Chess is a challenging game that requires great mental effort to succeed in at the higher levels.
To make sense of the people who play this perplexing game, non-chess players can use shortcuts to make sense of chess players through stereotyping. These people may ask themselves, “What kind of person spends his or her weekends hunched over a chess board rather than having fun?”
I have heard many stereotypes for chess players over my more than 10 years as a tournament chess player: nerdy, intellectual, socially awkward, quirky, quiet, and crazy.
Before we look at these stereotypes, let’s see what it takes to succeed at just one chess game. First, one needs to learn how to play. Let’s assume one has the rules memorized. Winning at chess requires learning how to open the game while navigating a battlefield with pieces scattered over the 64 squares.
In the middle game, a player utilizes strategies and tactics to disarm the opponent while being aware of constant dangers. Games conclude in the endgame by grinding out confusing positions where the tiniest inaccuracy can shift circumstances in an opponent’s favor.
In a game riddled with complex choices, it makes sense that the people who are drawn to the game often are intellectual types. It certainly helps to be quiet and introverted when you’re playing a game completely in your own head. In chess, studying often is needed to improve, and people who are considered studious usually excel at that activity.
It becomes clear that chess draws players who are already inclined to be intelligent. But does chess affect personalities? While this is just opinion, I would say that chess does indeed influence personalities.
From personal experience, I became quirkier from spending hours upon hours (probably around 10,000 over 10 years) staring at a black and white checkered board and 32 pieces. When I look at the chessboard, I don’t see what the non-chess player sees: I imagine all the possibilities and unique variations that are about to occur. I remember crushing losses and fulfilling victories. Even looking at a board brings back old emotions from various times in my life.
As a result of thinking so much during chess, I now over-analyze nearly everything. Going to chess tournaments rather than friends’ houses on weekends made me a bit more socially awkward at times. For instance, during college I got very nervous and quiet when meeting new people because I had less experience getting to know new people during high school and middle school. Just as I look for the perfect move in chess, when I wrote college essays I spent way too much time searching for perfect phrasing.
However, chess definitely brings out positive personality traits as well. Spending so much time in my own mind helped me become more self-aware of tendencies in my thinking. I loved looking at initial chess moves without diving deeper into the variations. I did a lot of this surface analysis in real life as well: I loved making lists without following through.
That realization encouraged me to complete my goals more often. Studying chess trained me to study hard for tests in school even when I didn’t have any interest in the class. Trying to figure out the best moves in chess improved my creativity and decision-making. This carried over to decisions I made in my non-chess life.
Just like most activities, chess draws in a person with certain attributes, and then churns out a person who has new insights and ideas. I would never tell someone to avoid chess. Playing chess provides people with a way to use their minds, explore possibilities, and challenge themselves.
I highly recommend everyone play at least a few games of chess. As you play chess for a few days in a row, try to be aware of its positive and negative effects. I am confident there will be much more good than bad, and perhaps there will be no bad at all.