CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

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David Hamblin
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CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby David Hamblin » Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:50 am

Using the Easter break to catch up with some reading i have made a start on the interesting life imitates chess by Kasparov.

On page 16 he gives several examples of famous chess players suffering psychiatric difficulties namely;

German Master Curt von Bardeleban (suicide)
William Steinitz
Akiba Rubinstein
Paul Morphy
and well everyone knows the issues concerning Bobby Fischer.

To this list i can add Alvis Vitolins who commited suicide.

The question is does anyone think there is any connection between playing chess and mental health issues?

Regards and Happy Easter

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Ben Purton
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Ben Purton » Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:06 am

"Mental health issues"

Regards and Happy easter.....

This made me laugh :)
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I would die happy if I beat Wood Green in the Eastman Cup final - Richmond LL captain.
Hating the Yankees since 2002. Hating the Jets since 2001.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:50 am

David Hamblin wrote:Using the Easter break to catch up with some reading i have made a start on the interesting life imitates chess by Kasparov.


I have this book. If you post your thoughts about it as you read it, we could get a discussion started on it. Maybe start a new thread for that?

David Hamblin wrote:The question is does anyone think there is any connection between playing chess and mental health issues?


Not sure about the general question of mental health (I would say there may be some tendency for those with some conditions to be attracted to a game like chess), but the case of strong or titled chess players committing suicide has received some coverage. Alvis Vitolins is the subject of a chapter in Genna Sosonko's Russian Silhouettes, and he mentions there some other players who committed suicide (depressing topic all round, really) which I've included below (most are gleaned from Wikipedia, though, so check the sources there or elsewhere before using this list anywhere seriously), and Sosonko also mentions some players and mental health issues.

Curt von Bardeleben (1861-1924)
Alvis Vitolins (Vitolins Variation, 1946-1997)
Karen Grigorian (1947-1989)
Lembit Oll (1966-1999)
Rudolf Swiderski (1878-1909)
Alexander Wittek (disputed, but ended his days in an asylum, 1852-1894)
Josef Cukierman (1900-1941)
Carl Göring (Goring Gambit, 1841-1879)
Norman van Lennep (1872-1897)
Georgy Ilivitsky (see below, 1921-1989)
Vladimir Selimanov (adopted son of Vasily Smyslov, 1939-1957)

Apparently Evgeny Sveshnikov has written on the subject as it relates to Russian and Baltic states chess players: "he speaks of many chess players in Russia and the Baltic States suffering severe depression and in some cases committing suicide. Georgy Ilivitsky, Alvis Vitolins, Karen Grigorian, Lembit Oll and Alexey Vyzmanavin are prominent examples" (from the Wikipedia article on Evgeny Sveshnikov - the Alexey Vyzmanavin example is unclear).

There is also the case of the US junior player Peter Jonathan Winston (born 1958), who vanished in 1978 and who some think may have committed suicide. He had lost nine games in a row in a tournament in which he was the highest rated player.

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Matt Mackenzie » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:13 pm

Also the 19th century German player Minckwitz, who threw himself in front of a tram and died several days later.
"Set up your attacks so that when the fire is out, it isn't out!" (H N Pillsbury)

Alex Holowczak
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Alex Holowczak » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:25 pm

You can do this for anything, I think. Of the current top 16 players in the snooker world rankings, Graeme Dott and Mark Allen have both been diagnosed with depression in the last 5 years. Then there's Ronnie O'Sullivan, Alex Higgins...

Richard James
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Richard James » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:35 pm

Christopher Kreuzer wrote:There is also the case of the US junior player Peter Jonathan Winston (born 1958), who vanished in 1978 and who some think may have committed suicide. He had lost nine games in a row in a tournament in which he was the highest rated player.

Googling Peter Winston I came across this recent article.

The author, Richard Brody says in part:

Chess is a closed and perfect world with a clearly-defined and finite set of rules—the opposite of life, and, for those who become devoted to it, a substitute for life, for exactly that reason. Playing chess in any serious manner is the best way for a young person to avoid facing the sort of complex interpersonal experience that is the most essential kind of learning that’s needed to help a person make his way in the world.

Just the cynical view of a failed chess player, or is there some truth behind it? What do you think?

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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Alexander Hardwick » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:01 pm

Richard James wrote:
The author, Richard Brody says in part:

Chess is a closed and perfect world with a clearly-defined and finite set of rules—the opposite of life, and, for those who become devoted to it, a substitute for life, for exactly that reason. Playing chess in any serious manner is the best way for a young person to avoid facing the sort of complex interpersonal experience that is the most essential kind of learning that’s needed to help a person make his way in the world.


Just the cynical view of a failed chess player, or is there some truth behind it? What do you think?


Slightly entertaining, then, that this thread appears immediately above the thread "Should every child be made to play chess?" in the General Chat. :D

But to be honest...for every one of the GMs or GM-level players listed above, with notorious or less notorious mental problems, there are probably a few hundred who led perfectly normal social lives, happy relationships, etc. etc.

At least I hope this is the case, otherwise I'm giving up chess right now! :D

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Matt Mackenzie » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:08 pm

And let us not forget Bill Hartston's famous (and apposite) comment:

"Chess doesn't drive people mad - in fact, it keeps mad people sane".
"Set up your attacks so that when the fire is out, it isn't out!" (H N Pillsbury)

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Joey Stewart
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Joey Stewart » Mon Apr 25, 2011 7:54 pm

I think you can find a correlation in most areas, if you look for it, like that statistician who deemed bread was a major cause of death (as a high percentage of deaths occur within 24 hours of eating bread).

Sure chess is not 'normal' by the standards of our society, made up largely of mindless drones who desparately try and 'fit in' whatever social group they belong to. The idea that somebody could focus on an activity for more then 30 minutes is certainly not usual behavior to such people, who prefer to focus on irrelevent material and set meaningless goals that they have to achieve in order to be the same as everybody else.

But I say, no it is not any sort of a metal health issue, in fact I would even go as far as saying that chess players form a master race of higher evolution and they should be right to fear us because one day we will be capturing the world !!!
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Alex Holowczak
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Alex Holowczak » Mon Apr 25, 2011 8:34 pm

Joey Stewart wrote:But I say, no it is not any sort of a metal health issue, in fact I would even go as far as saying that chess players form a master race of higher evolution and they should be right to fear us because one day we will be capturing the world !!!


I disagree with this. I would have thought a "master race of higher evolution" could come up with some coherent Game Fee rules. :roll:

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Joey Stewart
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Joey Stewart » Mon Apr 25, 2011 8:39 pm

Well thats the point isnt it - they dont operate by 'the rules' - they are on a higher state of consciousness.
They thought he was dead.
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Arshad Ali
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Arshad Ali » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:13 pm

David Hamblin wrote:
To this list i can add Alvis Vitolins who commited suicide.


I played a simul against Vitolins in Riga a couple of years before he jumped off a bridge. I'm not sure there was a psychiatric disorder there. Both his parents -- with whom he was living -- died in rapid succession. And then he lost his state-funded job as chess coach. In this state of depression he committed suicide. The same for Lembit Oll, whom I met in Tallinn the previous year: his divorce led to depression and then to suicide. I'm not sure mental illness afflicts chess players -- or even top chess players -- more than it does the general run of the population. I am willing to concede that Asperger's syndrome types may gravitate to chess -- the same way they gravitate to mathematics.

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IM Jack Rudd
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby IM Jack Rudd » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:32 pm

Arshad Ali wrote:I am willing to concede that Asperger's syndrome types may gravitate to chess -- the same way they gravitate to mathematics.


You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment. :D

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:42 pm

Arshad Ali wrote:I played a simul against Vitolins in Riga a couple of years before he jumped off a bridge. I'm not sure there was a psychiatric disorder there. Both his parents -- with whom he was living -- died in rapid succession. And then he lost his state-funded job as chess coach. In this state of depression he committed suicide.


Have you read the chapter on Vitolins in Sosonko's book? That states several things that suggests quite clearly that there were some issues (though as you say, the suicide itself was likely prompted by the incidents you mention). The eerie thing is that Vitolins was friends with Karen Grigorian (well, Sosonko says it was more that they had an innate understanding of each other as kindred chess souls), who jumped from a similar bridge about 7.5 years earlier.

Anyway, Sosonko says of Vitolins:

"However, to fully understand the phenomenon of Alvis Vitolins, one has to know that he suffered from a severe mental derangement. Effectively from the start, he was not so much battling against his opponent as against himself."

The next paragraph mentions symptoms of schizophrenia and drugs being taken to control those symptoms. Sosonko also talks about Rubinstein sometimes (while in the psychiatric hospital) sitting looking at a board with the move 1.c4 played, and then then taking the move back after half an hour and continuing to contemplate the position. Fischer, Steinitz and Morphy get mentions as well. It is well worth reading to get some flavour of how utterly consuming chess can be for some, consuming literally every waking hour.

Steinitz: "Chess is not for the weak of spirit, it devours a person entirely. To get to the bottom of this game, he gives himself up into slavery."

I would say it is more likely that those predisposed to being consumed utterly by something would be taken over by an obsession with something in the end, whether chess or not, and most people exercise restraint and do other things. But chess is certainly something that you can become obsessed with if you let that happen (or some disorder predisposes you to that).

On a lighter note, Vitolins was an amazing chess player (playing some amazing sacrificial attacks), said by many to be a natural successor to Tal (this was also said by Tal himself), so anyone who can should play through some of his games.

Arshad Ali
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Re: CHESS PLAYING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Postby Arshad Ali » Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:12 pm

IM Jack Rudd wrote:
Arshad Ali wrote:I am willing to concede that Asperger's syndrome types may gravitate to chess -- the same way they gravitate to mathematics.


You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment. :D


Didn't say I think that; just that if I'm put on the rack I'll concede it through gritted teeth. There are even more grisly forms of torture (soft cushions, comfy chair) that may make me concede it yet more readily:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSe38dzJ ... re=related


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