Chess and Physical Wellbeing

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Apr 5, 2011

When I tell people who are not into chess that physical training is very important, they often don’t take it seriously, or are deeply surprised. At first sight, it seems that chess is purely a brain game which has nothing to do with endurance or physical strength. Nonetheless, this is not the case. Mental work often requires more energy than physical toils. After having played for a few hours a player is sometimes as exhausted as after completing a marathon. On top of that, if all the games in a standard 9-rounds tournament are tense, most players crumble under the pressure (both physically and psychologically) and start making inexplicable blunders.

For example, quite recently at the Women’s World Chess Championship tie-breaks were held on the same day as game two of the matches. Some participants had to play all day, with some of the games finishing as late as 2 a.m. Naturally, most players admit that it is more of a test of endurance and willpower than of chess skills. All this reminds us that all chess players should pay special attention to their physical shape and general wellbeing if they want to succeed.

It’s up to you what sport to choose. Try to avoid risky and traumatic ones though. It’s quite common for chess pros to get injured during soccer matches and suffer all tournament long afterwards. Among the most popular sports practiced by chess players are jogging, swimming and working out in the gym. Alexandra Kosteniuk is addicted to running, Vladimir Kramnik loves swimming, while Anand is very serious about his workouts. By regular physical training you both increase your endurance, and, according to some studies, boost your brain power. Also, don’t look down at the good old morning exercises and stretches. It is well-known that a good way of calming down after a tough game is to practice some sports. For example, go to the swimming pool after the game, or run a few circles at the stadium. Once again, it is a matter of personal preferences.

Leaving psychological and health issues aside for the moment, I would still like to remind you about proper nutrition and good habits. Eating healthy food is critical for a person’s success (World Championship contenders usually hire special personal cooks to make sure the nutrition will be perfect during the match). As you probably know, there are products that improve your memory and brain power: fish, nuts, broccoli, spinach, honey, milk, etc. During the game it makes sense to eat some snacks full of energy (banana, chocolate), but don’t overdo coffee and sweets. People who try to shake off the tension and finally fall asleep by smoking or drinking alcohol usually end up nowhere both in chess and in life.   

In top-level sports there are no minor factors. To excel, one should constantly and responsibly strive for perfection by all means possible. The same is true for other challenging activities.

The game I would like to present to you was played at the Gibraltar Masters tournament. The time control at that event was quite classical, so some matches kept going for 7 hours or even more.  At some point I understood that I’m too tired to put up with it on a regular basis and started playing more aggressively to speed things up (not a very good idea).


I didn’t get any advantage our of the opening, but my opponent made a mistake, and I could get nice attacking chances for a pawn. Instead I decided to gamble and sacrifice a piece. That day my head wasn’t operating well enough, so I misevaluated the position and miscalculated some lines. When you are feeling well, the brain is functioning much better as compared to cases when you haven’t slept well enough, or are in bad physical shape. My opponent seems to have shown too much respect and went for a repetition in a winning position.


  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

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  • 5 years ago


    Nice, and as true as it gets too thx! but good old fashioned sleep and relaxation are good too. Laughing

  • 6 years ago


     υγιής εν σώματι υγιεί, a similar but older version of mens sano in corpore sano. This kind of wisdom is pretty old and not suprisingly is still believed in today. As it should.

  • 6 years ago


    Chess is good for ones relaxing.

  • 6 years ago


    Water is your body's most important nutrient. It is involved in every bodily function, and makes up 70- 75% of your total body weight. Water helps maintain body temperature, metabolize body fat, aids in digestion, lubricates and cushions organs, transports nutrients, flushes toxins from your body, and reduces stress. Lack of it causes dehydration which in terms of chess, will leave you feeling dizzy and lightheaded

  • 6 years ago


    Milk doesn't agree with me when playing chess!  It makes me feel bloated and dont play as good then. Fruit Yes!  Fruitjuice Yes! 

  • 6 years ago


    Spasiba Natalia. I agree about fatigue, I work 15 hours/day and play chess for three, one hour for meals and the rest is for sleep and relaxing. At times I make the most silly (stupid - balda) mistakes that I cannot explain afterwards nor believe that I actually made that move!

  • 6 years ago


    Very good article, as usually Natasha...Sposibo!Wink

  • 6 years ago


    If you eat a bulb yes`a whole bulb of raw garlic before you play chess OTB.... your opponnent will not do so good,...especially when leaning forward towards the board &,exhaling deeply with real gusto as you survey the battle ground .Garlic is good for the health Laughing

  • 6 years ago


    of course.

    10 hours sleep + 1 hr for breakfast + 1 hr for lunch + 1 hr for dinner + 12 hours physical exercises = Super GM

    yes, chess for the remaining hours Tongue out just kidding Innocent

  • 6 years ago


    I spend about 2 hrs in the gym every other day & I do cardio as well as weights ,at my age benching 300 lbs recently made me feel great but I don,t know if I am playing better chess though .I note a good nights sleep makes chess playing better.

  • 6 years ago


    thanks for writing this article natalia, i've recently began taking notice on improving my physical condition and the relationship between the body and mind and this article will help me stay motivated for both chess and physical conditioning! :) hope your chess studies are going well and on track to meet your goals! looking forward to your next article.

  • 6 years ago


    Yes all good advice but there's a lot more to being successful than just staying in shape. What about natural ability or mental health?!  Also,if youve played for many years and still remain just an average player you can be forgiven for not putting your heart n soul into it. Such an opponent could easily be beaten if you're playing him/her and suddenly produce 2 tickets to go see a show that evening and offer them to your average opponent. He/she will think, ''I know, I'll rush my moves so I can get to the show on time.Even tho' Ive got a good plus score am unlikely to win 1st prize and I'll never be a grandmaster so am happy to lose this last game.''  Take from this what you will...VinnyLog...

  • 6 years ago


    very nice article.Yes indeed, every chess player must stay physically healthy.

  • 6 years ago


    I totally agree with this article. Thanks WGM Pogonina for reminding us the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Others, like me, seems to be focused too much in attaining a personal goal that they forgot to take care of their health.

    In this busy world, people stay up late at night putting hours of mental hardwork for things they can't do during daytime. I, for one, wanted to improve my chess, have been working for a few months now learning the game. But I have a full time job and I am a family man so I stay up late at night for my chess studies. But it doesn't really help that much as sleep deprivation is now taking its toll. Now I'm taking it one step at a time. We should learn to accept that there is a gestation period for almost everything, including mastering the game of chess, or any sport for that matter. If they say it takes at least 5 years to master the game, then 5 years it is.

  • 6 years ago


    Nice article Natalia,

    I just read it while eating my lunch of a turkey rueben sandwich and a green

    salad! Suppose that is somewhat healthy. I am going to read this to my 3 year old son. We are trying to teach him the benefits of excercise, nutrition and (in the near future) chess.

  • 6 years ago


    I´m a regular smoker & drinker, which makes me feel in a happier mood, but I recon that my eyes get irritated after playing many hours online. BTW, jogging & swimming are the borest sport I`ve practiced but I guess that yatching should be worse

  • 6 years ago


    Very good article.

    I think being able to play your best possible chess is directly corralated to staying in peak physical and mental shape. It is important to be able to play your best game at all time.

    Doing the things you mentioned will keep you physically fit, also listening to your favorite music or taking time off from chess practice/study to read or relax will also keep your mind sharp.

  • 6 years ago


    I had never smoke in my life, and I just drink good wine from time to time. I am in a very good shape because I made sport everyday and, evey week I play tennis, soccer, joging, swimming... My problem is that I have to improve the way I play chess. I haven´t enough time to study and play chess. (Maybe doing less sport?).

  • 6 years ago


    No Kytos because that can give you diseases.

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