There may be something about chess that other people find intimidating. It is a cerebral sport and there is a certain amount of remoteness and aloofness in many chess players, but does this constitute arrogance? Is your average chess player really some kind of monster to be around?
Why are chess players so arrogant? Although the most prevalent image of chess players is that they are nerdy, some arrogant chess players, including world champions, do exist. Some chess players are arrogant probably because they have so much heart, soul, and pride in the game. In the midst of such high emotions, people’s behaviour can become that much more intense.
Although I wouldn’t justify highly arrogant, overbearing characters, I wouldn’t blame people for having heart in a game they love. Indeed, some of the world’s greatest players have a reputation for being arrogant but this is certainly not the norm.
What Is Arrogance Though?
Arrogance is defined by the dictionary either as “making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud” or “characterized by or proceeding from arrogance, or a sense of superiority, self-importance, or entitlement”.
Although it’s a circular definition (you shouldn’t really use the word you want to define to define it), we get the drift.
Thus, the accusation appears to be that chess players are “insolently proud” or “self-important”. As we said right at the beginning, most chess players aren’t so and don’t behave so. Many chess players, on the other hand, are rather shy.
Social Shyness And Arrogance
The folks over at social anxiety shortcuts have written about this at length, but the thing is social shyness is regularly mistaken for arrogance.
Shy people will:
- Avoid starting conversations because they are afraid that the other person won’t think well of them. Sadly, this is often seen as unfriendly in itself.
- Spend extra time and energy on looking good to try and relieve their own self-consciousness. The trouble is people see this as vanity.
- Try to avoid making eye contact because it’s awkward and emotionally uncomfortable for them to do so. And others perceive this as disinterest.
- Give short, curt responses to others to avoid tripping over their own tongue. This often comes across as dismissive and condescending when it’s far from it.
- Close off their bodies through defensive body language. And this can be thought of a plain rude.
Put them all together and your average shy chess player is no longer shy in many people’s eyes, they are arrogant. Yet, they are not.
It’s very easy for others to misinterpret the awkward shyness of a chess player as something that it’s not meant to be. If you think about the chess club at your school, it seems highly unlikely that most of the players were also superb football players or rugby players, for example.
This doesn’t mean that every arrogant-seeming chess player is a quivering wallflower, but many are, and the sport doesn’t lend itself to long conversations or social niceties. If you have ever played competitive chess, then you know it tends to be a quick handshake and then to the board for some long bouts of silent thought.
So, please bear this in mind before you start accusing a chess player of unforgiveable arrogance. Shyness really does look the same.
Why Are (Some) Chess Players So Arrogant?
Well, it has to be said that there may be a competitive advantage to becoming arrogant once you reach a certain level in chess. When your game involves only you against another person than there’s something to be said for “iron will” or the simple belief that you are the better player.
This will translate into arrogance. It is both overbearingly assuming and insolently proud from our original definition to simply believe that you will win and that your opponent will lose. Yet, there’s no doubt that this appears to provide real world advantages in solo sports.
Think of boxing, it may be a dramatically different game to chess, but the same principle applies – boxers who believe they are going to win can often beat technically more skilled players because they allow their ego to dominate the fight.
On the other hand, this would be a disaster in a team sport such as cricket or football where the player is not responsible for the team’s results but for a part of the bigger whole. There you expect players to be much more focused on getting along with each other because that’s the only way that a team can function effectively.
Some Great Chess Players Who Might Be A Little Arrogant
So, with that in mind, let’s turn to the chess playing greats to see if we can find traces of arrogance among them. There is probably no other single sport in the world where some of their elite, at the very least, are arrogant and egotistical.
There is a case to be argued that if you are the best player in the world at something, you are not arrogant to believe that you are the best player in the world and have no equal, you simply have confidence in your own abilities but despite this, many people would see this as a sign of arrogance nonetheless.
Magnus Carlsen – The World Number One
So, we begin with just that situation. There is no greater player in the history of chess, at least if we go by FIDE ratings, than Magnus Carlsen who has been at the very top of the game for quite a few years now and has achieved the highest FIDE rating in history.
Magnus has said of himself; “Arrogant” I’m very happy with. I don’t understand why arrogance is considered to be a bad thing at all. Maybe that’s a sign of a narcissist and an arrogant person, but ok, who cares? (smiles)”.
So, yeah, the world number one is arrogant and he’s not ashamed to tell the world about it. In fairness, he was referring to his rap career rather than his chess at this point, mind you.
Garry Kasparov – The Word Champion From 1985 – 2000
Kasparov was not far behind Magnus Carlsen in the FIDE ratings and was the longest reigning champion of the modern era of chess. He was also indisputably one of the most arrogant individuals ever to take on the chess board.
He was famous as an attacking player and it was clear that part of his attack was his big, bruising ego. IN fact, he was considered to be so obnoxious that Magnus Carlsen and that other great player, Hikaru Nakamura, couldn’t bear working with him and fired him as their coach!
Off the board, he’s also famously pugnacious with many surprised at how much he loathes Russia’s current leader Putin and loves the Republican party!
Judit Polgar – The Strongest Woman In Chess
Judit and her sisters are all great players, but she is generally considered to be the greatest female player of all time. She is the only woman in history to have qualified for the full world championship chess tournament with the men. She retired from chess after more than 25 years as the number 1 woman in the world.
Her father was considered an arrogant man for believing that talent was made and not born. He set out to prove that his daughters could be the equal of any man in an intellectual discipline and he wasn’t wrong.
Judit was fairly arrogant even from a young age when she beat a friend without even looking at the board. Her friend said, “You are good at chess, but I’m a good cook” and Judit shot back “Can you cook without looking at the stove?” Judit was just 5 years old when this happened!
She said of her life as a chess player, “You have to be very selfish sometimes. If you are in a tournament, you have to think of yourself – you can’t think of your wife or children – only about yourself.”
So why are chess players so arrogant? On balance, most chess players aren’t arrogant. The issue is almost certainly that there are actions that people often perceive as arrogant that aren’t arrogance. For example, someone remaining quiet and aloof from others may be seen as arrogant when, in reality, it’s just their shyness that prevents them from connecting in a way that others perceive as “approachable”.
That’s not to say, of course, that there are no arrogant chess players. There’s definitely a certain arrogance amongst all elite sportspeople and many of chess’s leading lights do have a reputation for an arrogant bearing or even arrogant play. This is not something to worry about, mind you, there are millions of chess players and maybe 100 or so truly elite players in the world. If you ever join their ranks, you’re probably due a little arrogance.