Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chess and Insanity

Chess and Insanity

Earlier we wrote about chess and intelligence, and how chess can be considered a positive psychological developmental tool in learning from game experiences that also relate to life in general. Nevertheless many in the public believe there is a dark side of chess; that the super gifted chess player having to use huge amounts of brain power, are in danger of exerting so much effort that it can cause insanity.

Many things in life get little return of investment, but time studying chess usually brings enjoyment and victories. Some claim this can lead an over compulsive drive of dedicating too much time in the study of chess, to the detriment of other life responsibilities, that could eventually be personally destructive.

Bobby Fischer's (1943 2008) problems didn't help with this idea as he was paranoid and schizophrenic. As wonderful a player that he was; his bigotry and outrageous beliefs tainted a wonderful chess career full of fantastic games. His distrustfulness made it difficult for him to get proper medical care that probably would have extend his life. And sad to say he wasn't the only best player in the world, in their times, to die insane.

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) legend says he once claimed to have beat God giving pawn odds and believed that he could telephone people without the need of a telephone. One story has it that he could communicate with God this way. He died a schizophrenic at the East River Sanatorium on Ward's Island in New York.

Paul Morphy (1837-1884) had a thing for women's shoes, believed his brother-in-law cheated him out of part of his inheritance, and had a constant fear that someone was going to poison him. He died insane at the age of 47.

Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1872 1906) suffered from syphilis which caused poor health and insanity.

And Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) married four women who were 20 to 40 years older then himself.

Given the population of chess players and champions I would like to believe that probably there is no causal connection that can be made between chess champions and insanity. A great percentage of people suffer psychologically in some way during a period in their lives. In fact, these above stories go contrary to my experience which is that most chess masters are not only very intelligent, most are exceptionally mentally well balanced. Masters typically have a have terrific, brutally frank, honesty about evaluating situations objectively. And it's these abilities that give them the characteristics necessary to have good judgment and excel. And most masters seem to be generally good people.

What is you feeling about chess, chess masters, compulsiveness, sanity, and insanity please comment?

Mike Griffin 10/28/2008

Steinitz versus God
Edward Winter http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/steinitzgod.html