Air Quality and Chess: How Pollution Impacts Players' Performance

07.06.2024 08:36 | News

A groundbreaking study from Maastricht University reveals that air pollution significantly affects chess players' performance.

Analyzing 30,000 moves from 121 players, researchers found that even slight increases in fine particulate matter lead to more errors and greater error severity. This research, conducted in Germany and published in Management Science, highlights the broader implications of air quality on cognitive tasks and decision-making.


Chess players perform worse in cities and urban areas where air pollution is high, a study has found. Who knew the air could be as sneaky as a grandmaster setting a trap?

Research carried out by the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics in the Netherlands used the chess engine Stockfish to analyze moves while monitoring levels of air quality. It found that a small increase in fine particulate matter in the air increased the likelihood of error by 2.1%, and the severity of those errors rose by 10.8%. Looks like pollution isn't just bad for your lungs, it's bad for your rooks and bishops too!

The study, published in the journal of Management Science, analyzed 30,000 moves by 121 players through three tournaments in Germany in 2017, 2018, and 2019, which each lasted two months. They really put those players through the (smoggy) ringer!

“We find that when individuals are exposed to higher levels of air pollution, they make more mistakes, and they make larger mistakes,” study co-author Juan Palacios said. “We find it interesting that those mistakes especially occur in the phase of the game where players are facing time pressure.” So, not only does pollution cloud your mind, it speeds up your blunders—talk about a double whammy!

“When these players do not have the ability to compensate [for] lower cognitive performance with greater deliberation, is where we are observing the largest impacts.” Basically, when you can't think clearly, you can't chess clearly either. Who knew air quality could make or break your checkmate?

He added: “It’s pure random exposure to air pollution that is driving these people’s performance. Against comparable opponents in the same tournament round, being exposed to different levels of air quality makes a difference for move quality and decision quality.” So next time you lose a game, maybe don't blame it on bad luck—blame it on bad air!

The authors warned that the implications could be far-reaching, particularly for “high-skilled office workers.” Imagine trying to finish that big report while feeling like you're in a smoke-filled room. No wonder those emails aren't making sense!

“There are more and more papers showing that there is a cost with air pollution, and there is a cost for more and more people,” Palacios said. “It’s not like you have to live next to a power plant. You can live miles away and be affected.” So even if you're miles away from the smog, it can still checkmate you from afar.

“The idea is to provide accurate estimates to policymakers who are making difficult decisions about cleaning up the environment.” Let's hope they don't take too long to decide—we need clean air for clear minds and better chess games!

0x 119x Petr Koutný
Comments (0) Update Show only my comments