Is chess for nerds? Breaking the stereotype

Nerds do have a certain compatibility with chess since they are usually detail-oriented and enjoy studying. This doesn’t mean however that chess is only for the nerd stereotype since there are others from a different personality group that did excel in chess.

In a game naturally based on intelligence such as chess, there will be certain stereotypes that are associated with those who play or like it. One of the most famous stereotypes for chess players is the nerdy description.

That most people who likes and competes for the game are someone who will be falling in the nerd category.

But is this true? Are most people who play chess actually a nerd? And are there benefits on the quality that the nerd stereotype displays that makes it easier to master chess?

I think breaking this popular misconception would allow those who are shying away from the game because of “the supposed shame”.

Not everyone wants to be branded in the nerd category (though it isn’t necessarily a bad term), and I hope this article will provide some clarification for your case. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Nerds usually like chess

Nerds, which are people who are naturally good at using their mental capabilities are more likely to be attracted to chess and master it. Though it doesn’t mean that they are the only type of people who can learn it.

Someone who fits in the nerdy description is likely to enjoy mentally stimulating problems that a board game such as chess presents. Chess can be considered tedious and boring for some individuals, but someone who is nerdy would likely find it interesting.

This is actually true of course, someone who loves indulging in problem-solving would find the game very exciting. But the heavy misconception is the generalization that comes with this idea.

Just because some nerds enjoy playing chess doesn’t mean that all people who play chess are nerds. Someone can enjoy mentally stimulating activities even without necessarily fitting the nerd description.

Though it makes it more likely that there will be a lot of nerds that will eventually like playing chess, it doesn’t mean that all chess players are nerds. I have even seen a lot of competitors who are the complete opposite of someone who can be considered nerdy.

Being nerdy is helpful in mastering chess

Being nerdy definitely has its advantages since it is a quality that allows one to rigorously study chess but is not a necessity (people who are not nerdy can be good at chess too).

When you are considered to be under this stereotype, it means that you don’t mind studying for a certain topic continuously without getting bored. People like this can also process the things that they learn much more smoothly.

By definition, nerds are those who are better at harnessing their mental capacity than your average individual. Of course they can learn chess better than your average individual as well.

But the great misconception here is that you can be smart without being nerdy, just because you’re able to use your brain doesn’t mean that you fall within this stereotype.

Nerds do find it easier to master chess just like with other individuals who are savvy for knowledge, this doesn’t mean that chess is just for nerds.

Being socially anxious is not a factor in chess mastery

Being socially incapable (which is a trademark of someone nerdy) does not affect one’s ability to learn chess. Even if you are popular/socially likable you can obviously still be very good at the game.

Chess is naturally an intellectual game, social skills (whether you are good or bad with them) really don’t fall into anything related to mastering chess. Even if you are socially capable you can still beat someone who is socially incapable.

This means that social affinity (a trademark for nerds) is not really a factor in chess mastery since it could go either way.

This also shows that it is even more unlikely that chess is only for nerds since there are all kinds of social people who have become experts in the game.

Some top chess players are not nerdy

One way we can answer this question is if we could look at the people who have reached the top of the game and see their personalities. Are most of them nerdy? Or resemble the quality of a nerd?

If you look at the top chess players of the world, some of them can be considered nerdy (antisocial, knowledge-savvy, awkward) but there are also a lot who are the complete opposite of those.

Players such as Magnus Carlsen, Daniil Dubov, Alexander Grischuk, and Anish Giri are not exactly the people who would fit the said stereotype. Though I would admit that there are some who fit the description (Ding Liren, Fabiano Caruana, Wang Hao).

Someone like Garry Kasparov is blurry, in contrast with Magnus Carlsen he seems a little bit nerdy though.

This fits exactly to the thing that I have talked about above that there will be nerdy individuals who will excel eventually, but there will be others who are not really considered nerdy that will also excel.

This means that the personality trait at the top is much more scattered, that we couldn’t form a single conclusion that would show chess being a game for nerds.

Nerds, Chess, and Athleticism

Some people consider chess nerdy since it doesn’t require any visible athleticism. Chess does require physical endurance but more importantly, doing activities that don’t require any athleticism doesn’t make you or the game nerdy.

Any game that doesn’t require exertion of too much physical force is not automatically considered “nerdy”. The qualities of a nerd after all broads out to other characteristics other than just lacking any athleticism.

But the thing is, playing chess continuously under heavy stress while sitting for an extended period of time requires physical and mental investment. It is not something that a wimp could easily accomplish without deliberate endurance training.

Some time controls range for hours on both players, this requires a degree of athleticism that doesn’t fall in this stereotype. The lack of visible athleticism doesn’t really prove that chess is for nerds only.

Chess is nerdy because it requires thinking?

Another reason for this stereotype is that some people think any task that requires a lot of brain usage is already nerdy. This is of course not true since you don’t have to be nerdy to be able to use your brain well.

There are a lot of smart people that are comfortable with social situations (some are even extroverts) and would enjoy any brain-stimulating activity. A nerd would definitely enjoy one but other smart-minded individuals will be excited as well.

Just because an activity is something that you need to use your brain on doesn’t mean that it is already nerdy. Even our day to day task requires certain brain power yet we are not considered nerds.

This is an unfair comparison of course that has no basis, but some people do think this way. Sudoku, Chess, Checkers, or even Minesweeper are some of the games that also fall in this category but have no basis for inclusion at all.

Nerds used to be a typical chess stereotype

Back in the day when chess was not that popular, nerds who are connoisseurs in all brain-related games are usually the ones who master them. This does not apply in modern times where all kinds of people have access to chess via the internet.

Because again, people who naturally fall in the nerd category are just people who will be attracted to the game due to its mental challenges. When the game is not that popular this group of people is likely to be the one playing it.

This might be the origin of this chess stereotype but times have changed a lot. All kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds can get interested and play this game (even without being considered a nerd) due to the power of the internet.

Anyone who wants to tackle some mental problems can get a stimulant by playing this simple yet complex game. So while there might be a grain of truth that chess is for nerds (at least for a time) it doesn’t apply in the contemporary world.

Popular media introduced the nerdy chess genius

Popular media can partly take the blame for the nerd to chess stereotype (since some movies or television shows express it that way), but we all know that such mediums are not really a good source of realistic expectations.

A lot of what is in the popular media is exaggerated or from a marginalized view of the producer that has been brought to a larger audience. It may have stuck around due to the likeability that has surrounded the said popular media.

Nonetheless this is a very limited way of thinking about chess geniuses since we have seen real-life examples of geniuses that are not exactly nerdy (Magnus Carlsen for example). This stereotype is not warranted.

Personal experience on nerds, chess, and tournaments

I have been to chess tournaments before, there are definitely a lot of nerds out there but there are also a lot who are not considered nerdy. Frankly, the school where the tournament is held may have something to do with it.

A lot of the locals there are people who would fall in the nerdy category anyway even if you just picked them at random and didn’t introduce a chess tournament. But still, there are a lot who don’t follow the stereotype.

I myself am not a nerd. There are some nerds in the tournament but the groups of people are incredibly diverse and have their own backgrounds/personalities. I don’t think you could put a single stereotype to describe all of us. So yeah, I think this stereotype is not really reasonable.

Final thoughts

If you are afraid of playing chess just because you may be considered a nerd do not worry, after playing for so long I have never encountered someone who had shamed me for this reason.

Chess attracts all kinds of people that are interested in testing their mental capacity, you don’t have to be someone nerdy to be interested in brain-related games such as chess. I actually thought this was automatic.

But there are definitely some that you may meet someday who will ridicule you anyway, just ignore them since they don’t know any better, just do what you want and be proud of it.

I think this applies to most things in life, sleep well and play chess.