Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chess Player Psychology

The effect of chess on the brain holds great interest for me as an avid chess enthusiast.  I've enjoyed the constant challenge the game presents and the camaraderie of very interesting people.  But is interesting the correct adjective?  To answer this question, I enlisted the help of random strangers as well as other chess players.
How are Chess Players Viewed by the Public?
I asked several people how they would describe their impression of chess players in one word.  Many were surprised, "Chess players?!"  Apparently it isn't a social norm to ask strangers their opinions of chess players. However, everyone was very pleasant; some even confessed to playing chess themselves.  

The most prevalent views are that chess players are smart, strategic, and patient.  We could not ask for a more pleasing stereotype.  But do we live up to it?

FICS Members' Impressions of Other Chess Players
It might be assumed that chess players themselves would have a more accurate understanding of their fellow competitors.  I play chess quite frequently on the Free Internet Chess Server, and asked 55 people there their impressions of other chess players.  Respondents included administrators, SRs, TMs, opinionists from the religious and political channels, slow time control devotees, and bughouse players.

One thing perhaps other ardent hobbyists can understand is the devotion displayed by the nerdy, intense, obsessive, and addicted.  What kind of people wake up in the middle of the night to play in FICS qualifier tournaments or drive 100 miles or more to tournaments where they will rent hotel rooms, pay entry fees, and then spend hours intently staring at a board with 64 squares?  What kind of people develop chess-related websites for free, gather gray hairs "herding cats" at scholastic tournaments, or rise before the crack of dawn every morning to direct online chess tournaments?

Yet, chess players may not be so strange after all, considering that ping-pong enthusiasts spend hundreds of dollars on their paddles, quilters and knitters spend hours devoted to their pursuits, and the model railway people definitely are not falling behind in spending both time and money.  Don't even mention the photographers who will spend a thousand dollars on a camera and hundreds more for lenses and accessories.

 FICS Members' Descriptions of Themselves
I asked the same group of FICSians for one word descriptions of themselves.  The most prevalent descriptions were nerdy, hopeful, intelligent, creative, and unorthodox.

What attracts chess players to the game?  Fellow blogger, chess coach Hank Anzis, suggests it is "the self reliant nature of the sport. There is no one to blame after a loss or share credit with after a win except the person in the mirror. There is no luck, there is nothing hidden, and the victor is the one who sees a little more or a little further than their opponent (who is looking at the same board)."  

While I'm inclined to think the person who called himself "lucky" might disagree with Hank, it is quite probable that the "independent," "unorthodox," "non-interfering," and "anti-authoritarian" crowds are drawn to chess by the very reasons described.

One thing I noted was that none of the chess players surveyed listed other chess players or themselves as paranoid victims of the "Everyone's Out to Get Me" feeling.  Chess players play game after game against opponents who search to take advantage of every mistake. As Tal put it, "You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one."

After having opponents attempt this day after day, it seems it would sometimes be hard to conquer the feeling that everyone is a potential opponent out to get us for some odd reason, has alternative motives, dislikes us, or wants to avoid us.  But, hey, chess players are real overcomers; I am pleasantly surprised!
 Over-the-board Chess Players' Impressions
Finally, I went to a chess tournament in Ankeny, Iowa on Saturday and surveyed a few of the participants between rounds.  Here are their descriptions of other chess players (first) and themselves.
  “Genius is 1 percent inspiration; 99 percent perspiration.” --Thomas Edison
Tournament crowds are very diverse.  Chess players come from every background.  People who would not otherwise associate will sit across from each other for hours to play chess.  Many have their "quirks" and "eccentricities," but most have learned to get along with and accept each other.

A person does not have to be normal to be nice.  The "Barefoot" chess player, who never wears socks or shoes anywhere is a nice person.  I would not consider myself normal; is anyone?  But...I still do have a hard time accepting the finger-nail biters, table shakers, under-the-table tap dancers,  and finger tappers.  The little things can be annoying when one is concentrating under time pressure!

Yet, the little things make chess player psychology fascinating.  Determined, brilliant, methodical,  and smart workhorses keep the world in motion.  Intuitive and curious learners discover new things, and the swashbuckling and insane keep life interesting.  I'm thankful I've had the privilege to compete with so many people.

I'd like to thank the kind people who answered my survey at Blaine's Farm and Fleet, a church, McDonald's, JoAnn's Fabrics, Pizza Ranch, and gas stations, and the chess players who generously gave their opinions.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
What "little things" do you find annoying?
What are your thoughts on chess players?
Have your interests influenced your perspective on life?

53 comments:

  1. That is really interesting. I always think of chess players as cagey!;>) xo Diana

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    1. It's unbelievable easy to become a very suspicious person when people are always trying to ruin your plans in chess games! :D

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  2. How would you describe yourself in one word?
    Encourager

    What "little things" do you find annoying?
    Clutter

    What are your thoughts on chess players?
    I think they are for the most part patient and deep thinkers

    Have your interests influenced your perspective on life?
    To some degree, yes.

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    1. I think your description of yourself is perfect, Linda! Your posts are always filled with wonderful words of encouragement.

      Clutter can be terribly annoying; I don't mind dust much at all, but clutter can get on my nerves if I let it. I like your impression of chess players!

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  3. chess may be viewed as played by nerds, but it has been featured on so many shows as the game for brilliant thinkers, crafty well-to-dos, etc. that it is considered cool. :)

    i played as a kid but wouldn't know how, now.

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    1. True! I love it when chess is stuck into episodes of various shows that I've watched!

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  4. Great post and it also made me laugh. I play chess with me daughter, sometimes. She loves it! And for that I think chess is brilliant. But I haven't played lately since you have to be smart and awake to keep up with it.

    If you talking about chess, when I play it, I describe my self lucky, most of to the time I don't know where to move :). If you talking in general, persistent.

    I find annoying that I forget my play after a couple of moves. And in general, for me injustice really annoys me!

    I think chess players are smart, brilliant and patient.

    I'm sure my kids and siblings have been influenced by my interests.

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    1. Persistence is a great quality to have, Leticia! One of my favorite quotes is, "In war as in peace, the last word goes to those who never give up" (Clemenceau).

      Injustice can really upset me as well.

      So neat that you play chess with your daughter!

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  5. I think it's so neat that you did this, Bethany! What an interesting study! I liked comparing what the FICS members thought of themselves vs. other players, lol! I've always liked the game, but am not very good at it. Could be better with more focused attention, I think :) I made a beautiful 16x16 chess set in ceramics once - have a few of the pieces left. Have a blessed week!

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    1. Oh wow! Awesome that you made a chess set yourself, June! If you took photos you should post them sometime. Being handy with ceramics is an admirable talent!

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  6. My husband also plays chess and has a beautiful chess game. Believe it or not, I haven't learned to play yet. I do however have to agree with a few of those descriptions of how I see my hubby as a player and he even agreed with a few regarding how he sees himself. Have a wonderful blessed day... :)

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    1. He should teach you how to play so he always has an opponent! (That is one reason why my papa taught me). I am wondering which of the words describe your husband...hoping its "smart," "patient," "thoughtful," and "friendly!" :D You have a beautifully awesome day as well Dee!

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  7. I would be thrilled to be described in that way, I personally think nerdy is awesome!!!

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    1. Nerdy is a short way of saying devotedly intellectual and academic--smart! ;)

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  8. Haha, that was so much fun! What a great idea for the surveys. Smart and nerdy are the two that come first to mind.

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    1. It seems a lot of chess players would agree with those two adjectives!

      It was a lot of fun for me as well! Glad you enjoyed it!

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  9. I love playing chess, but I have to admit I'm not very good at it. I practice on my iPad set on the easy version and still lose :)
    I guess my brain isn't wired for it.

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    1. Playing against computers is frustrating because they never (or rarely) make mistakes! Very few of us have brains wired well enough to compete against them.

      It's a lot more fun to play against other humans because they are as vulnerable to oversights as we.

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  10. Your posts are always so interesting. And you gather your own data, which makes your subject even more fascinating. I'm always jealous of chess players because I never learned to play. Nerd is the first word that comes to my mind, but nerds are the new COOL group. :)

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    1. Thanks Gail! Gathering data is the fun part for me! It's never too late to learn to play! :)

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  11. Bethany,Bethany, your posts and your observations are always very interesting. I never learned to play chess. My husband and my daughter a little play. Chess for me is always associated with the word intelligent and strategist.Sorry Bethany my English is not the best. Hugs to you.

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    1. Your English is actually pretty good Monika! It's awesome that your husband and daughter play, and I think chess players would be flattered by your choice of adjectives!

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  12. I never understood how to play chess.

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    1. The nice part about chess is that there is always more to learn about it. Too bad you don't live nearby; I'd love to help you learn!

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  13. I played chess a little as a child, but never really got into it. I think chess players must have an amazing ability to think ahead.

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  14. Great blog Bethany! I look forward to seeing more posts about things chess.

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    1. Thanks Tim! I just posted about the tournament I went to Saturday.

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  15. I think I said Focused in your survey but I would like to add that it takes more than 1 word to describe us. I would add "Control Freak" because we love to try to move the pieces in a way which would control how events will turn out. I love getting control over more territory or making my opponents pieces retreat to worse squares or better yet winning them outright. In the end you feel like a general who has won the battle and maybe the war if it only takes 1 game.

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    1. Good point! We're always trying to take the reins from our opponents so that the game turns out how *we* want it. The more control we have over the situation, the better.

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  16. Very interesting post! I think of chess players as focused, patient and strategic. It's a very interesting and engaging game, but certainly not for everyone.

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    1. True! It would be...uh...a very *interesting* world if everyone were devoted chess players! :D

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  17. I have never been one to play games...but my grandchildren play chess. Maybe I should add: learn to play chess on my bucket list.

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    1. That would be fun to be able to play it with your grandchildren!

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  18. I love playing chess!! In fact, long ago, when snail mail was the 'big thing'....I used to play chess over the mail system. Thru post cards! My uncle and I both had a chess board set up in our individual houses, and he'd make his move, write it down on a post card and send it to me..in turn I'd move his piece [the white]. I'd respond with MY post card/move...he'd move my black piece on HIS board.

    My husband and I play occasionally, but he doesn't like to lose. lol

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    1. Anni, how grand! Years ago my husband and my brother played chess by mail. I didn't know anyone else did! I thought it was a hoot!

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    2. Oh wow Anni and Jean! Correspondence chess takes a lot of patience to play even through email!

      So neat that you would play by snail mail with your uncle, Anni! Too bad your husband won't play more often. I'd love to have a chance to play you some time if you're up to it.

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  19. I'm not a chess player, but I found this post fascinating. I know the basics of the game, but am by no means a chess player. My aunt (a brainy, precise, analytical introvert) played well and taught my father the game when he was nearly 70. He got quite good at it and actually won some of the time -- I was really rather proud of him!

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    1. Awesome that chess is in your family! Your aunt sounds like a pretty cool lady; it's wonderful that your father learned. It's a good way to keep the brain occupied.

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  20. You are a great role model for other young people. Love that you feel so strongly about God and country. Love that you are SMART and CALCULATING enough to play chess! Your parents I know must be very proud.

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    1. Thanks Marie, that is kind of you! I'm still working on improving the smart and calculating part.

      It's great to know people like you, my parents, and so many others who have the benefit of wisdom and experience; I'm hoping some of it rubs off ;) Best of all, it's great to know God and His Word!

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  21. I know NOTHING about chess but have a grandson who is really into it. He's also a LOT smarter than I am! So sorry you go that nasty poster on your blog too. It really is sad that some people have to be mean and hurtful to feel better about themselves...Lord, help them.

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    1. I think people are just smart in different ways. Awesome that your grandson is good at chess!

      It is hard to understand the people who seem to enjoy spamming. I did a little research and that spam message has gone around for at least 3 years. They do need help.

      Many blessings to you Debby!

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  22. I am not very good at any game, except dominoes. My great grandson loves chess and is very good at it.

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    1. Dominoes is fun to play. My family plays it together every New Year's Eve! I pretty much have it down to an art, so I make the mathematically best "move" possible each time, but often still I get crushed. Such is life ;)

      Glad to hear your great grandson loves chess!

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  23. Some of my great nieces and nephews who are/were homeschooled in Nebraska enjoyed playing chess and were good at it. They participated in a club and tournaments. I have always admired their intelligence for this, especially since I have not even memorized all the names of the chess pieces, nor the moves they can make! You remind me of my young kinfolk in Nebraska, Bethany, and subconsciously perhaps that is one reason I enjoy your blog so much. Thanks for another interesting post!

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    1. Sounds like you have some neat great nieces and nephews! Maybe sometime they will be tempted to cross the state border and play in some tournaments here in Iowa.

      Thank you Gracie! :)

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  24. This was such a neat thing to take the initiative to do and the answers are interesting. Some of them I definitely can see the reasoning behind and some of them are thought-provoking in a way because I never would have thought of them. I like how you divided it up into categories/groups, too.

    I think the words I think of first in regards to chess players would be "focused" and "strategic". Fun post :)

    Have a blessed day, Bethany!

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    1. I think a lot of chess players would agree with the words you mentioned. It was a lot of fun to do this study!

      Blessings to you as well, Jazzmin!

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  25. Thinking back on my years playing the game, the first word that comes to my mind about chess players, especially the really good ones, is "opinionated". Some of them are more, um, assertive about it than others, but most of the chess players I've met have had strong opinions about a variety of topics, both inside and outside of the game.

    It makes sense if you think about it, since a good chess game is a kind of controlled and (usually) civil argument. You think the Sicilian Dragon is great, I think it's awful, let's play some games and see who's right.

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    1. Ha, right--very good observation! I do agree that opinionated would be a great word for describing chess players. It is my strongly held opinion that being opinionated is a good thing as long as those opinions can be expressed civilly--as in a chess game.

      A game sounds fun, though I don't think it could prove or disprove the greatness of the Sicilian Dragon *grin.* I'll try to challenge you if I notice you're online on FICS sometime.

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  26. I have played chess since 1997 (when World Champion Garry Kasparov lost the match against Deep Blue - powerful chess computer). I met probably about 800-1000 various chess players (in real world and in virtual one). I have played about 55-60K chess games called "blitz games". I strated playing chess at FICS in 2007 and played in a dozen of Team League competetion and many tournaments or matches.

    What about your study Bethany? Very nice job! Congratulations :). My opinion is that chess players are quite various group as the level they of the game they reached. There are many players (overall) who plays chess via Internet and play ONLY fast or very fast games (blitzes). However all of the players I met have common feature: they TEST themselves (their skills) against other players (sometimes computers). It may indicate such features as: competitive, curiosity, searching, testing, probing, prooving, comparison, having fun, expressing various ideas and concepts, observing, looking for the truth and/or beauty and so on.

    What I know for sure: not everyone will play chess (no matter how popular ana available chess might be) as much as not every single person is obliged/forced to do this. At the high level - chess is a quite demanding, difficult and time+energy vacuum. And it can do us happy or depressed - especially after we are drained mentally and emotionally... and we are "punished" with a loss of the game. Yes, chess may be really dangerous to our mental, emotional and spiritual system.

    Best regards and thanks for you great research - NokiaTwenty ;) :)

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    1. Good observations! I think the adjectives you mentioned to describe qualities many chess players have are accurate. Chess can be very demanding: after a tournament I'm usually worn out. It's mentally taxing--and somehow it seems it can be physically exhausting as well, just sitting in the same place all day! The emotions we experience while playing and afterward or while examining our games would be hard for any non-chess player to understand!

      Thanks for your very interesting comment, Nokia!

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