CHENNAI: Chess, say Chennai’s homegrown grandmasters, is as much about making the right moves on the board as it is off it. Swimming, strength training, badminton, yoga, football, dancing, cycling… it’s a fitness blitzkrieg as the city’s players prepare to take on opponents from around the world at the World Chess Olympiad in Mamallapuram at the end of the month.
“The game can go on for hours and you need a lot of stamina, both physical and mental, to maintain the energy level until you win,” says grandmaster Adhiban Baskaran, aka The Beast, who trains intensively in the gym to maintain his trademark extreme aggression from marking.
Adhiban says that on the day Magnus Carlsen won his first world chess title in 2013, he signed up for a swimming and gym membership, which he believes greatly improved his game. “The internet was full of reports of how Magnus’ intense fitness regime of swimming, football and yoga kept him mentally alert during tournaments. It changed the way I looked at physical fitness. It changed the way many Indian chess players looked at physical fitness . fitness,” says Abhiban, who is part of the Indian contingent at the Olympics.
SP Sethuraman says a rigorous schedule of long-distance cycling, strength training, yoga and football helps him stay grounded behind the board. “Even though chess players seem to just sit for hours on end, our body and mind have to be in sync to stay focused until the end,” says the grandmaster, whose Instagram page features several pictures of him in yoga poses, the most popular being of him in a standing position. on his head with a chessboard in front of him.
‘There is a significant drop in Croatian players during a chess game’
A study published this year in the Baltic Journal of Sport and Health Sciences showed that calorie consumption during a chess competition is approximately 200 calories per hour.
The study also mentions that although no physical activity is required during a game of chess, there is a significant reduction in heart rate variability (HRV) of players due to psychological factors such as “cognitive load, stress, anxiety and arousal”. An acute decrease in HRV usually occurs after intense endurance or resistance training. In 2004, layer Rustam Kasimdzhanov was reported to have lost 17 pounds during the six-game world championship.
Srinath Narayanan, a grandmaster and non-playing captain of one of the Indian teams, says that since he started training in the gym, he can see a difference in his cognitive functioning during the game. “Every time I’ve had practice before a game, I play better,” he says. Krishnan Sasikiran seconded it. For this grandmaster, it’s a toss-up between table tennis and badminton, his two loves besides chess. “They both give me mental agility on the board,” says Sasikiran, who even got himself a robot server during the pandemic to play table tennis. “I practice chess seven to eight hours a day, so I try to pick up a game of badminton to round it off,” he says.
For some players, mental fitness is just as important. Sethuraman, for example, works with sports psychologist Gayatri Vartak to teach him how to keep control of his mind during a match, as he tends to rush his moves. “I practice stopping and asking myself questions before I touch a chess piece,” he says.
“With chess players, we focus on how to focus, defocus and refocus during a game because it is not possible to maintain the same level of concentration during a five-hour game,” says Gayatri, who has worked with more than 150 chess players. players from all over the country. “Another area we’re working on is countering the pressures of the endgame.”