Are chess players mathematicians?


Sun. May 31:

It is a common belief or legend that chess and math are similar
intellectual activities, therefore mathematicians are good chess
players and vice versa.

On the other hand  different activities such as the trial and
error methods in differential equations and solving chess moves
in time may involve different portions of the brain.
Absent MRI studies, however, it was my experience a long time ago,
 that on the day before a tournament I had to suspend all math activity
and computer activity as well.

Does anyone know of well known chess players who were
also mathematicians and mathematicians who were known
to be good at chess?


I can safely confirm that it is purely an urban myth.

Yes, I'm sure the abiliy to problem solve as it stands in mathematics is without doubt helpful over the board in terms of logically reasoning out a solution to a question, but I doubt it is the be-all and end-all.

I believe it was Max Euwe that said any person of reasonable intelligence could become a master-level chess player with correct study. This makes sense when you consider the difference in the styles of play of certain chessplayers.

Alekhine and Kasparov, for example, are well-known for their ability to calculate (analyse) many moves in advance with great accuracy, however, players like Capablanca and Smyslov are noted for their intuative grasp of the most natural squares for the peices with very little calculation involved.

I do not doubt that players improve their calculative ability through expeirience and I also don't doubt that Smyslov or Capablanc COULD calculate deeply if they had expeirience in the area but the idea is they didn't have to and built their playing style around their strengths.

The point I am trying to make is that some players are very mathermatical and calculative and those players should build upon that strength. Some players have other strengths (being able to understand complex positions easily, intuative grasp of peice placement, die-hard desire to attack) and those players should build upon those strengths. There is no absolute chess style and this is what makes the game interesting.

(BTW the only player I know of that was a professional mathematician was Dr. Max Euwe, I think, but other players such as Morphy and Alekhine are known to be lawyers and doctors so I assume a reasonably good grasp of math would be present in them.)


Is this why there is a connection by mathematicians and chess?


John Nunn and Jonathan Mestal both British GM's are mathematicians. They played chess as they were studying math so it is impossible to determine which led to which.

There is a also a high correlation of musicians and chess as well though not at such a high level. But just because you are good at math does not make you good at chess  (or visa versa)


I suck at math BIGTIME, I also failed my math exams (still passed through though). But I'm currently stuck at 1600-1700 rating which is fairly good I guess, so I don't think this is true.


Yes, they are...It has been proved so!


Both chess and mathematics involve similar mental skills...

attention to details, recognizing patterns, connecting rules and "plans of attack"... puzzle solving, and familiarity with a literature...

Both areas are fairly broad in their scope, although the different disciplines of mathematics are probably more varied... chess is played on a 64 square board with 32 pieces which move 6 different ways.  Mathematics ranges from the mathematics of continuous functions, calculus, differential equations to discrete mathematics, number theory, statistics and probability, geometry, field theory... all beautiful subjects. 

My godmother who taught and played piano all of her life and was married to and mothered engineers always felt that music also had a deeper connection to mathematics. 

These are not exclusive skills or disciplines.


Max Euwe was a math teacher.


I think one of the first hurdles people face when playing any kind of game, is accepting the fact that they will have to loose in order to get better.  Arutha19's comments were excellent!  Philosophically, it makes sense to build on strengths.  Since some people can stare at a board and imagine possible outcomes for a multitude of possible responses, that can be a strength, but it takes time too!  Having an intuitive feel for the game I am playing, has been my natural approach, but this has never actually worked well for me.  I try to work with basic dogmatic or generalities I have heard said as I have continued with the game. 

We tend to look to the very best for clues.  As long as we find that more questions are raised with every answer, we can be sure we are on the correct path.  In a mathematical sense, I suppose, that if you can limit the sensible options that your opponent has, you should have the upper hand in the end.  But within the frame-work of chess, there are so many possibilities that highly aggressive tactics often lead to an oversite, and since the object of the game is to pin a king, and since this can be accomplished with nothing more than a queen and a pawn, those of us who tend to play to the very end can put in a good game once in a while.

But to get back to the beginning: loosing is a big part of chess, as is, I suppose forcing a draw.  But, philosophically, I don't play looking for a draw!  Most of us think of success in tems of checkmate or win by resignation, and yet, a large number of games played by Grand Masters end in stalemate so perhaps there is something to be said about that too...

It is interesting that mathematicians have an interest in chess.  Probably my first interaction with a computer was at a museum exhibit where you could play chess against one.  It is doubtful to me, that whoever started programming computers to play chess, didn't play chess as well.  That would be the most obsurd thing I could conceive of!?  And yet, since the question here has something to do with chess and mathematics and mathematician's brains... hmmm.  I think that Pakitine's question certainly raises more questions, some of which can be answered by observing chess players.  Primarily though, integration of one's daily life with strenuous brain excersize that involves concern over say, whether or not to sacrifice a night for a pawn, while the dog has to go out...

Does anybody know where I can find out about the Knights round?


My dad is a mathematician and hes a FIDE Master, haha


Nope! nt necessary bt it is true dat all chess players knw 2+2= ? LOL!

I failed in mathematics in 8th Grade after 2years in 10th Grade I stood 10th (mathematics) in merit; nw i m B.Sc. Mathematics and used 2take tuitions.


There may be a correlation but probably nothing serious. Then again, I just watched endgame videos by GM Karsten Müller and he has a PhD in mathematics.


I am increasingly enjoy playing the long (3 day) game. in a manner similar to thinking of a math problem while walking I think of a move. But there is a difference. I still get fired up when I see I am in danger of losing.  When i find the right move that whams the opponent's piece feel more like I have been boxing (a sport I enjoyed) Of course when I finally write up a math problem there can be no mistake so I hate making a stupid mistake in a chess game. The other week I overlooked a mate being so preoccupied with the position.


     Yes, most math problems are absolutes with either a right or a wrong, chess
is a bit more abstract with various options.


Mathematicians and chess players include C.H.O'D Alexander, Adolf Anderssen, Magdy Assem, Henry Atkins, George Atwood, Christoph Bandelow, John Beasley, Otto Blathy, Ludwid Bledow, Hans Boumeester, Nathan Divinsky, Noam Elkies, Arpad Elo, Max Euwe, Karl Fabel, Ed Formanek, William Hartston, Charles Kalme, Paul Keres, Martin Kreuzer, Emanuel Lasker, Anatoly Lein, Lev Loshinksi, Sam Loyd, Vladimir Makogonov, Geza Maroczy, Vania Mascioni, J. Mauldon, Jonathan Mestel, Walter Morris, John Nunn, Nick Patterson, Miodrag Petkovic, Ken Regan, Hans-Peter Rehm, Richard Reti, Ken Rogoff, Jonathan Speelman, and Duncan Suttles.


     All chess players are mathematicians but not all mathematicians are chess

          What do you all think, just from the inherent nature of the game is
this statement true or false?

aansel wrote:

John Nunn and Jonathan Mestal both British GM's are mathematicians. They played chess as they were studying math so it is impossible to determine which led to which.

There is a also a high correlation of musicians and chess as well though not at such a high level. But just because you are good at math does not make you good at chess  (or visa versa)

 Also British GM Jon Speelman - all PhD Mathemeticians.


noooo. im not

JK it depends

I might be good at math.....maybe...



Quote if this made no sense