December 5, 2014 11:45 AM   Subscribe

What is it with chess players?
posted by sparklemotion at 11:55 AM on December 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

This is a really sad story. It reminds me of the case of another one-time chess prodigy, Jeff Sarwer, although there are important differences (Sarwer disappeared due to his abusive fathers' control over him), and Sarwer eventually turned up more or less OK.
posted by thelonius at 12:00 PM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

The saddest thing is that not one single friend or family member ever appears to have felt the need to file a missing persons report.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:04 PM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Now I'm stumped trying to find the april fools prank about a chess prodigy .. Was it Games magazine, or Sports Illustrated, but it's now bugging me.
posted by k5.user at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2014

sparklemotion: What is it with chess players?

This is an uninformed layman's opinion I'm giving here, but here goes:

Chess is a game that has very specific and arbitrary rules, the mastery of which has little to do with real life. The rules are simple enough to learn in an afternoon, but grand mastery can take *years* for even the most gifted of students. Most people who are even quite good at the game eventually get bored with it because there are just so many paths the game can take and they tend to move on from it or never go beyond taking it up as a passing hobby.

Then you have the hard-core chess players. These are the folks who dedicated entire chunks out of their lifetime devoted to this simple game. And unlike, say, poker players, chess players are held to very high esteem in many places and are often held to a higher standard (my apologies to anyone out there who happen to be professional poker players). Add to it the competitiveness involved with tournaments, even the most sane participants can probably be driven to unhealthy mindsets after a while.

And if someone happens to have a proclivity towards depression or bipolar disorder, then, well...
posted by surazal at 12:49 PM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

What is it with chess players?

That was my first take, and then I was a bit embarrassed because it seemed to stereotype a certain personality. But there are some strange stories surrounding people who play serious chess...
posted by BlueHorse at 12:54 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Playing these games (chess/go in particular) tends to require such a depth of study that it seems to affect your actual daily functioning. Unlike Poker, for example, there is no metagame or luck in chess and go; you are playing the board. If you get into a bad position, it is due to your own mistakes; if you lose a good position, it is due to your own mistakes. This leads to hyperfocus and an identification with the game (I am 2200 and you are 1750; I am therefore smarter. I am 5-dan and you are 3 kyu; I am therefore a better person).

Many "crazy chess people stories" are known in the West, but Go has its share, too. Lee Changho supposedly was in his twenties before he could tie his shoes. Hashimoto Utaro and Iwamoto Kaoru played the third game of the Honinbo tournament the afternoon Hiroshima was bombed (the blast of the bomb delayed the start of the game that morning). Honinbo Shusai would adjourn the game when he could and have his students help him figure out the best moves...

I also used Go to good effect to improve my thinking, actually. I began to memorize professional games, as a method to improve my sense of flow in the game, but I actually found that it was a very good memory exercise. It helped me overcome some challenges in memorization in college.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:39 PM on December 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

What's really odd about this whole topic is that I've got a weird inclination to try to pick up the game of Go once again. I've yet to succeed, and something inside of me is really bugged by that
posted by surazal at 6:23 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Now I'm stumped trying to find the april fools prank about a chess prodigy .. Was it Games magazine, or Sports Illustrated, but it's now bugging me.

Definitely Games Magazine. I distinctly remember that story. We used have a big stack of back issues of Games lying around the house that I'd peruse as a kid. When I first read that article I, uh, didn't look at the date on the cover. I may have thought it was a true story for longer than I care to admit.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 7:39 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You guys, I just started playing Go, and I really like it. And I've been playing chess for like 12 years of my life. What.
posted by Quilford at 3:28 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember when Walter Browne was the crazy kid. He wandered into Washington Square offering to play anyone for money. No one knew who he was. He went from table to table beating everybody. Finally someone recognized him and he left.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:46 AM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seirawan did that too, he was a kid from Seattle and no one knew he was almost a GM already. He was hustling the crap out of all the New York guys until people figured out what was happening.

There are a lot of stories about Browne. He was notorious for insane time scrambles in all his games. He was an incredible player. But: he played the Modern Benoni against the kid :)
posted by thelonius at 12:58 AM on December 7, 2014

Now Seirawan is a good counterexample to the crazy stereotype. He had a great career, competing in the candidate's matches, playing the elite tournaments, he ran a magazine, became a successful businessman, and he lives in Switzerland now, his spouse is also accomplished and awesome, he's a millionaire.
posted by thelonius at 1:05 AM on December 7, 2014

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