Chess players are dying in the middle of competitive matches

If he says it’s checkmate, it’s checkmate.
If he says it’s checkmate, it’s checkmate.
Image: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov
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Two players at the 41st Chess Olympiad held in Norway have died within hours of each other. At the tournament in Tromso, deep in the Arctic Circle, a man from the Seychelles suffered a heart attack and collapsed in the middle of a game. Later, an Uzbek player was found dead in his hotel room.

“There is no suspicion about anything criminal going on,” the local police chief told The Local.

While chess isn’t the most physical of sports, this isn’t the first time people have died playing it. In 2000, Latvian grandmaster Vladimir Bagirov had a fatal heart attack during a tournament in Finland, and one of his countrymen died playing in Berlin, according to The Guardian. And the former Australian number one, Ian Rogers, quit the game in 2007 because of the stress of playing at the highest level. He said his decision “was not voluntary but was based on unanimous medical opinion that the stress of tournament chess had caused, and would continue to cause, serious health problems unless I stopped permanently.”

And that is just in the modern era. “The great Soviet players of the postwar period had the most ridiculous lifestyle: they more or less lived on vodka, cigarettes and chess, and many of them died young,” one writer said. Of this current crop of players, he added, “too many are overweight, keen to have a drink, too sedentary—and then they try to play this game which makes huge demands on mind and body.” Clearly more players need a check of their healths as badly as they need one on their boards.

So far there have been no fatalities in the sport’s younger and distant cousin of chess-boxing, which combines one round of boxing followed by one game of chess until there’s a victor. A win comes either through a stoppage or a checkmate.

In honor of all who have passed away playing chess, here is the famous scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in which a knight takes on Death himself in the beautiful game: