A Heart-Racing Experience! (2)

by Ashwin Subramanian
2/29/2024 – In the recent Freestyle event, heart rates of the players were measured in classical chess, with slow time controls. In bullet and blitz formats, where intuition prevails, heart rates remain relatively low compared to slower time controls like Rapid or Classical, which allow more contemplation during critical positions. Here are observations provided by the leading expert on the heart rate data shared during the Weissenhaus event.

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Heart-Pounding Moves

Insights into Players’ Heart Rates at the Weissenhaus Tournament!

When I watched the captivating day one video of the Weissenhaus Freestyle Chess event, one detail stood out: Polar, renowned for its high-quality heart rate monitors, was a sponsor! My anticipation grew as I expected to witness heart rate data during the broadcast. However, my excitement waned when I discovered that the rapid event lacked heart rate information. But then the classical event delivered! For the first time, heart rate was being measured in classical chess with slower time controls. Interestingly, I’ve always wondered whether in bullet/blitz formats, where intuition prevails, heart rates remain relatively low compared to slower time controls like Rapid or Classical, which allow more contemplation during critical positions.

Here are my observations on heart rate data shared as part of the Freestyle Chess event broadcast. As you read these, please keep in mind that these are mere hypotheses, and any firm conclusions are challenging due to limited data. All the pictures below are from screengrabs of the Freestyle chess event YouTube channel [cick to enlarge].

In his game against Levon Aronian, Vincent Keymer’s heart rate races to 104 bpm after the first move! Having to think about the initial moves is already getting players outside their comfort zone especially how deeply they understand the consequences of a bad open from traditional chess!

In his game against Gukesh during first tie break game on the Semi-Finals Day 2, Vincent was had a much better position (>+3 by move 28 according to the engine!) but his heart rate was consistently in the 130-150 range (a winning position often gets our hearts racing, which can also have a detrimental effect on our ability to think clearly!) while Gukesh seemed relatively much calmer with his heart rate mostly in the 90’s and managed to draw the game! Gukesh went on to win the 2nd tie break and the match!

Alireza won his first game against Magnus to take the lead in the quarterfinals match – towards the end of the game, in a winning position, his heart rate was consistently above 130 and at times 140+, seeming well above where it was during the early stages of the game (90-100). During the 2nd game, a must-win for Magnus, it was fascinating to observe Magnus’s heart rate remain in the 75-95 range for nearly the whole game, while touching 100 only at the time of Alireza’s resignation!

Magnus also consistently seemed much calmer, yet very alert, throughout his games and especially in winning positions from observing his heart rate during his matches against Alireza, Nodirbek and Fabi! This balance between calmness and alertness is critical for any intellectually demanding competitive sport like chess!

Below are two positions where despite Fabi’s position being much better or even completely winning, he experienced intense stress (his heart rate soared to 155 bpm and 170 bpm, likely well above his baseline), blundering a rook twice! A high heart rate, indicative of high levels of physiological or psychological stress, clearly affects ones thinking! 

Levon, had a much stabler heart rate throughout, consistently below 120 – I’ve always known Levon to be a very happy/positive person and hence this ability to recover quickly from stressors! 

Coming soon: Checkmate Stress –  How Nutrition, Exercise, and Heart Rate Variability Can Help You Win more at Chess!

Also read: A Heart-Racing Experience! (1)


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Ashwin Subramanian is a Software Engineering Manager in the Hi-Tech Industry leading a large team of engineers to deliver mission critical enterprise software. He is an avid chess player who is currently studying biofeedback in chess during his personal time.
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arzi arzi 2/29/2024 11:00
The third running format of the competition is running-boxing, where the competitors are both men and women. The men have a bottle of liquor in the pocket of their competition jacket and boxing gloves in their hands, while the women have an apron on their hips and a child in their arms. Does the man catch the woman before she reaches over the finish line and to the safety? Incredibly exciting. The heart rate of the audience will certainly go over 150, just like the competitors.
arzi arzi 2/29/2024 10:44
100 meter freestyle competition. Each of the runners has a heart rate monitor on their wrist so that the audience can monitor the sensations of the competitors. At the first start, the competitors have the wrong size running shoes on their feet. Some runners heart rate seem to be quite high before the competition have even started. Is it because of nerves or does the shoe pinch the wrong place? Interesting.

Next is the freestyle marathon and this time the shoes are the right size, but on the wrong foot. A little stone in the shoe brings extra excitement to the competition. Brilliant! Can the audience be entertained better, definitely not. New types of running competitions are much more interesting than classic style running formats
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