Are Chess Players Athletes?

Chess has been one of the most complex and competitive games for centuries. The game demands precision, strategy, grit, and determination to become good at it.

That said, professional chess players need to be in good physical shape to perform on the highest levels. This begs the question: are chess players athletes?

The short answer is no, they’re not. This makes sense because playing chess doesn’t require much physical exertion, unlike other games which demand athletic prowess.

In this article, we’ll delve into the complexities of this debate and explore the reasons why chess players aren’t considered athletes. So let’s get started!

The Physical Demands of Chess

An athlete is someone who participates in sports or other physical activities that demand stamina, agility, and physical strength. So looking at chess, it’s safe to say that chess players aren’t athletes.

Chess is a mental game that demands creative and strategic thinking, in addition to focus and pattern recognition. However, the game still requires a level of physical activity.

Sitting for Extended Periods

Chess players have to sit for extended periods during tournaments, as games can take up to six hours to end.

Sitting for long periods can lead to discomfort, stress, and potential strain on the neck and back muscles. Thus, professional chess players have to be in good shape to overcome these physical demands and stay sharp during long games.

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Pros Acknowledge the Physical Demands of Chess

The current world champion Magnus Carlsen is a perfect example of a professional chess player who values physical training.

Carlsen mentioned in his interviews how tiring chess tournaments can be and how much being in shape affects performance and concentration, especially in the last games.

The chess prodigy often prepares his openings while running on a treadmill to keep his mind sharp and focused. He also practices yoga for 20 minutes daily to clear his mind and reduce stress. Carlsen also has a personal chef who fuels him with nutritious food to stay healthy and fit.

Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players in history, used to lift weights, play tennis and engage in vigorous training exercises to stay fit.

The significance of physical activity wasn’t established back then. But the chess legend was ahead of his time and understood that he had to be physically fit to perform at his best.

In one of his interviews, Fischer said that he needs adequate blood circulation to his brain to perform well.

Chess Players vs. Athletes

In this section, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between chess players and athletes.

The Differences

When comparing athletes to chess players, one of the most apparent differences is the physical demands of each sport.

Physical Demands

Athletes train for hours to achieve an optimal level of physical fitness, whereas chess players might not even break a sweat before their games.

That’s because chess doesn’t demand a lot of physical prowess or stamina to make better moves or memorize patterns.

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On the other hand, football and basketball players need to be extremely fit to run, dribble, tackle, and perform well.


Injuries are another key difference between chess players and athletes. Sprains, fractures, torn ligaments, and dislocations are common injuries among professional athletes.

Conversely, chess can be mentally demanding, but it’s unlikely to injure yourself by moving chess pieces on the board.

Digital Transformation

Finally, chess players don’t need to be physically present at events to compete at a high level. For instance, during COVID-19, when most sports events were canceled or postponed, chess players competed on online platforms.

In 2020, the Online Nations Cup was held on, featuring 36 players from different nations.

The Similarities


To become a professional athlete, you must hone your skills and practice. For example, football players spend hours on the training field to enhance their technical skills, such as passing, tackling, and dribbling.

In addition, training sessions often include working on tactical aspects of the game, like positioning, communication, and decision-making.

Similarly, professional chess players train to improve their skills and understanding of the game. Chess players also practice enhancing their tactical ability, strategic thinking, opening preparation, pattern recognition, and time management.


Sportsmanship is another similarity between chess players and other athletes. In chess tournaments, rules oblige both players to shake hands before and after the game.

Similarly, players shake hands at the beginning of football or basketball matches as a gesture of respect and appreciation for each other.

Doping Tests

Finally, chess players and athletes undergo doping tests in major events to ensure fair play. Testing for substances that appear on the WADA banned list such as amphetamines, steroids, tranquilizers, and diuretics is a must for chess players and athletes.

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Is Chess a Sport?

Chess has been around for over 1,400 years, and the debate over whether chess is a sport or not is still ongoing.

A sport is defined as a competitive physical activity or a game in which participants compete against each other and rely on their skills and physical abilities.

Sports are governed by a set of rules and regulations and are played for entertainment, competition, or as a profession. Now you might wonder, does chess fit this definition? Well, it certainly does.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), chess is a sport. Additionally, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) governs the rules of chess and organizes official national tournaments.

Moreover, chess tournaments are held worldwide, and chess players compete from amateur to professional levels.

Chess is also physically exhausting, even more than other sports. In 2004, Rustam Kasimdzhanov lost around 17 pounds after winning a six-game world championship.

In October 2018, Polar, an American company specializing in heart rate monitoring, observed chess players in a tournament. They discovered that Mikhail Antipov, a 21-year-old grandmaster had burned 560 calories in two hours playing chess.

To Sum Up

Answering the question: are chess players athletes? The short answer is no. That’s because an athlete engages in a sport that demands physical prowess, endurance, speed, and stamina.

While this isn’t the case in chess, the debate on whether chess players should be considered athletes is intriguing because chess players and athletes have a lot in common.

For example, chess players have to train daily to develop their skills and become better at the game. In addition, to excel in chess you need to be physically active to perform well on the high level.