To the casual onlooker, a game of competitive chess seems to have nothing going on — and whatever happens unfolds in slow motion. The players, one fears, are in danger of falling asleep not from fatigue but from boredom.
The opposite, however, is true. Even for players in excellent condition, a five- or six-hour encounter is often an ordeal of physical and mental enervation.
The cumulative stress and pent-up aggressiveness in chess is not as easily dissipated as in more physical pursuits in which large muscles are typically in use and the players are in frequent motion.
All three of Bobby Fischer’s preliminary opponents during his 1972 march to a title match with Boris Spassky required medical treatment for high blood pressure after suffering crushing defeats. The condition was exacerbated by their physical and mental effort.
Bent Larsen, Mark Taimanov and Tigran Petrosian — all previously dominant grandmasters, the last a former world champion — later resumed their chess careers but were ineffective. Each had been dealt a debilitating blow.
“At least I still have my music,” said a shrugging Taimanov, who was a concert pianist as well as a chess grandmaster.
Shelby Lyman is a Basic Chess Features columnist.