Thousands of people play chess worldwide, but there has been a burning question for a long time regarding whether chess is a sport or not. When we think of sports, we picture people with athletic bodies used to perform various physical activities.
If we compare only the physical attributes, some will argue that chess is not a sport. However, if you break down the requirements during a game of chess, it is very similar to traditional sports.
You will find many similar aspects between chess and traditional sports. Continue reading this article as we dive deep into the debate of whether chess is a sport or a game.
When The Debate Whether Chess Is A Sport Started?
Chess has been the center of discussion among many sports enthusiasts, debating whether it is a sport or a pastime game. It is still being determined when this debate about chess being a sport or a game began. However, Chess was declared a sport by the International Olympic Committee in 1999, dividing people’s opinions.
The debate made by chess lovers is that they use the same skills in traditional sports to play the game at the highest level. They argue that chess requires anticipation, determination, physical fitness, tactical planning, etc., before starting a game.
People who are against chess as a sport argue that sports involve being physically competitive. Physical movements should be the main criteria for an activity labeled as a sport.
Though there is little physical utility in a game of chess, professional chess players need to maintain top physical fitness. A chess game can last hours, the highest being 7 hours and 45 minutes, when Magnus Carsen won.
So, there will always be a debate on whether chess is a sport, game, or pastime. However, the recognition from the IOC in 1999 does speak volumes regarding the chess-is-a-sport argument.
Let us look at why some people consider chess a sport and some a game.
Reasons To Consider Chess Just A Game
Though a school of thought considers chess a sport, there are also many reasons it can be considered only a game. There are subjective points that make chess seem like a sport, but the arguments about chess being a game has more objectivity.
Some sections have pointed out that chess has all the factors involved in traditional sports, like skill, competition, pre, and post-match protocols, physical training, etc. However, supporters of traditional sports argue against their logic, claiming that sports should involve physical movements.
Let us look at some arguments that support the idea that chess is only a game.
Lack Of Physical Competition
The primary requirement in traditional sports is to be active physically, like running, boxing, jumping, twisting, turning, etc. We can take the example of soccer to prove why chess is considered a game, not sport.
In soccer, a player has to run for 9-10 kilometers throughout the game. Professional players prepare for a whole week to play a game on the weekend. They maintain a strict diet, gym sessions, recovery sessions, cardio training, etc., throughout the season.
This enables soccer players to run on the pitch for more than 90 minutes, making twists and turns to maneuver the ball in their favor. Traditional sports can also cause injury to the players physically because of the competitiveness involved in trying to get the better of one another.
The main essence of sports is to be physically involved in the competition. However, the same cannot be said for chess players, as they have little to no physical movement in the middle of a game. The most they will move are their arms to pick up the chess pieces and move them.
Chess players indeed train to keep their bodies in top shape. Even people with strong willpower cannot withstand the duration of some chess games that go on for hours. Despite that, you cannot compare it to the physical requirements in traditional sports.
Lack Of Movement
If you have watched a chess game between two players, you must’ve noticed a lack of physical movement. The players do not exert physical pressure on their bodies to move the chess pieces.
The main essence of chess is using the mind to overcome an opponent. You have to outwit an opposing player to win a game of chess.
There is an example to prove that chess cannot be called a sport because of the lack of movements from the players. Let us go back to when the entire world was locked down due to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, most countries banned sporting events to prevent the gathering of crowds.
There was no way people could play or even watch sports on television. However, many apps were developed to accommodate different types of pastime games. People spend their time online playing these games alone or with other people.
Chess lovers connected using their mobile phones and played competitive games online. That proves that chess is not considered a sport, as traditional sports players cannot not compete among themselves using the online method.
There can also be instances when a chess player’s arms are injured, but they can still compete in a game using another person’s help. The chess player can instruct the other person to help move his chess pieces.
However, that is impossible to do in traditional sports. There is no way you can appoint a proxy player to play for you. There are substitutes, but they will play the sport how they see fit.
They cannot play the exact way you instruct them to play. Sports require everyone to use their own instincts in split seconds throughout the match. However, you can precisely make another person do what you want in a chess game, even if you are injured.
Not Part Of The Olympics
Though the International Olympic Committee recognized chess as a sport in 1999, it is yet to be featured as an actual sport in the Olympics. Chess authorities have been pushing the IOC to include chess as a sport in the 2024 Olympics, but it is yet to be confirmed.
The Olympics Committee has various criteria a potential sport has to meet to be considered a sport. A sport is an activity that involves physical exertion, skill, and competition. Chess involves a lot of skills and is very competitive. However, there is a lack of physical exertion among the players.
It is still a mystery to most sports fans why the IOC gave the green light to consider chess a sport. Undoubtedly, the game requires players to have sharp minds to outwit their opponents, but the lack of physical activity makes people not consider it a sport.
The IOC should have added many more games into the sports category if we are talking about only skill and competitiveness. This is the controversy that surrounds the addition of chess as a port. According to this logic, people argue that many other board games and even eSports should be considered sports in the Olympics.
eSports is one of the most skill-based activities worldwide, with thousands of players and teams playing against each other online. One can even go to the extent of saying that it is more of a sport than chess because they have teams. eSports also require more physical exertion than chess.
Chess lovers can argue that the best players undergo lots of physical training before they start playing in tournaments. That is how they can equate physical assertion to traditional sports, but they are not the same. It is essential to understand the differences between training physically and competing physically.
Not Based On Athletic Prowess
The athleticism involved in sports demands peak physical performance. An athlete must always be in shape to be successful in sports. It also helps keep the athlete from injuries and other hazards.
Chess is not based on athleticism and instead focuses on playing mind games with the opponents. The only reason why people want to compare chess to sports is because of the skills and competitiveness involved when playing chess. You can also add the global recognition of chess among those factors and get a school of thought that argues for chess as a sport.
They also argue that chess players undergo doping controls like any other sport. This is because chess players require top fitness to sit throughout the game. Chess games can last for hours, which can be highly demanding for your body.
You cannot compete in a chess game if your body starts to feel tired. When your body feels tired, you will be distracted by the discomfort. A weak body will force you to make poor decisions, which can cost you the game.
Players have been caught in the past using performance-enhancing drugs to help them when they compete in major tournaments. That is why chess players are checked for doping before they start their games.
However, the difference between them and traditional sports athletes is that the latter use their physical prowess. They maneuver their bodies differently to be on top of their game. The chess players only need fitness to sit and last throughout the game.
Chess players will hardly raise their arms to move the chess pieces. The physical training they undergo is more for durability than athletic prowess. The lack of physical activity denies chess from being a sport.
It is hard to tell how the IOC gave the sport tag to the chess game, but it does not involve athletic prowess. So, this is the most significant argument against chess as a sport.
Sport Is Played Outdoors
The primary difference between a game and a sport is that you play them in different environments or setups. You can play chess anywhere, but it is traditionally an indoor game.
It doesn’t require much space. You can put the chess board on a small stool and start playing. However, you cannot play sports in small spaces since much physical exertion is involved.
All major sports involve more than one player in a considerable space. They must move around in an ample space using their legs, arms, etc. Activities like chess and other board games and be set up anywhere and played.
Chess players do not need to knock each other down physically to gain advantages. That is different from most traditional sports. The players must defeat their opponents using complicated physical movements.
Some sports involve single persons, like cycling, for example. However, cycling involves a lot of physical exertion. The cyclists undergo the most intense training sessions to reach the level of cycling in top events.
Most cyclists sometime burn out because of the high amount of physical exertion, causing their muscles to retract. On the other hand, chess players only have to sit throughout the game. Casual chess players can also lie down and play if they wish to, as all they need is a calm frame of mind to compete.
Reasons To Consider Chess A Sport
Chess as a sport has been an ongoing debate for a long time, with some sections claiming that it can only be considered a game. There is no doubt chess is not played with as much physical exertion as other sports, but there are other aspects of the game similar to traditional sports.
If you are new to this debate, you have come to the right place. There are many arguments that go against chess as a sport. However, the similarities between the two entities say otherwise.
The most concrete argument one can provide for chess is its recognition as a sport by the International Olympic Committee in 1999. If a game is accepted in a specific number of countries, it can be considered a sport. So, according to this logic, we can consider chess a sport.
However, there will always be some people that will not attest to this fact. So, let us look at some features that make calling chess a sport legitimate.
Players Follow A Code Of Conduct
If you are a sports fan, you know that the spirit of sports lies in showing respect to one another. Sportsmanship is the most critical aspect of any sport. Without respect, there is no place for athletes in the sport.
Chess is also a discipline that strictly follows this rule. Players must acknowledge each other before sitting for the matches to commence. There is no room for dissent or unlawful conduct in a chess game.
If you are on a winning run, you cannot mock your opponent. Celebrating a win is acceptable, but degrading the opponent is discouraged. Foul language is also unacceptable while playing chess, similar to most sports worldwide.
There is a code of conduct for the chess players when they face one another. They are made to follow these guidelines so they do not receive penalties.
If you tip the chess board out of frustration, you will receive adequate penalties. The passion in chess can be matched with any sport in the world, as these examples of players storming off after a loss proves the work that goes into preparations.
Cheating in a chess game is the worst thing a player can come up with. The authorities ensure that the players do not possess any material that can help them get an edge over their opponents, like mobile devices or other gadgets.
The players are also regularly tested for doping to prevent some players from possessing unfavorable advantages. Though there is little physical movement, chess players can get exhausted by the length of time they spend sitting. This leads some players to look for means to gain unfair advantages.
Hence, chess authorities ensure that no player gains any advantage by using drugs to enhance the body’s durability. Any anti-doping policy violation can lead to strict penalties, including getting banned for life.
High Levels Of Competition
There level of competition in sports is so high that players and athletes succumb to the pressure sometimes. Players sometimes get into arguments because of losing or performing poorly.
Chess is no less than other sports when it comes to competitiveness. The top chess players are so competitive that there are ego clashes sometimes when things are not going their way. It is impossible to keep calm when you are a top-ranking player, and you lose to someone with experience in the competition.
Preparing for a tournament is not a joke for chess players. They undergo intense training sessions to keep their bodies fit and healthy. Sitting through hours in a chess game is impossible without a healthy body.
The connection between fitness and how a player’s mind functions are the key to becoming a top chess player. If a player does not take care of his body, it will undoubtedly play a part in his gameplay.
A top player needs to sit through days of watching videos to devise a strategy to get one over the opponent. It is only possible to enter an official tournament by going through hours of studying an opponent every day.
The hard work put into physical training and mental preparation goes unnoticed by many people watching the games. There is no shortcut to success, and top players are much aware of that. That knowledge makes them super competitive, leading to feeling devastated at times when they lose.
The feeling of defeat can last long time, and the top players do their best to avoid such situations. It is challenging to come back from a defeat, as it destroys all their hard work for months.
The attention players give to all the meticulous details is second to none, making chess one of the most competitive sports.
The patience you need in a chess game requires you to sit for long hours. Chess does not have a time limit, as it is about playing mind games with the opponent.
The only way to sustain your body for so many hours is to come well-prepared. Professional chess players are no less than athletes from other sports disciplines, as they must undergo months of intense physical training. There is a strong connection between mental and physical durability in chess players.
Chess players maintain a strict diet throughout the year to keep them in shape. They hire nutritionists to manage what they eat, helping them reach peak fitness levels. Personal trainers will give them exercise and fitness routines to ensure that they are ready to last for hours of intense chess games.
When the body is fit, the mind can work better. This is why physical training is essential in sports. Chess players require even more physical training than other athletes, as it helps them to focus on the game even better.
The body is as important as the mind while competing at the top level. The mind will get distracted if the body starts giving in to cramps or backaches. On the other hand, if a player is physically at his peak, they can put all their focus on the intrinsic details of the chess game.
Chess can be considered a sport because of the similarities in the players’ physical conditioning to athletes from other sports disciplines. The only difference is that chess players do not engage physically with their opponents. However, the end product is the same as other athletes; they need to be physically fit to focus on the mental side of the game.
Even athletes in other sports need to be trained mentally to concentrate on their physical performances. In this way, chess is just like any other sport.
A strong mind helps one cope with different challenges that an athlete faces. It does not matter even if you have the best physical fitness in the world. You can only reach the top levels if you have a strong mind.
Let us take soccer players to prove that chess is similar to any sport. Soccer players train throughout the season to perform at the highest levels. They have several daily training sessions, where they work on their cardio, stamina, muscles, the center of gravity, etc.
They are known to be some of the fittest athletes worldwide. However, there are many cases where their careers have experienced a downward spiral because they were mentally weak. The lack of a strong mind can break even the best athletes.
When they have confidence, they can perform to their expectations. The only way to take care of this issue is to see a therapist and correct themselves. This is why most soccer clubs worldwide ensure to employ top psychologists to make their players stay ahead of the game.
Similarly, chess players must undergo months of intense mental training to ensure they are at their best when they enter official tournaments. Chess requires players to be more mentally sound than their physical state. The amount of critical thinking that goes into a game of chess is like no other sport.
The player that is calm in stressful situations is more like to be the winner in chess. You only need a specific fitness level to endure the game’s physical demands, but you can even outlast stressful situations with a strong mind.
You will find chess players wherever you go worldwide. It is one of the most well-known sports that people from all walks of life love to play. Even the words used in chess are a collection of languages from different parts of the world.
People want chess to be considered a sport because of its global appeal. People want to see their favorite board game be given a sports tag because of the hard work and determination that goes into the game. Even people with physical disabilities can play the game without any complications.
All that matters in chess is a sound mind and a fit body. This is the best combination to have a successful chess career. However, it is more challenging than it sounds, as the training that goes into this game is intense.
You need to focus and read your opponent’s moves. A player can lose a game if he makes the wrong anticipation.
The sport’s global appeal can be used to attract more sponsors if it is recognized as a sport. The best thing about chess is that people from all walks of life can play this game. There is no barrier, so you can play it as long as you learn the rules.
Many sports forms worldwide adopted the chess ranking system, giving chess the right to be called a sport. More than 100 countries have recognized chess as a sport, which makes it a legal sport, according to the International Olympic Committee.
Chess Requires Elite Skills
Chess is one of the most demanding sports when it comes to skills. There is no shortcut to becoming a professional chess player. To get to the top of the pyramid, you must work on your skills even when people are sleeping.
The top-level chess players go nights without sleeping to hone their skills. The practice openings, study endgames, solve studies, etc. They are very similar to other sports players who train day and night to master their skills.
There is no difference between a chess player and an athlete regarding their hard work and determination. The training methods might differ, but the application is the same for both sports.
So, Is It A Sport After All?
The debate of whether chess is a game or a sport comes down to individual perception. One school of thought insists that it should only be called a game, whereas the other says it should be recognized as a sport.
There are genuine reasons for both parties to make these statements about chess. The ones who say it is a game argue because of chess’s lack of physical exertion. Chess can be anything but physical.
There is reason to believe so, as it does not require chess players to use their physical strength or agility against one another. Chess players cannot compete physically as other traditional sports athletes do. Traditional sports athletes train the whole year to compete against other professionals in extreme conditions that take them to their limits.
However, the physicality involved in chess, used as a reason against its recognition as a sport, sounds slightly unfair to chess lovers. You can only play a sport according to its rules. Every other aspect of chess is similar to that of other traditional sports.
Those who support chess as a sport say that a chess player goes through whatever an athlete of another sport goes through. The only difference is the execution of the sport.
Chess players undergo intense training programs to remain in top shape. Top professionals compete against one another for hours, which cause tension in their bodies. The physical training programs help them to remain seated calmly for hours when the need arises.
Chess also has many rules and regulations similar to other sports. The players need to be respectful of one another, but the passion also gets the best sometimes, just like in other sports.
The authorities ensure the players are checked before every game for the presence of performance-enhancing drugs in their bodies, just like any other sport in the Olympics. Mental strength is one of chess’s most remarkable aspects; another reason chess players are called mentality monsters. Athletes can learn much from chess, proving that it is no different from traditional sports.