Chess And Mental Illness

This sad story about a chess player with mental issues prompted me to address the difficult subject of chess and mental illness. The chess scene certainly has its share of ‘characters’ and is certainly well represented by people on the autistic spectrum. But is there is a link between chess and mental illness?

My take is that chess represents a sanctuary for many who are ‘neurodiverse’ and not particularly interested in the normal things such as football, lager, baseball caps on shaved heads and tattoos. As for mental illness there have been studies showing that chess can benefit patients suffering from schizophrenia and help prevent Alzheimer’s. It seems possible therefore that psychiatrists have been directing their patients towards the chess board whilst other players might have intuited that the game could do them good.

Amongst famous players who suffered from mental illness one I should mention is Carlos Torre. His pet opening (the Torre Attack) is something that I think has great instructional value and in the following famous encounter he uses it to defeat the former World Champion Emanuel Lasker: