Does chess make you fitter?
Chess grandmasters use between 6,000 and 7,000 calories a day when competing, Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford University, has said. They are “turning on a massive physiological stress response simply with thought and doing the same thing with their bodies as if they were some baboon who has just ripped open the stomach of their worst rival and it’s all with thought, and memories and emotions”.
“Players lose weight during tournaments,” says Daily Telegraph chess correspondent Malcolm Pein. “It’s like facing your final exams for nine days running, with exams lasting five hours at a time and the questions constantly changing.” Timed games sometimes make dexterity important too, he adds, remembering that he once had to make three moves in a second to beat the clock.
But Burnley is sceptical of Sapolsky’s calorific figure, saying: “That’s the sort of level you would expect while doing a stage of the Tour de France.”
Whatever their tournament energy output, physical preparation such as swimming or running is common among elite-level chess players. Top players of poker train more and eat well to improve stamina.
Burnley argues there is “little evidence” to show physical fitness improves performance at chess, poker and bridge. But Pein disagrees. “I stopped playing chess professionally when I got into my forties,” he says. “I couldn’t keep up with the pace for more than four hours. It’s very physical.”
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