Do chess players go crazy? (The truth!)

Chess is a complicated game with so many theoretical understanding one needs to absorb in order to do well, it is difficult. This is why some people have wondered if this is enough to make people go crazy? It is sort of mental torture after all.

I’ve done the research for you in order to finally answer this question, some rumors spread online that famous chess players go crazy, so it is important to us.

As a chess player myself here is what I know:

Mastering chess involves facing the harsh competitive environment of tournaments with little monetary return, this is a stressful situation. Chess players also receive a lot of criticism from their social circle about their future which makes them likely to go crazy.

I am a chess player after all so this question holds close to me, and I’m sure it is to you as well. Since you’re searching this you might be concerned if one’s going to be prone getting into this game, so I’m going to answer it.

Are chess players likely to be crazy?

Chess players are likely to be crazy since their mental state is a necessary tool to perform well in the game, therefore overusing it. It cannot be denied that players do have breakdowns here and there but the causation to chess has yet to be proven.

This issue that chess players go crazy is a reflection of what the old world champions suffer in their own life, a mental breakdown. But correlation does not mean causation, there are other factors that could have been present in their time that is not available now.

After all, the top players in today’s world do not suffer from the same mental breakdown. There could be other environmental causes that have led to such an outcome, therefore it is actually unclear if chess players are likely to be crazy.

Other sportsmen after all have suffered the same mental breakdown even though their field does not focus on thinking. But we do not say that the cause of the mental breakdown is playing basketball, tennis, etc.

There are other old world champions who have not gone crazy like Garry Kasparov, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, etc. a lot of rumors about them are watered down to make them appear insane, but actually has a fate that is similar to what most people experience at their time.

It depends on the context of crazy, if it is a breakdown once in a while then sure, chess may be the cause of that. The excessive mental struggle, looking for an edge over a small positional detail can overload someone mentally.

But someone who has having a mental breakdown one day is not someone we call crazy, being crazy is a whole other level. A lot of people in different industries suffer some depression and exhaustion in their own fields, which has nothing to do with chess.

This means that mental breakdown does not necessarily translate to chess making people crazy, since most pursuits also cause that (therefore no causation). There is a noise buzzing around that chess doesn’t convert people into crazy ones but the other way around, where it actually attracts such individuals.

“Chess Doesn’t Drive People Mad, It Keeps Mad People Sane.”

– Bill Hartston

This is an interesting proposition that may be true but I think not, I mean, I’m a chess player and I’m still not crazy. I first took this game seriously more than three years ago, and I can tell you that there are no mental disorders in my head.

The reason why I say it is possible is because of the low sample, that I might be the minority. But for the record, I have a lot of friends who play chess, a club that plays chess, and street buddies who also play chess, and they have no mental issues before they started playing.

I personally don’t think that someone who is crazy doesn’t even qualify to master chess, since the calculations might be too hard for them. Chess after all is a mental game, and having mental issues will of course deter someone from reaching their full potential.

Is the stressful nature of playing chess the reason it drives people crazy?

Chess tournaments require a person to physically and mentally perform beyond his or her limits making it is stressful. Such a competitive environment might be the reason some chess players go crazy.

Being heavily involved in chess produces a lot of mental and physical stress, hence why people might go crazy. One will have to predict the opponent’s move as well as their own move over and over again.

Not to mention the possibility of losing despite the enormous effort that has been put in every single move, it is mentally tolling. Chess tournaments require some six to eight hours of play a day, for 4 straight days before completion.

You can just imagine the amount of exhaustion, pressure, and stress competitors will face mentally throughout the event. Along with sitting for consecutive hours straight for several days, one’s backbone will be toast after the tourney.

Another thing is the competition, Chess is just a naturally competitive struggle, one can easily drown in the fighting aspect. This might be the reason why some people go crazy with chess, they just can’t handle the amount of competition out there.

There are athletes out there that have suffered mental conditions from their own fields, and what do those fields have in common with chess? competition. The amount of pressure that it takes to excel in a pursuit, it truly is a progenitor of mental suffering.

Is the level of obsession (with chess) a factor to driving people insane?

Being good in chess requires the player to obsess on the details, so much so that the pressure might’ve been enough to make people insane.

Chess can drive people crazy if it is turned into an obsession, just like every other pursuit. One would think of it while they eat, sleep, and having fun with friends, this anonymously what causes people to eventually being labeled as crazy. 

The sad thing is you are required to almost obsess with chess in order to be good at it, hence why people suffer from the pressure. One will have to look and try to discern about a move over and over again during practice and even more in the game. 

Believe me when I say that you do need to think of chess when you eat, sleep, and have fun with friends, you see where this is going. If you can’t at least do that, it is very unlikely that you have what it takes to survive the competition (since others are willing to do it).

There is a fine line between having a work ethic and an obsession with chess, hence why a lot of people might be going crazy because of it.

Is the hardship of being a chess player make people crazy?

A chess player lives a challenging life having little monetary compensation for the work they put in their craft, along with the criticism from their social circles (family, friends, etc.) it might be the reason why chess makes people crazy.

This is one of those environmental factors that I have talked about before, the situation that chess players face may have contributed to the crazy status. Most chess players have little income in comparison to their humongous efforts, this stress in itself can drive people insane.

This is why I don’t recommend that anyone should even go for a grandmaster title, the returns are just ridiculous. An International master or Fide master are good goals don’t get me wrong, but the amount of investment to be a grandmaster will have a little financial return as explained by my other article (will open in a new tab).

Granted, I am happy that grandmasters are pursuing the thing that they love, but the stress from the finances for doing that cannot be denied. Unless you’re doing coaching or some other methods then it’s unlikely that you will have a full-time income, we have seen happy couples tear each other down because of money, it is indeed stressful.

The incapability to support one’s family while being so invested in the game is enough to drive people crazy. One is very likely to be left alone with little money unless they are someone of world-class status.

Because of this, someone who immersed themselves intensely in international tournaments will face a lot of criticisms among their family members and social circle. The disappointments and tension that can buildup from these things are not even related to the game, yet they are adding to the stress.

Due to this one is also likely to be left with no friends since they spend most of their time analyzing chess games, which means that no one can comfort them at times of distress. This does not apply to every chess player, but I bet it does to the majority.

Being driven insane due to this is a very real thing, adding to the fact that the game in itself gives pressure. But if you’re planning to pursue chess and make money out of it here is an article (will open in a new tab) I have for you, I’m sure you’ll like it.

Are there active chess players that are not crazy?

Top chess players in the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, etc. do not display any signs of being crazy. This would lead one to conclude that it is possible to master chess without going insane.

And now for the topic that I have been waiting to say all this time, there’s a lot of active world-class players who have invested a lot of time into chess yet have kept their sanity. Look at Magnus Carlsen (world champion) does he look crazy?  No, partly because he is being paid a lot to play chess and has a lot of support coming from his family and friends.

This is actually a pattern you’ll see from most top players, they have a lot of financial backing and support from someone. Plus they have started playing at a very young age being incentivized to pursue chess, unlike what the old masters have experienced.

These players do not have the same financial pressure that the old masters have suffered from, therefore the change. Otherwise, these players would have fallen to the same crazy-status due to the lack of financial backing/support as what the old masters have experienced.

If chess players are being paid like basketball players for example, I doubt a lot of competitors will go insane. This proves that mastering chess does not require one to go down the road of craziness/insanity since there are others that have overcome just that.

Do you think chess can make people go crazy?

Mastering chess does require one to put in a lot of work and have a work ethic, though an obsession is not required. Yes, I can testify that chess can make people crazy just how basketball can make people crazy, a lot of pursuits can do that.

Do I personally think that it is required for one to go crazy just to master chess? No, I am good at chess and I’m not crazy, just like a lot of top players. This article serves to remind you that it is possible for such a thing to happen so you shouldn’t obsess over this.

You need to put in a lot of work, but still need to remember that there is still a life beyond the board, sleep well and play chess.

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