the best chess players live longer

In 2014, a chess competitor collapsed during his last match at the Chess Olympiad in Norway. Within hours, another was found dead in his hotel room. Earlier, a chess grandmaster died of a heart attack while playing in a tournament in Finland in 2000. In the same year, another player died of a stroke during his tournament in Berlin.

These incidents led many people to believe that the stress of playing chess could be harmful and even deadly. So we decided to test the theory that playing chess at an elite level increases the risk of premature death.

What does science say?

Not surprisingly, few studies have been done on mind sports and the risk of premature death. We found a single study of chess players conducted in 1969 that found that professional chess players had shorter lifespans than amateur players who had careers outside of chess, but it only looked at 32 players born before the 20th century.

In contrast, there is considerable evidence that exceptional athletes participating in physical sports have a significantly lower rate of premature death than the general population.



Read more: How computers changed chess


We compared elite chess players with Olympic medalists to find out if your mind or your muscles best predict how long you’ll live. Author David Smerdon is an academic and a chess grandmaster, so he also contributed data to this study.

Grandmasters and Olympians represent players at the highest level of their respective professions. Wikipedia publishes online a list of more than 1,700 great masters with dates of birth and death and the countries they represent.

The International Olympic Committee website contains information on almost 130,000 athletes, from which we have selected around 15,000 medalists who represented the same countries as the chess players.

We compared the life expectancy of chess players with the general population of the countries they represented to assess their relative longevity.

The results of our study debunk the myth that chess grandmasters live short lives. In fact, they live longer – up to 14 years longer compared to the general population (especially in countries like Russia, where life expectancy is relatively low).

Top chess players seem to have similar longevity patterns to Olympians. The figure in our article shows that survival rates relative to the general population increase over time for both groups and at similar rates.

How does failure increase longevity?

The fact that a chess grandmaster enjoys the same longevity benefits as an Olympian is surprising. As the popularity of mind sports continues to grow, an important question is whether mastering these types of sports leads to an increase in life expectancy or whether other factors are to blame. this effect.



Read more: Think (quickly) outside the square – how is rapid chess different?


Since chess players are usually seated when playing, many would assume they lead a sedentary lifestyle, but a study from Poland has shown that chess players actually exhibit a higher level of fitness than the general population .

There is evidence to suggest that playing board games can reduce the risk of dementia, a leading cause of death.

While higher levels of intelligence are known to have a positive effect on longevity, the evidence linking IQ to a person’s ability to play board games such as chess is inconclusive. Several studies have failed to find superiority of expert gamers in a variety of intellectual dimensions, including selective attention, inhibition and executive cognitive function, logical and computational skills, visual memory and complex planning. .

Attaining the title of Exalted Grand Master can increase life expectancy through psychological, social, or economic boosts. We found that grandmasters from Eastern Europe had a higher survival rate compared to the general population than those from North America and Western Europe. It is therefore plausible that the income and social status of an elite player is higher there.

Isaac Asimov once wrote that “in life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate“. Not only does the game of life continue after checkmate, but excelling in sports of the mind like chess means one is likely to play longer.

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