Peter Zhdanov
12 October 2022

What Does Your Chess Tell About Your Personality?

Many years ago, I read yet another book about Bill Gates. Even though I never had role models, Gates was one of the people to whom smart kids of my generation aspired, similar to the worldwide obsession with self-proclaimed "perfume salesman" Elon Musk these days. Anyway, the book mentioned that in his youth, Gates liked chess but used to play in a somewhat straightforward “attack-attack-attack” manner. Consequently, it was not hard to beat him as long as you knew how to handle the early pressure. I have noticed the same traits in my best friend, a top manager of a large IT company: he is very competitive, quick-minded, and enjoys taking risks and seizing the initiative. Positional play adheres to his nature much less; same goes for boring and unambitious projects in life. Both in chess and in life, he is the "let's get into a fight and see how it goes" type of guy, not a patient grinder.

In the game against Magnus Carlsen, Bill Gates also failed to switch from offense to defense and was duly punished by the World Champion in just 9 moves.

On the other hand, most of the scientists and lawyers I know tend to have a rather cautious style. They love to take their time, and even casual games with friends can last a few hours for them. Also, they normally prefer sound classical openings and love exploiting weaknesses and accumulating positional advantages. They also don’t mind defending for a while for the sake of outplaying the opponent eventually.

Two chess legends, Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand. Image:

In the award-winning book “Positional decision making in chess”, Boris Gelfand mentions showing one of his early games to Vladimir Kramnik. They both agreed that even at that time, Boris already had a clear-cut style that reminded the way he plays now. Similarly, when Vladimir showed him a game from his youth, Boris “could also recognize his trademark style in that game”. I was a bit confused by this statement because Kramnik’s style has changed at least two times over his career. Initially, he was an aggressive player who had the guts to challenge Kasparov himself on tactical turf. Then he switched to closed positions and started playing ultra-solidly, which is good for matches. Finally, towards the end of his professional career, he became a gambler, going for complications and trying to squeeze out a win in every position. Nevertheless, it is an interesting observation by Boris. Apparently, Kramnik has evolved a lot as a person over the years, which was reflected in his playing style.

Another case is the “opposites attract” scenario. Some people seek in chess the experience they lack in normal life. Hence, if their job and life, in general, are rather dull and safe, they might try to compensate for it by playing ferocious chess. Similarly, if there is too much drama and risk around, they might feel like settling for something quiet and peaceful.

Overall, I would say that chess speaks for itself for most of the people I know, revealing their personalities, and the "opposites attract" situation is relatively rare.

As for me, there is a direct correlation between my lifestyle in general and the way I play chess. My chess buddies used to call me "The Calculator". I have an active style, but at the same cold-blooded and materialistic. It is enough to take a brief glance at my games to realize I am not one of the positional players who enjoy closed positions where they have everything under control and can exploit small weaknesses in the opponent's camp somewhere deep down in the endgame. However, I am also not the kind of you-only-live-once caveman tactical beast who goes for the opponent's king throat in any position, willingly fuelling the attack by sacrificing pieces left and right. In a nutshell, I am the kind of guy who adores sharp play and intends to trick you in some complicated tactical line, win some material, and then proceed to convert it...or maybe not! This is precisely how I act in life: am usually optimistic, energetic, and excited about taking on new challenges, but, at the same time, trying to carefully calculate everything in advance and methodically optimize the process as well as I can.

Of course, there is a lot of room for research here. How do nationality, age, occupation, education, and other characteristics affect the way we play chess? It is quite nourishing and beneficial for the mind to reflect on your own personality for a while. Why do you think you play this way, not the other?

Regardless of your playing style and personality, the 5-time World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen can teach you a thing or two. Make sure to check out the apps created by a star-studded team of experts led by the champ himself!

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