Are most chess players autistic? Here are the facts

Autism and interest in chess are not necessarily correlated. Introversion is a common characteristic trait for chess players but is not the same as having a case of autism. Most chess players are actually casuals, random people that are unlikely to be autistic.

I have mentioned in some of my other articles that there is a strong tendency for chess players to be introverted, such a characteristic is common among these individuals. This can be confused with autism, which is not necessarily the same.

There is a theory stating that introversion and autism are strongly correlated, however, this is only on the farthest end of the spectrum. I want to answer this question! Since it is interesting to me.

I have seen from some chess forums that this is something that people genuinely wonder about, which made me think that this is a good topic for an article. 

Here it is! I will try to satisfy your curiosity as much as I can. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Autism on modern professional chess players

There are modern professional chess players that seem to have the characteristics of someone who are autistic, some include David Navara, Vassily Ivanchuk, Ding Liren, and Wang hao, it is important to note though that such rumors are not confirmed. 

David Navara is the one suspected of having the strongest and signs of the condition, however, it is not officially confirmed as of yet. 

Vasily Ivanchuk if you have seen some of his interviews are actually very likely to have autism as can be observed from his weird personality. He seems to not be able to communicate as much and is just bad at social interaction.

Ding Liren is another one of the suspects of a professional player having autism, he sounds like a 9-year old due to his speech difficulties and can barely understand some questions.

It is important to note that this does not officially confirm the presence of autism but is just a very strong indicator (which could still be wrong). 

The fact that there are strong chess players that can fit the autistic criteria is something to mind when answering this question.

This chart list professional chess players who are likely to be autistic, and how likely they are to be autistic when compared to one another.
This chart list professional chess players who are likely to be autistic, and how likely they are to be autistic when compared to one another.

Autism on past professional chess players

Professional chess players of the past also display some qualities of someone that are autistic, such include Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Aron Nimzowitsch, and Rashid Nezhmetdinov among all others. 

Just do a side by side between Kasparov and Magnus and this will be clear.

All of these individuals seem to be bad at interacting with other people in general for most of their lives. 

And this is to the extreme end, so far that a regular individual can tell that there is something wrong with them. 

Except for Bobby Fischer (which can be a case of narcissism), there is a strong case to be made that some of them have autism. 

Again, these are just speculation and there is no official confirmation since the diagnosis of autism is not popular in the 20th century. But it couldn’t be far from reality that some of them have the condition.

This doesn’t mean that most chess players are autistic, but at least the presence of behavioral indicators is something we need to consider.

Professional chess players that are not autistic

There are many current professional chess players that are definitely not autistic. This includes Magnus Carlsen, Daniil Dubov, Alexander Grischuk, Teimour Radjabov, Wesley So, and many more. 

There are actually just as many chess players that definitely don’t have autism in comparison to those that are likely to have them. There seems to be no pattern that exists at all.

It is pretty much random, I agree with the fact that there are so many professional chess players that have behavioral indicators of autism that it is not normal. But it is unfair to generalize just from this

Statistically, as long as an activity is popular there will tend to be some people who have some kind of disorder. Although I will again, agree that it is still weird that there are so many of them at the top.

But still, there are also many of them that are definitely not like that. 

A counterexample is a good type of information that can destroy this generalization, it is hard to make a conclusion just from this.

Introversion is not necessarily a confirmation of autism

Chess is a game that naturally attracts introverts due to its system that rewards those who can study and think critically. 

This does not mean that most chess players are autistic just because they are likely to be introverts. Because introversion is not necessarily a case of autism, they are different.

In most individuals that consider themselves to be introverted there is actually a spectrum to which they are in the said characteristic, it is not black and white. 

There is a degree to introversion, not all introverted individuals are the same. Most people who consider themselves introverted are actually not on the extreme end of things.

Chess players who are on the extreme end of introversion are likely to be autistic, I agree. However a lot of chess players are not on the extreme end of introversion, therefore it is unfair to conclude that most chess players are autistic.

Autism, introversion, and chess players

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the structure of the brain mostly because of a malfunction during development (being a baby, being a kid). 

Introversion and awkwardness do not necessarily confirm autism. Autism is something that is likely to develop during a person’s younger years since they are still maturing.

It is an actual neurological condition and is not something that you can easily develop over time, most of the time, cases of introversion are not really indicators of autism.

While most chess players are introverted to a degree since the game attracts people who like studying and critical thinking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those people are autistic.

The majority of just players are actually not autistic and are just introverted, although I cannot deny that there are still those who are legitimately autistic.

Personal experience on autistic behavior of chess players

I have been to chess tournaments where there are a lot of chess players, I can testify that some of them have displayed the characteristics of someone who is autistic. However, I have seen a lot of competitors that are definitely not autistic.

That includes well, me and my team, there are so many others that do not display any indicators of autism and are actually the opposite. Most of them are healthy when it comes to social interaction.

This is because a lot of tournaments that I’m participating in coincides with a huge event where people can watch and talk to their friends in the tournament. There is a lot of traction basically.

I have observed that a lot of them have healthy social relationships and are pretty good at communication, which may not be fool-proof but at least there is a case that most chess players are not necessarily autistic.

Statistics are against chess players being autistic

Most chess players are casual players and not professional ones, there is little barrier to entry and it is hard to imagine that most of them would be autistic.

It basically caters to any individual who loves problem-solving, which is not necessarily linked to any autistic behavior. Most chess players are just random people who took interest in the game.

There are more beginners in chess than there are professional players, which means statistically, it is likely that the majority of the population are just random and there is no pattern at all.

This is the biggest reason why I think most chess players are not necessarily autistic.

Chess can reward autistic behaviors, but not exactly

I can think of some reasons why chess can actually reward autism and make them more likely to be good at the game (since chess is an individual game). 

There are some studies that I have found that indicate people with autism are much better at problem-solving than people that are not autistic. This is still pretty debatable since there is evidence to the contrary, but it is at least, there is a case.

However, this would not be a good argument since the majority of chess players are not really good players (this is funny but this is actually true).

Most chess players are actually bad at chess since they are still beginners, it would actually still be at random, there still would be no pattern at all. 

Chess does not attract nor cause autism

The cause of autism is still blurry, but the leading theory is it can either emerge from genetic and environmental factors. 

Chess does not necessarily attract autistic people nor does it cause autism in kids since there are a lot of factors. You can say that it can attract people who have autism since it is a problem-solving game, but as we can see it is not the case.

There are about equal numbers of people who are not necessarily autistic and those that are likely to be autistic (even if they are likely, it doesn’t mean that they are autistic). 

It is reasonable to suggest that most top chess players are not autistic, this means that autistic individuals who are attracted to chess don’t get to see the light of elites.

And those that are interested in chess casually have been overshadowed by random people since that is what has been the case with my personal observation.

I haven’t seen an autistic chess player in real life actually, it is that rare. Again, it is not fool-proof evidence but I will go with my observation.

Lack of study on chess players and autism

There has not yet been a study that confirms the overwhelming presence of autistic behaviors in chess players, but I can imagine that the results would be negative.

I would actually be interested in reviewing something like that, however, I have scoured the web and still haven’t found anything. It is likely that a case study like that does not exist yet.

But if you are going to ask my opinion, I say that it is going to be negative (that most chess players are not necessarily autistic). 

Since again, most chess players are casuals and are pretty much random everyday people. I don’t know I might be wrong, but I think that this is a more likely conclusion.

Final thoughts

Autism is a serious condition that needs special attention, this article is not made to make fun of these individuals and just has the intent of answering a question.

A lot of people legitimately wonder about this, and I think it is a good topic. It is also a bad stigma to give to a game such as chess that is not necessarily linked to autism since people will have an impression along those lines.

It is somewhat unfair for chess players if this kind of stereotype becomes so popular but they have to deal with it. I don’t want any of this happening since I think that it is unreasonable.

I meant peace and I don’t want to offend anybody, I am just here to educate people. I hope you have learned something today, sleep well and play chess.