I play chess every single day. Probably 10 to 15 games per day. Ok it’s probably closer to 25. So why is chess so addictive?
Basically every break in the day, every restroom break, and any time I’m bored I’m playing chess.
So why am I so hooked???
Does this happen with you too?
Why Is Chess So Addictive?
Chess is addictive because of a chemical reaction (dopamine) in our brain, the intense intellectual stimulation and the drive of live competition!
There’s an Actual Chemical Reaction Happening
The brain wants what the brain wants. And when chemical reactions start happening, it can become an undeniable urge.
So how does this all work?
If you really enjoy playing the game, your brain will increase levels of the hormone dopamine creating a mild feeling of euphoria.
Your brain then associates this happiness with the activity you’re engaged in and it begins to crave it more and more.
Who doesn’t enjoy feeling good, right?
So now even the thought of starting a new game brings back that feeling of happiness and euphoria and, just like that, your brain is addicted to chess!
I know when I play, it’s those first opening moves of the game that I’m seemingly addicted to.
Not knowing how the game will play out, and knowing for a fact that in just a few moves this will be a completely unique game with several problems to solve.
Chemical reactions like this are why we crave things that make us feel good. In many cases, it’s harmless, but sometimes the things we crave are actually doing our body damage.
Thankfully, chess is more of a harmless addiction (in most cases), but extreme cases of chess addiction can lead to unwanted consequences like a loss of interest in everything else and even depression.
So what other reasons lead us to getting hooked?
It’s Intellectually Stimulating
I don’t know about you, but for me, chess is the ultimate game of problem solving.
Playing chess keeps your brain thinking and makes your mind move.
It challenges your brain to think ahead. The complexity and strategy make it a very desirable game to play.
Right from the opening moves, my brain is working. Are they trying to lure me into a trap? Wait, am I so focused on my offense that I’m forgetting to defend?
My brain absolutely FEEDS on this kind of stimulation.
And with all the pieces and their completely unique abilities, it just doesn’t get old.
I’ve seen people who are addicted to games and puzzles like sudoku, but to me that’s the same problem you’re solving over and over and over again.
With chess, each and every piece creates an unlimited number of potential problems to solve, and they grow exponentially when your opponent is a master at making their pieces work together.
“It is a silent, geometric ballet, a war without blood…”Top answer “Why is chess so addictive?” – Quora.com
It Improves Both Our Fast & Slow Thinking
Chess is usually considered to be a “slow” game.
We tend to picture to old men staring quietly at a board, right?
But have you heard of bullet chess? Bullet chess is one of the most addictive versions of chess out there.
If you’ve ever watched anyone play bullet chess or blitz, it makes you literally sit back in awe at how much their brain is processing and how quickly they’re making moves across the board.
So many moves, all made so quickly! Their brain’s fast thinking capacity is off the charts!
Well there’s a reason for that…
Check out this video on the brain science behind chess.
Chess not only improves slow thinking and problem solving, but it goes hand in hand with improving our fast thinking skills as well.
Our Thirst for Live Competition
I don’t know about you, but playing chess against a “bot” just doesn’t do it for me.
I either feel like it’s way too easy, or it’s impossibly hard.
Have you ever been playing a “live” person on chess.com and then suddenly you realize they’ve employed a “bot” mid game?
It’s. The. WORST!
Not only is it cheating, but all the fun and intrigue of the game is lost because you’re suddenly in an impossible situation to win against a computer.
There are those perfectly played games, the games where you make an early blunder but somehow come back to win, and of course the games where you snatch defeat out of the arms of victory.
Trust me, I’ve been there. Having played literally thousands of games (the first step is admitting you have a problem right?) I can tell you with all certainty that live competition is where it’s at!
How about you? What percentage of games do you play live versus what you play against the computer? Let me know in the comments section!
No Two Games are the Same, Ever!
I think for me, this is the reason I can play so many countless games every single day.
With all the thousands upon thousands of potential move possibilities that can occur in a single game, it can truly be said that no two chess games are the same.
They’re like snowflakes!
True, when it comes to chess opens, mid game, and closing, there are certain strategic patterns players will employ.
So many times the beginning of the game can be the exact same, but all it takes is a single move and the entire rest of the game takes on a life of its own.
Have you ever played against an extremely aggressive or reckless player? It can actually throw your game completely off.
I’ve at times used a reckless onslaught when I find myself paired against a player with a much, much higher ranking. And guess what, it’s helped me to WIN!
I can’t think of another game where this is more prevalent.
It Takes Countless Games and Hours of Play to Master
There’s a belief that to become a master at anything it takes 10,000 hours of practice.
This belief became popularized in one of my absolute favorite books called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.
Whether you’re a musician, a computer programmer, or a chess player, the benchmark of 10,000 hours of practice should take you to an “expert” level.
But what kind of practice are you putting in? Are you truly studying the game, or just playing?
Are you trying out different strategic opening moves? Or just playing the same open over and over?
Are you employing different defenses and testing them out? Or just moving with a knee jerk reaction based on what your opponent’s attack?
If you really want to become a master, then you must first become a student. And with all the dynamic moves and strategies that can be undertaken on that 8×8 square, this can definitely become an addictive journey.
Personally, I would LOVE to become a master at chess. But I don’t know if I can take the time to truly become a student of the game rather than just an avid player as I am now.
Masters play so differently. It’s like their moves and setup are 5 moves ahead.
I want to get there, I do. But I don’t know if I ever will.
Could Your Smart Phone Be a Culprit?
We are ALL addicted to our smart phones! Chances are you’re reading this from your smart phone right now.
What if your addiction to chess, with all its live competition and countless dynamic playing strategies, along with that sweet, sweet dopamine release into our brain is literally being COMPOUNDED by the fact that we can play on our HIGHLY ADDICTIVE smart phone at the drop of a hat?
I find myself playing every single time I even have a minute or two of downtime. Why? Because my cell phone is easily accessible and all it takes is opening an app.
Any time I’m sitting in line at the drive thru.
Every time I sit down at a restaurant and I’m waiting for my food.
During the opening credits of a movie I’ve sat down to watch.
Ok I’m realizing I’m either in love with this game or I’m truly addicted.
And because of this synergistic effect that’s happening I feel like I’m glued to my cell phone way, way more than I used to be.
I mean, isn’t it better to be on your phone playing a game of strategy that helps your brain’s problem solving than to just be scrolling and liking on social media?
In my mind, yes, chess is better.
But then again I’m an addict so of course I’d justify it.
How Harmful is Chess Addiction?
All kidding aside, a true addiction to playing can be serious business and even harmful.
Chess addiction can grow to the extent that you feel like you actually need the game in order experience pleasure in your life and removing discomfort in your life becomes near impossible without it.
True chess addiction can lead to neglecting your responsibilities and isolation from family and friends.
Even though we associate chess with being great for the brain and problem solving, too much can be harmful and actually hurt you cognitive and communication skills.
Thankfully, I’m more in the obsessive category than the addicted category. That’s probably what all addicts say, right?
When I’m busy and doing other things, out with friends, I never feel the need to play chess. It’s just during those quiet times before bed, while waiting for something, during a break, that I want to jump into a game.
Is this you?
How to Deal with Chess Addiction
So what can you do about it if you feel your love for the game is bordering on actual addiction?
Searches across Google provide several actionable tips:
- Associate another less pleasurable (but not harmful) action with the game, such as doing pushups before and after each game.
- Actively reject the urge and replace it with another action. Maybe walk your dogs.
- Replace the addiction entirely with a new activity. (Exercise, reading, etc.)
As with any addiction, this can be easier said than done. Especially when you take into account the absolute convenience of game play just by opening an app.
But willpower is everything when fighting chess addiction.
If you love the game and are playing 25+ games every single day, limit yourself to say 10 games per day.
Begin to ween yourself off, and the next month bring it down to 5.
Maybe instead of playing countless games obsessively like I do, try actually studying the game so that your efforts are actually leading you down a positive path.
If you were to become a master at chess, heck, you could actually make money with it and turn it into a career, no?
Chess is an addictive game filled with strategy and problem solving. The live competition is intellectually stimulating and our brain craves that chemical reaction when we find something enjoyable.
But, just like with anything else, too much of a good thing can be harmful. If you find yourself neglecting responsibilities it’s time to ween yourself off the game before you truly become addicted.
How do you feel about this? Are you finding yourself addicted to chess? Or are you like me and feeling a little more obsessed than actually addicted?
Do you feel like your cell phone plays a role? What is it about the game that keeps pulling you toward it?
Let me know in the comments section below! I love reading your questions and comments and I always reply.