Chess and Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis

What about Sigmund Freud when we are talking about chess? I do not know whether you are interested in psychoanalysis as a chess player; however Sigmund Freud – founder of the psychoanalysis- seems to be interested in the game of chess as he refers it “the noble game of chess”.

Sigmund Freud wrote several articles on psychoanalytic technique between 1904 and 1919 in order to describe the application rules of psychoanalysis. On 1913, he started mentioning about chess to his article “On the Beginning of Treatment (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis”. It is interesting that he sees a similarity between chess and psychoanalysis in a way.

Sigmund Freud points out that in chess one may reach compherensive information about chess openings and end-games just by reading chess books, nevertheless for how to resist during the chess game one needs to be mentored by chess masters. Sigmund Freud explained psychoanalysis using analogy of “the noble chess game”. Just like “the noble chess game”, Freud indicated that he can only offer rules for the beginning of the psychoanalytic treatment, but the rest of the game/ process of psychoanalysis are unique for each pair/ players / psychoanalyst and analysand. The beginning and ending of psychoanalysis is far more certain than the process, and the process is defined by the exclusive approach of pair. The chess players learn opening and checkmate tactics, however they need to determine the chess moves specifically during that the process of a chess game. Each game is different from each other, as each psychoanalytic treatment differs from others. The psychoanalyst and patient is relatively alone and uncanny in the process. As well as the chess player is alone during a chess game, with all the information in mind, has to decide by him/herself for his/her specific moves according to the game. Maybe we may say that each chess game is a little uncanny just like each psychoanalytic application.

Below the words of Sigmund Freud (1913):

“Anyone who hopes to learn the noble game of chess from books will soon discover that only the openings and end-games admit of an exhaustive systematic presentation and that the infinite variety of moves which develop after the opening defy any such description. This gap instruction can only be filled by a diligent study of games fought out by masters. The rules which can be laid down for the practice of psycho-analytic treatment are subject to similar limitations.”


Freud, S. (1913). On Beginning the Treatment (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis I). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (1911-1913): The Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works, 121-144.

Deniz Coşan

Counselling & Clinical Psychologist

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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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