How the experts play chess

Look at this exhibition of chess blitz between two of the USA’s greatest chess players, Hikaru Nakamura and Max Dlugy. That phrase, “the hand is quicker than the eye” is apt. I almost swore that once or twice the players were moving two moves at a time. If you suspect this is speeded up artificially, then you are not alone – I did think so too, initially. Except – it couldn’t possibly be speeded up. Firstly, the background music is an indication (albeit irritating); secondly, the player’s reactions are too ‘normal’ looking to have been speeded up. It is an incredible feat when you see it! 

The adrenaline rush when playing chess is substantial. Scientists have studied this and have compared it to the sensation seeking experiences of high-risk sports, like skydiving and parachuting! This from a recent Chessbase article:

But every chess player knows that there is also a massive emotional side to chess. Recently, a team of psychologists from Seattle Pacific University (USA) led by Professor Jeffrey A. Joireman conducted a most interesting study on this subject, titled “Sensation Seeking and Involvement in Chess” [Joireman, J.A., Fick, C.S., Anderson, J.W. (2002) published in Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 509-515].

The team discovered that enthusiastic chess players score very highly on psychological tests designed to measure sensation seeking, which is “a trait defined by the seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical, social, legal and financial risks for the sake of such experiences.”
If you ask non-chess players, they will probably find this somewhat surprising since usually the list of activities associated with sensation seeking does not include chess but rather bungee jumping, sky diving, paragliding, scuba diving and mountaineering.

Furthermore, the group of psychologists found that during a chess game a wealth of intense emotions is experienced by both players, and if they are involved in a tense and important struggle, there is an accompanying testosterone rush, typically of the same order of magnitude as that experienced by people involved in one of those risky undertakings just mentioned.



  1. August 31, 2007 at 2:21 am

    That’s really interesting. I have a long-time interest in the psychology of happiness, and this area is also written about in some detail by Mihayli Chitzemihalyi in his books on flow, or the psychology of optimal experience. You should have a look at some of his work.

  2. Susan said,

    August 31, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Blitz chess is a ‘….high-risk sport(s), like skydiving and parachuting!…’
    The dude on the left managed to keep his hand under his chin for most of the game. I’d like to see him do that jumping out of a plane at xx,000 feet.

  3. August 31, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    That is amazing ! Thoughts and moves are executed so fast ! But even not as fast as the human brain acts…

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