Why do spectators cough in chess tournaments?

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If you have been watching chess tournaments lately (like I do) then a question might have popped at the back of your head. Why do chess spectators cough in the most annoying way possible?

English Conversation About Sports
English Conversation About Sports

It interferes with the game and mood for everyone, but is there a reason?

I have wondered about that too which is why I made this article, to share my ideas why this phenomenon occurs. Here is what I think:

Spectators cough in chess tournaments due to the extremely quiet environment that tempts them to make a noise, the cold rooms that quickly dry the throat, the old spectators that are likely to be sick, or just a plain coincidence.

That is roughly what I think is what’s happening in a nutshell, but I understand that it requires more explanation, which I will provide in this article. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Does excessive silence instinctively make one cough?

Too much silence will subconsciously force the brain to make any kind of noise to liven up the environment, this is why people cough in chess tournaments since the event is mostly quiet.

The silence really is deafening, the brain finds a way to make noise when the environment is too quiet. This is perhaps an abnormality in our modern world filled with dopamine-inducing sounds left and right, it is out of place.

There are little places in the world where everything can be completely silent, a library for example and a chess tournament comes to mind.

When people are exposed to these quiet surroundings, they are likely to make a sound in order to fill the void in the mood. 

This happens in libraries as well where we do minimal coughing to make the scene much more normal, something we witness in our everyday lives.

The same phenomenon occurs in chess tournaments since the level of noise is much comparable to that of a common library. Here’s a short video of one of Magnus Carlsen’s games in the grand chess tour where the environment is really quiet:

The mood is so silent that even the clock barely makes any noise, it is easy to imagine why one is tempted to make one.

People cough in tournaments because they can’t talk

You see it is forbidden to talk loudly during a chess event, so the brain unconsciously goes into a coughing-like state. People that enter chess tournaments have excessive preparation and treats the game seriously.

Excessive talking can be considered a distraction that warrants being thrown out of the event, which is a hassle.

A cough (if done right) is a much softer noise, something that doesn’t have any consequences via chess tournament rules.

This is why people instead choose to do such action (coughing), they can eliminate the irritant feeling of being too quiet without facing any repercussions.

Does the quiet nature of chess events highlight coughing?

The reason why any kind of noise like coughing gets noticed in chess tournaments is because of the silence, if the environment is normal then the noise would have been considered typical.

Another factor is the highlighted effect that such a silent scene could give us, even the faintest of noise can be easily noticed in this situation.

In a quiet environment any noise that has been made gets highlighted, it might be something that people do all the time but not in such a condition (too quiet).

Some of the so-called coughs I’ve heard in chess tournaments are actually different kinds of noises, murmurs, whispers, and stuff.

People just intuitively smash everything into an umbrella term called coughing, and with the environment being so silent it is normal that one of these will be observed at some point.

It might not be that spectators cough all the time, it’s just that we associate any kind of noise to coughing which makes it plentiful.

Is air conditioning the reason people cough at chess tournaments?

Chess competitions are usually played in air-conditioned environments where it is naturally cold, this causes the throat to dry faster leading people to make a cough-like noise. The rooms are so cold in fact that people inside can catch a cold spontaneously, which is another source for coughing.

The most prestigious chess events are played in an air-conditioned room, the throat gets dry naturally in colder environments therefore needing moisture. I am not aware of everything, but even the low-end tournaments that I participated in are air-conditioned.

This means that it is so cold that one would need to dampen their throat as an instinctual behavior, in fact, it is pretty common. It is just that in chess tournaments again, it is so silent that any kind of noise will be noticed by the viewers.

Clearing one’s throat after all resembles the noise associated with coughing, and with the sheer number of chess spectators, someone will do it.

Spontaneous colds can occur in chess tournaments

In colder rooms one is much more likely to catch a cold or even minor cough spontaneously, this might be a factor why a lot of coughing occurs in tournaments. It is normal for a weakened human body to fail to resist a common cold when it is cold.

Someone might hold back a bit (since they don’t want to get thrown out) leading to a minimal cough-like soundtrack. 

Is the demography of chess tournaments the reason people cough?

Older people are the typical population that make the spectators in a tournament, these individuals are likely to get bored and sick making them cough during the games to entertain themselves.

People who spectate in chess tournaments are usually older ones, they are more likely to make noises even when they are not sick.

I have no idea whether this is normal behavior for old people, but I believe that their senses just operate way differently than younger people.

Their hearings are likely to be more distorted, resulting in any noise they make appearing louder than what they attempted.

The spatial feeling can be affected as well, where they feel like the one they are talking to are farther than it should be (making them cough louder)

This along with the fact that older people are likely to be more assertive giving less care in breaking some rules, and you might see them doing such that (coughing)

Chess is boring for some spectator, they want to be entertained

Let’s face it, chess tournaments can be extremely boring since the positions are very likely to be equal for an extended period of time.

Even someone who is actually interested in the game can feel really bored with the excessive amount of draws and soft plays, but what about those who are not interested?

Some come to the chess tournament as a support to a participant who is competing or is the photographer, management, interviewer, etc.

As a spectator who doesn’t really play the game, one is bound to do an activity in order to get themselves entertained (especially if the positions are boring).

A cough may seem dull, but staring at a wall for example becomes an engaging activity when one has nothing better to do. So I can imagine that coughing is a way to release the boredom that some spectators are feeling.

Could it be that excessive coughing in tournaments is just a myth?

The excessive coughing in chess tournaments can just be a myth due to the stereotype that has been put to chess spectators, it might be just a coincidence that has no behavioral pattern at all.

Of course I wouldn’t pretend that coughing in tournaments does not exist at all, but I think the claims are being exaggerated in some way.

The stigma of spectators coughing has been ingrained in some people’s minds even when it is not that noticeable.

Just because coughing happened here and there does not mean that it is a recurring behavior consistently existing in chess events, it could be spontaneous.

Now, I believe that a lot of the factors I have discussed before have played a role in this but sometimes there’s just no reason for coughing.

A viewer of a chess tournament may complain of excessive coughing even if the coughing is not excessive at all. Some cases of coughing in tournaments really are just coincidence (with no pattern), they could happen to have a bad throat at the time.

There might not be an explanation for this since a reasonable one does not exist, people might be overreacting to the noises.

Sometimes people just go to what fits in the crowd, if a group describes one thing as annoying, others are likely to agree (and I think to a degree it applies here).

This coughing stigma might have periodically been associated with the exaggeration that people perceive it as such.

Do you now know why spectators cough in chess tournaments

In the end I am not really sure as to the reasons why people cough in tournaments, but this is an insightful talk. I think more or less I said a lot of things correctly, though a further explanation is required for me to be confident.

But in my experience coughing in tournaments does not really distract me from what’s happening on the board, since that’s where I am focused. I couldn’t care less about the other factors in the environment unless it is too noticeable.

But what do you think, are the reasons that I’ve talked about sound correct? I hope you’re satisfied, sleep well and play chess.

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