess players these days understand this. Led by the examples of FIDE (the international chess federation) world number 1 Magnus Carlsen and number 2 Fabiano Caruana, today’s players have intense fitness regimes. Known for his obsession with detail, Carlsen even takes into account the exact angle at which he should lean towards the chessboard, while making a move during a game. He plays football, practices yoga and replaced orange juice with chocolate milk early in his career in an attempt to control the way his body burns sugar when he plays. His former coach Simen Agdestein was not only a chess grandmaster himself, but also played as a striker for the Norwegian football team.
Increasingly, Indian chess players are also aware of the need to be in good shape. “(Playing tournament chess) is extremely tiring. A typical game lasts between 4 and 6 hours for me. It can lead to a state of total exhaustion by the time I’m done with a match,” says Nihal Sarin, 16, India’s men’s No.10. Badminton is his favorite sport to maintain his physical shape.
Indian grandmaster Nihal Sarin plays badminton to stay in shape. (Photo: Getty Images)
“When Viswanathan Anand was about to play with Carlsen in Chennai in the 2013 World Championship, I hadn’t seen him for a while,” says chess coach Vishal Sareen. When he met Anand, it was clear to Sareen that the former world champion “Fitness has been in the game for 30 years, but it’s only now getting better,” says Sareen, who coached Parimarjan Negi (Indian Men’s No.8), Tania Sachdev (Indian Women’s No.4), and Abhijeet Gupta (Indian Men’s No.12), among others. “Abhijeet is one of those who go jogging in minus 30 degrees Celsius in Russia,” he says. For Anand, it’s the gym and the bike. For Krishnan Sasikaran (Indian male number 5), it’s table tennis. In fact, he even has a home serve machine for TT.
“Traditionally, chess is thought to be a sedentary sport and physical fitness is not important. But there is a paradigm shift. Whatever chess players I have worked with, they have a fitness routine. They need to get their heart rate up and sweat a bit. Increased stamina leads to increased alertness and motivation,” says Gayatri Vartak, a sports psychologist and former top 100 badminton player in the world. -founder of Samiksha Sports, a consultancy that helps athletes improve through mindfulness, life skills and other activities.
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India’s No. 3 male chess player Vidit Gujrathi seeks what he calls a ‘fun element’ in his training. “For me, nothing beats basketball. It really engages me and gives great health results. Chess requires a lot of sitting, and it’s not good for your health, so I bought a treadmill and walked on it while working on chess. My sister is a physical therapist, so it really helps, and I make sure to get up every half hour and do some light exercise in between long hours of sitting,” he says. On September 1, the 25-year-old led the Indian team to a joint victory (with Russia) at the Online Chess Olympiad.
Indian grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi plays basketball to stay fit. (Photo courtesy of Vidit Gujrathi/Chess.com)
Sarin, who beat Carlsen in an online game of Blitz on May 27, says the recent popularity of online chess has also led to increased awareness of fitness and how it helps players. . “That is definitely changing now. I think it’s about communicating it to the outside world and things are getting better now, especially with the rise of internet chess,” he says.
The story of Fischer’s chair in 1972 may be strange, but he certainly knew the importance of physical fitness. He enjoyed weightlifting with weights, swimming and playing tennis regularly. As he once said, “Your body must be in perfect condition. Your chess game deteriorates like your body. You cannot separate the body from the spirit.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.