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Is Chess a Sport? The Famous Debate


Humans have been playing chess for over 1,500 years. From international competitions to chess-playing AI, chess fascinates and challenges us. 

However, is chess a sport? There is an ongoing debate regarding whether chess is a sport or a game.


Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to succeed as a chess player and what experts have to say.


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What Is a Sport?

Is chess a sport? There is a strong argument in favor of chess being a sport since it’s an activity with complex rules. It also requires skills and focus.


However, some argue that chess lacks the physical component we typically associate with sports. When we think of sports, we think of activities that require physical performance, often to the point of exertion.


Practicing a sport is often about improving one’s physical abilities, losing weight, and developing stronger muscles. However, from a medical or biological perspective, chess fails to engage the body like most sports do.

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While chess doesn’t require coordination, it’s an activity where players have to remain focused for hours at a time.

Do Chess Players Need Coordination?

From catching a ball to timing a jump, most sports require some form of motor coordination. Therefore, one of the purposes of practicing a sport is often to improve coordination.


Chess doesn’t require advanced coordination since players move pieces on a board. Plus, with the rise of digital chess and chess-playing AI, the game’s physical components are becoming less important.

Is Chess Competitive?

Chess players know that events are extremely competitive. The International Chess Federation has developed a ranking system where players can earn points. A novice starts with fewer than 800 points, while a Grandmaster, the highest distinction in the chess world, has over 2,500 points.


Players earn points for beating an opponent, but the number of points they get depends on their opponent’s rating. This ranking system helps organize competitions where players roughly have the same level.


Chess competitions are major events. The largest event, the Chess Olympiad, brings players from all over the globe together and gives them a chance to represent their countries.


Like in any other sport, chess leads to famous rivalries, such as Kasparov vs. Karpov or Fischer vs. Spassky. More recently, a cheating scandal involving Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann showed how much pressure high-level chess players experience.

Is Chess a Sport

Chess Requires Skills

The main argument in favor of chess being a sport is that this activity requires incredible skills. Players are able to improve their skills by practicing and learning more about chess theory.


Before asking ‘is chess a sport?’, we should look at a few numbers to better understand how advanced this game is.


Chess is a highly complex game with a dizzying number of possible variations for each game. Scientists refer to this number as the Shannon Number and believe it’s somewhere between a sextilliard and a septillion if we only count legal moves, which corresponds to 10 to the power of 40. The Shannon Number is three times higher with illegal moves.


Navigating this infinite number of possibilities and achieving the best outcome requires strong planning and strategy skills. Players also need to visualize the board and calculate their moves.


There are many similarities to sports that use offensive and defensive moves. For instance, football coaches use these skills when developing a playbook for their teams.

Endurance and Focus

While chess doesn’t require coordination, it’s an activity where players have to remain focused for hours at a time. A casual game might last a few minutes, but players participating in international competitions can play for seven to nine hours.


A game of chess requires a sustained effort. Players have to keep analyzing the situation as their opponent moves their pieces. In addition, they have to maintain a state of focus and execute a strategy within a timeframe since the International Chess Federation requires players to perform 40 moves in two hours.


Plus, simultaneous exhibitions where players take on multiple opponents at once can be physically exhausting.

The Effects of Chess on the Brain

Chess is an amazing way to stimulate the brain. The brain isn’t a muscle, but it’s a crucial organ.


Experts believe that chess can improve memory and creativity. Chess players also seem to have better planning abilities, and the game can help with ADHD and dementia symptoms.


Brain scans of elite chess players have revealed that two areas of the brain likely become more effective through a selective pruning process that removes excess gray matter. These areas include the superior longitudinal fasciculus, a structure that sends visual signals to areas that execute tasks, and the occipital-temporal junction, a zone that supports visual and spatial awareness.

Is Chess a Sport

What Do the Experts Say?

The Olympic Committee officially recognized chess as a sport in 1999. Chess isn’t part of the Olympics, but the Olympic Committee, the International Chess Federation, and are working together to add chess to the first Olympic Sports Series.


This upcoming event will feature several esports events and marks a new era in the history of the Olympics where the definition of sports is broader.


This event reflects esports’s rise in popularity, a sports category that doesn’t require physical exertion but challenges players by requiring focus and skills. As esports continue to challenge us in new ways and make us rethink how we see sports, more people will likely start considering chess as a sport.


Find the best courses to improve your chess game. 

Final Thoughts: Is Chess a Sport?

Given the incredible level of concentration and skills required to rise to the rank of Grandmaster, it’s safe to say that chess requires the same level of training and dedication as professional sports.


Players don’t have to exert themselves or use coordination physically, but the planning, creativity, and focus required make chess a sport, or at the very least an esport.

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