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What activities, be they physical or mental, do you use to improve your chess? Have you recently taken up something and noticed a positive change in your game? One thing I can think of is exercising such as walking or swimming. Are there any others?

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the other way around is easier, what activities are improved after playing chess? –  ajax333221 Aug 8 '12 at 19:41

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I don't know of any correlations to physical exercise and chess skill, so I can't speak to walking or swimming.

There's not much that matches chess in regards to tactics but maybe some similarities in games like Go or Amazons.

What will probably give you the best return on your time would be memory enhancement exercises. These come in every style so I would just experiment and see what helps you. Any improvement on how much you can hold in your head will directly improve your chess game.

I also especially enjoy problems where you need to evaluate a board and determine the best move. I try to put time limits on myself to practice how quickly I can analyze a board without missing anything important.

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Fischer claimed a healthy body improves chess. –  Tony Ennis May 17 '12 at 22:49
    
Petrosian found watching football (soccer) matches to be a big help to his chess game. Likely it was the mental break from the board, but who knows. –  James Tomasino May 18 '12 at 3:08
    
@TonyEnnis - Can you provide evidence for your claim? –  Adam Mosheh May 20 '12 at 6:05
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@AdamMosheh chessquotes.com/topic-training –  Tony Ennis May 20 '12 at 13:14
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"Your body has to be in top condition. Your Chess deteriorates as your body does. You can't separate body from mind." - B Fischer –  Adel May 23 '12 at 21:37

There's probably no better way to improve chess than to study chess. I did seem to make an improvement by getting obsessed with Shogi, however. But this is a close relative of chess.

Actually, I would recommend a more physical hobby (rugby, rodeo clown, being a double-naught spy) to give yourself a break from the game. If you don't get burned out, you'll probably enjoy the game more and improve naturally.

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After watching an HBO documentary on Fischer, I saw that he was deeply into physical exercise. He wanted to mimic the New York Jets training and the guy training him said no one trained like Fischer, so I can see how physical activity greatly improve the game. Fischer is one example of this. –  xaisoft Aug 3 '12 at 13:50

May I suggest meditation? In my experience it improves concentration. One or two daily meditation sessions of 15 - 20 minutes each increases my ability to focus on tasks.

Unforunately, I have no personal experience to relate to chess playing at this time, as my chess playing is currently suspended, other than an occasional low level game against the computer.

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The problem now is how to meditate :) –  xaisoft Aug 3 '12 at 13:51
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@xaisoft: This is being adressed :·) –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 19 '12 at 8:56
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@NikanaReklawyks: There's also this, –  GreenMatt Nov 19 '12 at 13:57

While not directly chess related, the relationship between exercise and cognitive abilities has been pretty intensely studied since the early 1900's. It has been shown through numerous studies that exercise does increase cognitive ability both during and after exercise. Oddly enough, it's also been shown that shorter and more intense physical exertion has a greater effect than endurance type training, at least in short term.

Most of the studies are looking at immediate effect, i.e. the cognitive task is usually done within minutes of finishing the exercise. Long term effects of exercise have gotten mixed results, however there are numerous meta-studies (more anecdotal in orientation than scientific) have reported many mental benefits to exercise.

One thing to note, is that exercise has definitively been proven to both help delay onset and mitigate symptoms of aging, such as cognitive impairment and dementia.

So, while exercise may not have a provable effect directly relating to OTB play, I highly recommend it.

One other thing to think about with this, even outside of physical fitness, is nutrition. Your brain soaks up a vast amount of glycogen to keep functioning even when "idling". If you are concentrating for a few hours on a game, you are going to be using even more, so for extended matches you should be thinking about some sort of food to help replace it, and the better your nutrition, the better prepared you will be in that respect as well.

For those interested in reading some of the research/studies, go to google scholar and use a search term such as "effects exercise cognitive performance" or similar.

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The person recommending Go has a good idea, I believe. Go is more in-depth than chess, with a lot more abstract ideologies on how to attack, defend, and control space.

Physical activity keeps your mind healthy and fresh, so I recommend staying fit. I don't know any specific professionals that do this but I have heard before that professional players work out to stay on top of their game. Being physically healthy goes a long way to keeping your mind sharp, also in the mental endurance compartment. Cardio exercises matter more than strength, I suppose.

Also it helps to do EASY problems. These keep you honest and focused, instead of always doing challenging, convoluted problem-solving. Not to mention it helps keep your confidence high.

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I play Go (the Japanese board game), which some players I know study to help them improve their chess. Go has a large variety of tactical motifs, including teaching players how to maintain sente (the initiative), while forcing players to keep track of the whole board.

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I play go too (1d). I think studying it to improve at chess is very unlikely to give decent results (as compared to either study more chess, or have a break from studying chess). Chess is much more about tactics (by what I mean it's very hard to compensate for poor tactics with great strategy, what's a lot easier at go) ; sente loses a lot of its meaning, for global thinking about the board is so reduced (64 vs 361, somehow) ; and there is very little sense of shape. Excellent suggestion, but I'm afraid I have to downvote it ;) –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 19 '12 at 9:10

I would suggest solving basic mathematical/logic puzzles, or doing mathematical proof if that interests you. I've found that theoretical math and chess complement each other quite well, and principles of one discipline can be easily applied to the other.

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Good sleep and food habits. Fitness training. Meditation and mindfulness.

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