Share via Email Chess. This imposes enormous pressure on players. Healthwise, they were high risk. Are two deaths really so surprising? My friend is right and wrong at the same time. It is a bizarre coincidence that two players — one from the Seychelles, one from Uzbekistan, the former at the board, the latter in his hotel room after the tournament had ended — should die within hours of each other. But he is spot on about the susceptibility of chess players to stress-related conditions.
Chess , though the non-player might not believe this, is in many ways an extreme sport. At the Olympiad, participants were playing a game a day over a fortnight — 11 rounds with just a couple of rest days on which to recuperate. For up to seven hours a day, they would be sitting at the board trying to kill — metaphorically speaking — their opponent, because this is the ultimate game of kill or be killed.
In some positions, you can reach a point where both sides are simultaneously within a single move of checkmating the other. One false step and you will have lost.
These days, some top players use psychologists to help them deal with this stress. They are also paying increasing attention to diet and fitness. These elite players, however, are the exception within the chess world: They realise that to play top-level chess, you have to be extremely fit and mentally settled.
Any physical ailment or mental distraction is likely to stop you playing well. You need to be at the top of your game to perform. In that sense, it is as much a sport as football or rugby; indeed, it has been suggested that in the course of a long chess game a player will lose as much weight as he does during a football match. Outside the elite — among professional players who are struggling to make a living, or among the hordes of us middle-aged blokes trying to get to grips with this stressful, frustrating, exhausting game — there is far less attention paid to health.
Chess clubs often meet in pubs and many players like a pint; the number of huge stomachs on show at any chess tournament is staggering.
The game — and I realise this is a wild generalisation, but one based on more than a grain of truth — tends to attract dysfunctional men with peculiar home lives. You can bet their diet will not be balanced; many will be living on bacon and eggs and beer. This is not a recipe for a long, healthy life. The great Soviet players of the postwar period had the most ridiculous lifestyle: Take Leonid Stein as an example.
A three-times champion of the USSR in the s, he dropped dead of a heart attack in at the age of just Mikhail Tal, world champion in the early s, was dogged by ill health during his career, and died at the age of 55 — a desperate loss to the sport.
Vladimir Bagirov, who was world senior champion in , was 63 when he dropped dead at the board while playing in Finland in Too many are overweight, keen to have a drink, too sedentary — and then they try to play this game which makes huge demands on mind and body.
I know, because I do it too. I spend a day at work, rush home, bolt down a meal, then go to my chess club and play a three-hour game which often makes me feel ill, especially if I lose.
After that, usually around We all need to get fitter to play this demanding game, and society should recognise it for what it is — a sport as challenging, dramatic and exciting as any other. Such recognition would be a tribute of sorts to the two players who sadly played their final games in Tromso.