7 Misconceptions about "Chess Players"

  • erik
  • on 8/22/07, 10:54 PM.

When somebody outside of the chess world hears "He/she's a chess player", there are certain pre-programmed misconceptions that automatically fill the mind. While some of these ideas may be based on legitimate stereotypes supported by the broader chess community, most of them are are generalizations extracted from a few prominent figures and then applied to all players, for better or for worse.

Here are a few of strongest stereotypes that are just not true:


#1 Chess players are smarter

People like to say that chess players are smarter than the average Joe. The truth is, the average chess player is just the average regular person who happens to like chess. And while it has been shown that chess can improve the IQ somewhat, there are contrasting studies that show that chess players ARE smarter... but only when it comes to chess. Knowledge inside the game is not necessarily transferable outside of the game. The other problem with this stereotype is that there are lots of kinds of smart: analytical, mathematical, creative, visionary, street-smart, social intelligence, etc. And when you shake up the bag of collective chess players, your average chess player is, again, an average person who likes chess.


#2 Chess players are less socially adept

I have to be honest. I didn't always believe this was a false stereotype. My first few introductions to chess were awkward. There was the guy who refused to shake hands because of germs. There was the guy who screamed at me because I asked him why he used an analog clock. And then there was the guy who didn't shower - EVER. I've seen this behavior again and again and again at tournaments and clubs. But then one day it hit me - I'm only seeing a tiny sliver of chess players represented. There are more than 600 million people who know how to play chess. I was seeing just the handful that are not too socially busy to be somewhere else aside from chess club on Friday night. And of those, I was focused in on the more eccentric ones just because they are the most interesting. There are just as many examples of amazingly social and charasmatic individuals as there are of oddballs - take Josh Waitzkin, Yasser Seirawan, and Judit Polgar as great examples. I've since met thousands of players at dozens of events, and even more since I launched Chess.com, and it confirms once again that chess players are just a representation of the average population, except that they happen to have discovered the joys of chess. 


#3 Chess players must have amazing memory skills

Sure, we've all heard the phenomenal stories of the Grandmaster who can play 30 simultaneous games blindfolded and remember the positions in all of them. And yes, that is impressive. But the truth is that chess players do not have superior memorization skills, and it doesn't take superior memory skills to be a great chess player. Chess players are just tremendously familiar with chunks of pieces, known positions, familiar pawn structures, etc. This quote says it well:

"Remembering fifteen common English words would be no astonishing feat for an English person; it would be for someone who was not acquainted with the language. But his admiration is misplaced; he thinks that the chessplayer is remembering an enormous string of random patterns, for that is how the game appears to him, but in fact the chessplayer is merely speaking in the language of chess, a language with which he is familiar and whose patterns he has seen many times and knows by heart." For more, click here.

In fact, another study has shown that while chess masters ARE much better at memorizing chess positions that occur in natural games, they are no better off than non-chess players are memorizing board positions where the pieces are placed randomly. (More here.)


#4 Chess players are old, white, euro-caucasian, men 

We've all heard this stereotype, and Pixar didn't help any with their short film called Geri's game. But it isn't even CLOSE to true. First off, chess players are of all ages, from 7-year-old scholastic geniuses to middle-aged players to the senile. Second, chess is huge in India, the Philipines, South America, and growing in China and Africa. Third, more and more women are joining the game. Just click here for a view of some non-white women of all ages playing chess!


#5 Chess players are poor sports when they lose

Though the recent world championship may circumstantially support this claim, chess players are no worse than anyone else in competitive gaming or sports. In fact, I would argue that chess players display greater sportsmanship than others because most smart chess players know that with a loss usually comes learning, and most chess players love learning the game more than they love winning the game. That said, the next time your opponent throws a pawn in your eye don't blame me for not warning you.


#6 Chess players are not athletic

Try telling that to the guys in the picture who are competing for the World Championship Chess Boxing Title! Once again, chess appeals to athletes and non-athletes alike. If you look at a random sample of members on Chess.com you will find a lot of profiles that mention other sports, hobbies, and athletic interests. It is true that few grandmasters are top athletes, but that is a function of dedication, not ability. That would be like saying that athletes are not intelligent. It's not true, it is just a matter of prioritization. Another argument is that chess IS a sport, but I won't go there....

Finally, to read about more professional athletes who love chess click here.  


#7 Chess players are nerdy and unsexy

Perhaps the biggest misconception can be wrapped up in the notion that chess players are nerds. And while your particular high school chess club may skew your view, chess players come in all varieties. Take Maria Manakova (featured in the picture to the right). She is a WGM (Woman Grandmaster) who not only has top moves on the chessboard, but also... I'll stop there. Sure, she is the most extreme counter-example we have to the "nerd" fallacy, but again, chess players come from all walks of life. 


Next time you hear someone described as a "chess player", I hope you will be a little more open-minded about who that person might actually be. Sure, they might be the pocket-protecting fifty year old man who carries anti-bacterial handwash everywhere he goes (that will be me in 20 years Frown), but she might also be an beautiful track star from India or something. You never know!


71944 reads 43 comments
6 votes


  • 7 weeks ago


    The stereotype happens because... However, intelligence is misunderstood by many. I don't know if I have a good IQ. I know that I enjoy learning new things.

    I haven't read enough research related nerds and chess players. I know a few people who have exceptional IQ. They know how to play chess but don't find it entertaining. As a result, I have nobody to play with. In addition, I know a few women who have a successful career.

    They prefer we do something such as spending time among families or friends, or shopping. Or we would visit places on our day off.

    I know that I don't have enough data to draw a conclusion. My observation tells me that the chess game attracts many males than females.

    When I learned rules of chess game in 2013, I started playing. Some days, I come here regularly. Now, I've been on this site frequently. Most of the time when I play, I'm mentally drained. This game makes me happy whether I win or lose.

  • 2 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    Yes stereo-types appear for a reason. Those examples are exceptions, not the rule. For example,  Most people who are good at sport are athletic,,,If I say the British darts champion sinks 10 pints a day and weighs 130kg, it still does not refute the first observation.

  • 4 years ago


    Nice topic... A lot of people who play chess are athletic look my profile description for example, then go on to read my blog on Usain Bolt & Lennox Lewis>>http://www.chess.com/blog/chipgraber/does-he-play-blitz-or-slow-chess-usain-bolt. I do still believe chess does bring intelagence to a person thinking outside from chess (Not including reading,writing,maths) Just general thinking in depth. I base this on the fact that when I left school & collage I stopped playing chess for many years, & when I went back to playing chess I wasn't able to play/plan more then 1 move in advance. I got up to around a couple months later, now I can play/plan around 5 moves in advane. For me this aint just a scheme of patterns, if this was the case I would be good at jigsaws and rubix cube which I suck at.

    My way of thinking since playing chess again as come on alot, anything that stimulates the brain into thinking harder and harder, can only increase better thinking, planning and surely increase brain cells. I'm no doctor, nor have I taken any studies but from my honest oppinion chess is good for the brain and will help you think outside the box in real life & also prevent Alzheimer's.

    P.S also look at leaders of war, Sadam & Ghadafi both played chess.

  • 5 years ago


    Great responses to typical chess stereotypes.  However when it comes to number two, there is a long list of other of other chess greats who lost their noodle along the way.  Just look it up.  So if you take this game too seriously, you may go insane.  Most likely not though.  Assess your sanity daily! 

  • 5 years ago


    actually, in a study by Dr. Yee Wang Fang, out of two groups, he taught one group to play chess (well) and didn't teach another group, the one chess group showed test score improvements by an avarage of 15%.

  • 5 years ago


    i totally agree

  • 5 years ago


    Great article, it has inspired me to join Chess.com! I wouldn't disagree strongly with any of your cogent points. With regard to are chess players more intelligent than the general public. It is true that they are not. However, even weak player think they are, so something about chess creates confidence. If you do show early promise in chess it is a better indicator of raw intellectual talent than almost anything else. There are savants of music, lightning arithmetic and savants with incredible memory abilities, that score abysmally in intelligence tests and require help with normal daily tasks. I have yet to hear of a chess 'genius' who is useless at practically everything else.

  • 6 years ago


    Great article, thanks.

  • 8 years ago


    I really disagree with #3 though. Chess is a big boost to memory and I end up thinking in a manner of how I think in chess in life. Memory in chess is pattern recognition just like alot of things and it trains your brain to remember other things.

  • 8 years ago


    And here I thought I was the website's official village idiot. Yeah man, "Say it loud, I'm nerdy, I'm proud." Or, "get on the scene, like a chess machine." Or who could forget that lost James Brown classic, "It's a pawns, pawns, pawns world." Ayyone for "Get on the Rook foot?" Thank you very much, I'll be here all week!

  • 9 years ago


    I consider myself outside many chess stereotypes also. I turn up to chess tournaments in my heavy goth gear (studs, black longcoat... you get the idea).
  • 9 years ago


    it differs in every one of us


  • 9 years ago


    I love when people come up to me at shows and start talking about what they think is cool, and worse, what they think I think is cool. At this point I try to get them into a conversation about chess. Why? Because I can tell in an instant just how full of BS the person is and what just how really cool they are (really cool people are proud of their interests and don't care what other people think about those interests. They are their own persons). So I bring up chess with a line like "So how those people that play chess, what do you think about the game man?" Here are some typical responses:

    "Oh man, thats a game for the nerd cult. I mean don't those people ever get tired sitting in front of the computer screen? They could try a little fresh air." T

    That first one came from a guy that lives on myspace. What a dork. Here's another one:

    "Isn't that a game for old men in the park?"

    This from a woman who couldn't string together a thought if her life depended on it. My favorite:

    "Isn't that the game Mr. Spock played on Star Trek? Who could possibly find any interest in a game that's an over glorified version of checkers?"

    This from a guy who is so worried about the way he looks it takes him an hour to  get dressed when going out to buy toilet paper from the corner store.

    At some point I get so upset that I tell them that I live for chess and have the same love for it that I have for my band. I then give them a list of their favorite bands and who in that band plays chess (the painful sword then buries itself deeply into their collective backs). 

    Yes, I have sadly seen the misconceptions people have regarding the game I have come to love so much. I try to bring it up in interviews as much as possible because it in itself is a great learning tool regarding life. There is a large body of life lessons to be found within the 64 squares and the moves made on them. Like I said, cool people are people who are proud of who they are, regardless of what other people think. Chess players come in all flavors and colors. We come from different places and have different occupations, but the game of chess ties us all together.

    We played a really big venue here in San Francisco, The great American Music Hall, which holds about 1000 people. The show sold out and our set went well. The highlight of my weekend:


  • 9 years ago



    I told you to NEVER use that old swimsuit photo of me on the web!

    You never were very obedient. Just remember, I brought you into this world...and I can take you OUT!


  • 9 years ago


    Oh C'mon, please - Miss out number 4 and you have my whole life story!  (and you can only rule that out as I'm 36 !!!)

    If you look at other social groups they all attract  a certain 'type' and chess is no exception.

    These 'sterotypes' do have an element of truth, not for everyone, but for lot of people.

  • 9 years ago


    It is certain that there are all kind of people who play chess, but if you take  100 football players and 100 chess players surely you'll find that the in the last group there is a bigger percentage that meet the "misconceptions" that are mentioned in the article.

    I think it is a question of statistics. The good thing about chess is, like physical exercise on our body, influences on our brain positively with some  skills very useful for our everyday life.  



  • 9 years ago


    Nice piece! Nice illustrations!(especially #? sorry, poor memory and problem-solving skills Wink)

    I have been made to believe that I am smarter that the average J. The other things change, sexy one day, not-so-sexy another day. Great memory one day, but bad memory another day. etc etc.

    I lose graciously coz I am a winner!

    Can you look at the avatars/pictures and see how many chess players are smiling?!? Nice! 

  • 9 years ago


    Hahaha some are true and false. I'm a sexy nerd and proud of it.
  • 9 years ago


    I have been playing chess for a few months now, so maybe you could say that I haven't been playing long enough for these stereotypes to apply to me, but I have not ever won a game, and I'm okay with that.  I don't think I could be considered a sore loser because I keep coming back.  However, one could also argue that a competitive nature is what makes me keep trying...
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