What is the Relationship between Chess and Mental Health?

Your mental health is crucial if you are a chess player. In the previous Tips4Chess article “Importance of Personal Traits in Chess and Must Have Qualities to Become a Good Chess Player”, it is mentioned about Former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer`s famous quote “I do not believe in psychology, I believe in good moves”, however, as a Psychologist and as a person having an understanding of the rules of chess and observed the lifestyle of professional chess players, I have to contradict the statement of former World Chess Champion, and I admit that psychology does play a significant role in chess!

We all know that Bobby Fischer quit playing professional chess when his mental illness got worse. His childhood was not an easy one, his father left the family, Bobby couldn’t feel safe at home and he made up his reasons to leave home. He indicated that he could not study chess because there was noise. His paranoid attacks increased in the adulthood, after he became the world champion of chess, he quit playing chess and moved to another country. Maybe as his stress level increased related to the championship, he couldn’t handle with all.

Mental Health and Chess

We must realize the fact that mental health is important for every human. Considering the type of life chess players have, it may even become more crucial on certain occasions. Chess tournaments take long days, you travel frequently, move from one tournament to another and stay away from your home for a long time. Staying away from your comfort zone increases your stress. Each day and each chess game during the tournament is another struggle, you wonder whether you will win or lose. Especially when you are a professional chess player and playing competitive chess regularly, your life plans, expectations of yourself, your friends’, family’s and other’s expectations from you may put serious pressure on you. If you identify yourself with your success, then that makes it worse each time you lose a game or competition.

You may be a perfectionist. You may be the one, who blame him/herself harshly when the plan isn’t worked out. You may have hard times accepting yourself with both of your strengths and weaknesses. You may come to a point that you deny your weaknesses and not to accept yourself as a real person with both strengths and weaknesses, good and bad matches, good and bad moves. You may obsessively think about that how you did that move, how you couldn’t find the correct position, how you have become that wrong etc. However, it makes things worse as that approach increases your stress level, and only you can find how to improve yourself when you are open to accept your weaknesses, what may be better, what is not well enough.

You need to be mentally strong if you want to be a strong chess player. You need support. You need your acquaintances supporting you. You need supportive friends and supportive family.

Support you need is sometimes a professional one. You may need counselling or psychotherapy. Professional support increases your abilities and strengths. It gives a chance to work on your weaknesses. It gives a chance to reach your potential at a higher level. Professional support balances your stress level, and therefore you become more able to handle with your issues.

Deniz Cosan

Counselling & Clinical Psychologist


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Importance of Personal Traits in Chess and Must Have Personal Qualities to become a Good Chess Player

As many of you know that chess hıstory has witnessed many great players and stories of these great players. Every world champion has a great and interesting personality which we all admire from many different aspects. For instance; when Bobby Fischer said: ‘’I do not believe in psychology, I believe in good moves’ he most likely wanted to emphasize the importance of being a hard-worker in chess simply by knowing the positions better than his opponents but also calculating deeper to demonstrate his strengths over his opponents.

On the other hand, if you have a look at Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov World Chess Championship Match, there you would see that the pressure over players have significantly shown its effect on the score sheet. There are many factors in a chess game that effects the result however personal traits are always an important aspect of the chess game as the type of personality you have will most likely show its signs on the type of chess you are playing.

A player like Mikhail Tal was one of the great attacking players in the history and his straightforward approach is definitely a reflection of his thoughts, his way of understanding the game, and his approach as a person. You would most likely prefer to play an endgame against Tal rather than having queens on the board as you would not like the legendary ‘Riga Magician’ to make sacrificial experiences over the chessboard, if you are a type of person who likes to stay away from complications and if you would like to play solid and positional chess then you are not the best friend of Tal`s chess.

A person who likes stability will avoid taking risks and this naturally will make you a calm and positional chess player where you would more or less search for minor opportunities instead of searching for major and drastic changes in the positions.

The character and personal traits will always give important tips and hints about your opponent if you have enough information about your opponent. Even in the modern era of chess, it is still possible to see how much personal traits play role in the world championships, even though the strength of the players objectively getting better and better over time, personal traits and character of people still needs to be analysed well to take over the game not only in the technical aspect but also from psychological aspect.

‘Be self critical & always search for ways of improvement!’

When you are trying to dig in deeper, you have to search for reasons for the consequences of your actıons. In order to ıdentıfy your mistakes, to analyse yourself and your decision making mechanism carefully in details and be self critical. Like in many different fields of life, the chessboard is a place where we as players and as a person have to take tons of different decisions while we are playing the game and this requires strong nerves and taking responsibility of the consequences of decisions we are taking. To be a good chess player in reality, a chess player has to face with the truth of the fact that not every decision we have taking is perfect and therefore it is highly crucial to be self critical at any point in the chess career to identify the critical points in decision making and also to identify which factors play significance in our own mechanism when we are playing chess.

Finally in relation to being self critical, another important personal trait for a chess players is to research on a continuous basis in order to find a better way to perform. A chess players is a real sportsman if considered to play series of chess tournaments and to degree of success and the level of achievements are directly related to our personal traits and approach to the process of playing series of serious classical chess games. Not only mentally but also physically a chess player will have ups and downs and the ultimate goal for a successful chess player is to be able to optimize all contributing factors to play better chess and this requires being aware of your own personal qualities.

Being goal oriented and also being open for improvements there will always be an opportunity to comeback in the game of chess!

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