Physiological factors that can significantly impact your game

by ChessBase
4/4/2023 – Your heart rate and adrenaline have an impact on your performance. As a chess player, understanding and monitoring various physiological aspects can have a significant impact on your performance. When you play chess, you may not be as physically active, but the mental demands of the game can still trigger an extreme stress response in your body. As was demonstrated in last month's Armageddon tournament in Berlin.

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Heart rate refers to the number of times the heart beats per minute (bpm). In a relaxed state, a typical resting heart rate is around 60-80 bpm. However, when you are under stress or engaging in physical activity, your heart rate increases to supply more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and organs.

The fight or flight response is a physiological and psychological reaction that prepares the body to either fight or flee in response to perceived danger or threat. Adrenaline, one of the hormones involved in regulating heart rate, plays a crucial role in this response. Adrenaline production enables organisms to respond to perceived threats and increases their chances of survival in dangerous situations. It triggers a series of physiological changes, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, and dilation of the airways, all of which help to supply the body with the energy and oxygen needed for physical activity.

When adrenaline binds to receptors on the surface of heart cells, it triggers a series of biochemical reactions that increase heart rate and contractility, allowing the heart to pump more blood to muscles and organs. The cascade of physiological changes include an increase in blood pressure and breathing rate.

What nature is preparing you for when it pumps you full of adrenaline

This response prepares the person for physical activity, such as fighting or fleeing, by supplying the body with energy and oxygen. The person may feel a surge of energy and heightened senses, allowing them to react quickly to the situation. They may feel a sense of fear or anxiety, as the body's response to the perceived threat can be intense.

Watch Leinier Dominguez's heart rate during a vicious time-trouble attack

After the danger has passed, the body gradually returns to its normal state, and the adrenaline levels subside. The person may feel exhausted or shaky as the body readjusts, but overall, the fight or flight response has enabled them to respond effectively to the danger and increase their chances of survival.

Fight or flight response in chess

Physiological sensing has provided valuable insights into how the fight or flight response manifests in non-physical stressors, such as playing chess. Studies have shown that low Heart Rate Variability (HRV) indicates frustration during mistakes or consecutive losses, while momentary increases in excitement are inferred from inter-heartbeat intervals when the opponent makes a blunder. Game openings are generally relaxed, with higher HRV observed when participants are familiar with the openings or confident of winning. HRV increases well above baseline during problem-solving in the middle of the game, suggesting higher cognitive effort.

However, the fight or flight response is not always relevant in modern times, where many threats are not physical but psychological in nature. As a result, it is important to find ways to manage the fight or flight response in modern times. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive-behavioural therapy can help to reduce stress levels and prevent the activation of the response.

The heartbeat was measured was held in March 2023 at the World Chess Armageddon Championship series 2023, Americans section. The peak heart rate data is given below.

  • Wesley So on 6th March: 178 bpm.

  • Sam Shankland on 10th March: 155 bpm.

  • Andrew Tan on 7th March: 161 bpm.

  • Leinier Dominguez on 10th March: 181 bpm.

  • Jose Martinez on 7th March: 160 bpm.

  • Ray Robson on 8th March: 175 bpm.

  • Renato Terry on 6th March: 165 bpm.

  • Eric Hansen on 6th March: 146 bpm.

According to this heart rate record, during the games six out of eight players had a heart rate of more than 160 bpm, which is equal to that of an athlete. And in game of chess, the player sitting on the chair and playing chess often have a higher heart rate than if they were running a marathon.

Wesley So recorded one of the highest heart rate of 178. Watch it climb here.

Apart from managing stress levels, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated can also support optimal performance. Proper nutrition and hydration can help ensure that your body has the necessary nutrients and energy to function at its best, while adequate sleep can improve cognitive function and memory retention.

Engaging in physical activity can also help reduce stress levels and improve cardiovascular health, leading to better performance on and off the chessboard. Chess players who understand and monitor their physiological aspects can significantly impact their performance.

In conclusion, while the fight or flight response remains an important survival mechanism, it is essential to understand how it works and how it can be managed in modern times where many threats are not physical. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive-behavioural therapy can be helpful in reducing stress levels and preventing the activation of the response. Physiological sensing can also provide valuable insights into how the response manifests in non-physical stressors.

  • Also read: Emotion detection in chess (Feb 2020 by Frederic Friedel)
    Do you often encounter unnecessary mishaps in your tournament games? Do you sometimes panic during the game, are you are sometimes too relaxed, over-confident in an endgame that needs special attention? There are many companies and research organizations developing AI systems to track and record human emotions. Recently we came across one such initiative that is applying this to chess. Initial experiments with 2700 GMs are showing great promise. Maybe this will soon be one of your standard training tools?




Jaydeep Chovatiya is from Gujarat, India. For the past two years he has been living and studying in Berlin. 

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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AayushiV AayushiV 4/4/2023 05:17
This is so well-researched and thorough, and the writer has put a lot of work into this.
Great work!
Congratulations 👏
malllanna malllanna 4/4/2023 04:42
Great article