One thing is true for every competitor that wants to excel in their field, a time will come where they would have to retire. However in chess, some people might wonder why is a retirement even on the table, after all the players just sit at the table and play right?
It’s not something athletic that one would need to exert physical performance therefore warranting the rest (retirement). And that’s what I’m going to be talking about today, the reason why chess players especially famous ones’ retire.
Older chess players choose to retire due to the mentally and physically stressful nature of tournaments, they don’t want to experience loss of games and ratings, they are financially able enough, they have lost passion, or they just want to pursue other things in life.
I’m going to be diving into every reason and why that is the case since I wondered about this myself.
Is the stressful nature of professional chess the reason players retire?
Studying and competing repeatedly in professional chess requires a healthy physical and mental state, older players are less capable of handling pressure and stress which is why some choose to retire.
This is something that people just don’t get, professional chess is not the same as normal recreational chess, there would be stress and pressure.
It is easy to play professional chess if mistakes and losing doesn’t matter, which is not applicable to competitive play where reputation and money are on the line.
Players do not play only for the sake of having fun, they play for something desirable which would inevitably bring pressure.
Such a stigma will affect someone who is mentally and physically declining in the later years of their life, which may be too much to handle.
When one is young there will always be time to be resilient, to get back at the losses that you’ve made. Someone who is old (which makes up the majority of people who are likely to retire), don’t have the same incentive.
They are unlikely to win against previous competitors and tournaments to make up for their mistakes, and this stress could build up. This is adding to the fact that one’s coping mechanism will also be affected by the age of the person makes it worse.
Is studying chess stressful?
Studying chess is just hard, really hard, one will need extreme nerves and dedication in order to stay at the top of their game. Someone who’s out of shape or really old would not be able to survive the studying routine much less an over-the-board play.
Studying chess games involves looking at a position repeatedly over and over again, which is physically and mentally declining.
Someone who is old will have lesser tolerance to this, they will consider retirement since they may not even get to prepare their games.
They would fizzle out from memorizing countless opening lines and studying their opponents, which can be mentally tolling over time.
One would need to make a decision between their career and mental health, a retirement basically means they chose mental health.
And they are not exactly wrong since there have been cases where chess is able to drive people crazy which I have a full article here (will open in a new tab).
Is playing chess tournaments physically and mentally exhausting?
Chess tournaments are demanding both physically and mentally, this is a factor considering someone with old age cannot handle those properly.
The events last for days, usually around 8 hours or above to play between the competitors with little to no breaks, a hell ground you may call it.
Such an environment literally requires some conditioning in order for one to last that long, it is an exhausting experience.
The breaks within the game are usually only around 10 minutes after each game, where you will have to play for hours straight competitively.
Adding to the stress and pressure within each individual game, the accumulative effect is definitely hard for participants.
One can lose and still have to play anyway, which means that one should be able to move on from the consecutive games maintaining focus.
This kind of stress may have led to the retirement of some players, they’re just not able to cope with this like they used to. Trust me when I say that tournaments will take away your life slowly, I can certainly understand why this calls for retirement.
If you want full details on why chess tournaments can be stressful my other article (will open in a new tab) should explain that.
Do old chess players retire since they don’t want to experience losing?
Older chess players retire since they are no longer capable of maintaining a good win/loss record, the performance may taint the legacy they have created over the years and therefore retire in order to preserve it.
Older players retire because they didn’t want to experience the grief of losing, which they are likely to suffer from being out of their prime. Losing just feels terrible, especially for a competition such as chess where every mistake is entirely your fault.
If this was a team sport for example something that basketball, there’s always a teammate to blame for the mistakes that lead to a loss.
This is chess however, defeats are personally excruciating inside since you have complete control to avoid such an outcome yet were not able to anyway.
If you want to learn how to deal with losses in chess my other article (will open in a new tab) explores some methods.
The reputation is on the line in these cases, a renowned chess player for example would not want to showcase bad results when viewing their career.
Continuing competitive play as someone who is out of their prime will mean bad results, and so players would rather retire in order to maintain their reputation.
Older chess players just want to maintain their legacy and the history they’ve created, which will be tainted by poor performance.
And if this is someone on top of the world status they would be compared repeatedly against someone of similar skill, they want a good portfolio.
So that when people look back and take a look at their accomplishments, they will not have any bad paint in the eye that would indicate any unfavorable track record.
At the end of the day competitors just want someone to appreciate their skill, which is hard to do if there are bad results even if it is later in their career.
Players want to be in the discussion of who is the best-attacking player, defensive player, etc. they don’t want to do something that would disqualify them from such conversations.
Retirement may be now much more feasible since nobody would really put one out of the picture just because they retire (everybody does it). They would now have a clean record and will be recognized first years to come, I think it is a good decision
Ratings and reputation
This is something that people don’t usually notice which top players are proud of, their ratings. The ratings that the player has accumulated over the years (the thing that masters are proud of) will take a toll when having such bad results.
These masters dedicated their entire life to chasing this number in order to get where they are today, it is such a shame to see it decline.
For this reason, people are more inclined to retire than see their hard-earned ratings suffer, which is pretty understandable since they’ve worked so hard to get that high.
It is not just a matter of something to brag about, this is the chess player’s pride which also symbolizes their confidence. A retirement would definitely preserve a high rating and would go down the history as an accomplishment for that particular player.
Is being financially stable the reason old chess players retire?
A top professional chess player can choose to retire since they likely have accumulated enough money to support the later years of their life, without the financial drive to continue the pursuit, some people choose to retire.
If this is someone with the luxury of choosing to retire then it’s probably a top player, someone who has made financially enough to not be forced to play chess.
This is also likely an old person that has saved enough to pursue other things in life that wouldn’t cause any stress.
If you have to read my article about how much do chess players earn, then you have the idea that you need to be top of the world status to earn much, which you can view here (will open in a new tab).
Money is one of the ultimate drivers of pursuits, a chess player can choose to retire since they can afford the money to do so.
They are unlike their younger selves that have to go from tournament to tournament in order to earn a living, they can settle on their own.
This change in situation will warrant a player from stopping the pursuit of chess altogether since there is no financial need to do so.
They can live well outside of chess without being seduced on that next tournament prize that will probably be stressful to acquire.
Do old players retire from chess since it is not a good source of income?
Tournament prizes are not a reliable source of income if one cannot win the tournament, selling chess services in the form of e-books, courses, and coaching is more plausible for example, hence why players retire.
Tournament prizes will only be viable for someone who is in the top 50 in the world, other than that it is almost non-existent.
The cost of training, accommodation, and transportation expenses will nullify, or might even put the player in a negative on some occasions.
This is not a problem for really strong players since the funds are just so large it doesn’t even matter, someone who is old/out of their prime though might not benefit from that.
They are unlikely to win huge tournament prizes against someone who is younger and in better shape.
They are likely to be spending more than earning substantially if they’re just relying on tournament winnings, other methods are better.
Selling chess courses/e-books online for example is a better option than competing professionally, which is why retirement is plausible.
If you want a complete list of everything you can do to earn money with chess, this link (will open in a new tab) will help you with that.
Is the amount of competition the reason why players retire from chess?
Competitors in chess are becoming younger and better faster with the advent of chess engines, older players may not be able to keep up in the memorization-heavy environment hence why they retire.
It could be that the old masters just realized the pointlessness in continuing their careers since the competition just got better.
After all, there’s no point in playing professional chess if you can’t win any tournaments, you can’t have the money nor the reputation.
This article of mine completely explains why just players get worse with age this link (will open in a new tab) should take you there
The game has turned into more of a memorization contest rather than skill, those that can memorize more lines/games win in the end.
This means that out of shape players will be unlikely to win anything more than ever, which cuts every reason to continue pursuing chess.
There is just much more downside than benefit by playing professionally, adding the stress and other things I have talked about above. This is why retirement is a feasible option since there is no more value in remaining on the field only to be defeated.
Is passion a factor why old players retire from chess?
Some players lost the passion they have for chess during the younger years of their life, partly due to the excessive amount of exposure to the game, this may have led to the retirement of some famous chess players.
This item is another possible reason, it can be that they’ve just lost the passion, the interest that have attracted them to chess in the first place.
Most people who play chess are there for the giggles, they want attacking games that are so beautiful you want to look back and be proud of it.
The reality of professional play however is very different, one has to work positional games that last 60 + moves ending in a draw. There is little to no fun in there and more like torture, this shift in mentality can waive any trace of passion from a player.
Over the years such players can be so desensitized by the boring and drawish nature of their games possibly giving it up altogether.
And you can’t blame them for this either since we have loved some things in the past that do not bring us joy anymore, I think a retirement is a good option here.
Do players retire from chess since they want to pursue other things in life?
Top players who’ve been playing the game since their younger years are likely to not have a lot of hobbies other than chess, this may have led them to crave other pursuits in their older years and therefore choosing to retire.
Someone with old age just wants to pursue other things that they’re not able to when they are young, maybe their family or other hobbies.
This is similar to every other individual out there, they focus on work early in life and want to move on to other things once they get older.
This does not mean that they wouldn’t play chess anymore of course, but it does mean that they will start concentrating on other possibly better things.
Committing to something professionally just takes too much time and investment, it might be unaffordable for some old people to do this since they don’t have a lot of time left.
We have to always remember that most players have been playing almost all their life, depriving them of experiencing other pursuits.
It just feels so sad to do only one thing every day for the rest of your life as a kid and as an adult not experiencing anything else.
Whether it would be fishing, basketball, soccer, etc. someone who is about to retire usually looks for these kinds of hobbies since they just want to enjoy them.
Just giving up competitive play for this reason and the others above would be a viable option for one’s health and satisfaction long run.
My recommended product, resource, or service for this article
There is one thing I hate the most about chess, which is it could be an expensive pursuit (with little value gained) if you look for the wrong products. I believe that chess should be inexpensive if you know what you are doing, which is why I always share my top picks!
In some posts, I embed this section with products related to that specific post so you may see this section throughout the website.
But enough of all that, here are some of my recommended items/services for this post:
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Do you now know why chess players retire?
It’s really sad to see someone that we idolized go from the spotlight into the backstage, somewhere where we couldn’t see them.
However, we still need to understand that there is life beyond the board, as a player becomes older there will be better priorities in their life to take care of.
Retirement might be something you don’t want to see but is inevitable in any form of competition, we just have to appreciate them while they’re still playing.
The time will come where we wouldn’t be able to see the magnificence of players today since they will have to retire too.
This article covers every angle as to why chess players retire, which I hope you learned something. See you again when you read another article, sleep well and play chess.