Chess: The Gymnasium of the Mind

Interestingly, chess isn't a game that is all about using your brains and intellect. Another aspect that players may make use of to take down their opponent is body language.

Chess: The Gymnasium of the Mind

Capturing the king is the game, but the path to get there is one of the most intellectually stimulating ones, depending on whether you have a worthy opponent, obviously. This 'royal game' involves such intricacies and careful observation that not just everyone can master it.

Typically, when desi people hear chess, the first thing that pops into their heads is 'Viswanathan Ananth'. This Indian grandmaster made his debut after he became the five-time world chess champion. Now, did this chess prodigy accomplish this purely through skill, or was there something else involved?

Being one of the most competitive games out there, chess is a game of scheme against the scheme. It is also a game of memory, which can be played 'by the books'. As a player reiterated in the American Journal of Psychology, "There is little satisfaction in catching your opponent on a line of play that you have simply memorized".

Interestingly, chess isn't a game that is all about using your brains and intellect. Another aspect that players may make use of to take down their opponent is body language. Nonverbal cues are something every human indulges in; these may range from a simple wink to a hand gesture. So how is it that chess players understand their opponent's next move based on an eye twitch?

Based on the player's posture, one knows how closely they are paying attention to the board. Both or one of their hands may be touching the face, the torso leaning forward and legs intertwined at ankles. The tactical posture is when the player engages in visual cues based on the current location of their own pieces and their competitors. Players essentially submit themselves to the game and anticipate their opponent's next move and juggle with tactics. Often, veterans of the game attempt to show significantly fewer emotions on their faces or keep a poker face. This is because they think it adds an unfair advantage to the opponents if they know their emotional responses. Even though this is an effective method of not giving away too much to your opponent, your body may betray you and provide subtle hints. Specific alterations in posture, self-touching, eyeball movement, scratching different body parts, and face. These unconscious micro and macro muscular movements on different body parts (which can be easily picked up by an external observer) can be decoded in context.

More than body language, however, is the concept of psychology in chess.

The ability to plan moves ahead is also a psychological trick used by professional chess players. In the show, 'The Queens Gambit', the young chess sensation goes on planning moves in her head and gets her opponent to play as per her command. She controls the game in such a way that the opponent has no choice but to fall right into her traps. A study conducted by the University of Illinois talks about how chess players said planning moves ahead comes habitually. A small group of chess players has the ability of visual imagination, which means they get a clear visual picture of the situation after a few moves. According to Dr. Tarrach, the German master, all games are played in parts without the sight of the board. And this is essential in visual imagery, which consequently aids in planning moves ahead. According to Professor Malkin, a chess master who can predict their opponents' strategy and moves have a considerable advantage. This goes on to prove that stronger players will try and exploit their opponents, putting them in uncomfortable positions.

In the championship match between the 14th World Champion V. Kramnik and his competition V. Anand, Anand completely shocked everyone by changing his opening repertoire. The tremendous psychological pressure that V. Kramnik felt was immense. All that time his team and he spent studying the regular opening (for the past 6 months) of V. Anand was all a waste. V. Kramnik was way out of his comfort zone and wholly thrown into darkness. He panicked and eventually lost the match. Keeping cool is an essential part of playing chess. Mess-ups happen; they are inevitable. The ability to remain calm and not get the adrenaline pumping primarily determines whether you let your opponent win.

The state of mind plays a prominent role in winning or making a crucial mistake and drastically changing during the play. Again, taking reference from the show, 'The Queen's Gambit', it is clear that determination can actually show you results. Warning, spoilers ahead. In one of her important matches, the protagonist parties the previous night and shows up late to her match. Her state of mind during the big match is flustered, and she is unable to focus and ends up losing. Though the story is a fictional one, the meaning portrayed in this scene is true. Having a clear conscious state of mind before and during a game can contribute significantly to its outcome.

In conclusion, it's safe to say that chess requires more than intellect. It is a game of the Gods that requires wit, dedication, and the ability to monitor one’s emotions or let’s just say, maintain a poker face.