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bucklehead 266 ( +1 | -1 )
The Road to Madness An anecdote about the last days of Steinitz in the GM trivia thread has gotten me thinking: why have so many World Champions descended into insanity?

*Morphy's mental state deteriorated markedly after his triumphal tour of Europe. In his latter days he is reported to have danced naked within a ring of women's shoes. (And yes, I know he was not "World Champion" in the modern sense, but you've got to give it to him anyway.)
*Steinitz, destitute and ill, claimed to have played--and beaten--God through the agency of an invisible telephone line.
*And Fischer...well, I know many GK players seem to idolize him, and for his chess this is warranted...but any man who thinks the Bekins Moving and Storage Company is on a mission to destroy him has clearly crossed the line from phobia to psychosis. I trust that even a cursory examination of his website (home.att.ne.jp/moon/fischer/) will be enough to convince.

We have all heard about athletes being plagued with health problems long after they quit the game--how many arthritic ex-football players wake every morning in pain? But for purely intellectual pursuits, I have the sense that this is less common. Many of history's most visionary scientists have certainly been far out on the edge (perhaps this is necessary for revolutionary accomplishment) and some have been certifiably insane, but has this happened to the degree that we have seen in our World Champions?

It makes me wonder whether this is the best evidence that chess is neither game nor sport, but art; and whether we should think of our champions as Van Goghs and not Einsteins.

To this there is the ever-present argument of computer chess. Chess is, after all, a digital pursuit, far more appropriate to computer play than an analog sport such as basketball. And yet we can see in the games of the great masters that which we define as "elegant" or "beautiful"; we praise what is "natural" and criticize that which is "artificial." Who can say that there is no art in chess, when what we are engaged in is really a Mondrian-esque interplay of discrete forces within a finite field?

Perhaps the threat of madness is the heart of the beauty of the game: we flirt with forces our mortal brains cannot encompass; and those whose minds come closest to that mystical union of understanding with the game may lose their minds in the process.

==============

An alternative explanation, for those so inclined. The three listed above have America in common: two are natives, and Steinitz spent his last years in New York. :)
happinessisawarmgun 13 ( +1 | -1 )
elegently put Jeff.... ....however , I do not think it applies to champions alone . I am not mad however the voices in my head tell me I am whenever I leave my Queen en prise.
skeeterss0 16 ( +1 | -1 )
A quote I found “Chess is not something that drives people mad; chess is something that keeps mad people sane.”

William Hartston (a chess-playing psychologist)
kobbe 15 ( +1 | -1 )
The doctor said... I'm not dangerous anymore. rotflol
Suddenly it feels good not to be a great chess player.
By the way how common is madnes among us mortals?
- I don't know
- Me neighter
philaretus 7 ( +1 | -1 )
I'd say it's just that.... "Great wit to madness sure is near allied"
(John Dryden)
calmrolfe 70 ( +1 | -1 )
There is a very thin line between madness and genius and many great chess players have flitted from one side of the line to the other.

Akiba Rubinstein would leave the table after having made his move and scamper into a corner of the room and, covering his mouth with his hand, hold imaginary conversations with himself. Around 1911 he became plagued by an imaginary fly that was constantly buzzing around his head. Despite these drawbacks he kept on winning !!! Another master, renowned for talking to himself, was Paul Morphy, perhaps the brightest chess comet ever to flash over Caissa's skies.
achillesheel 114 ( +1 | -1 )
Interesting Is there anyone out there with the know-how and data to tell us whether, on average (based on the anecdotal evidence we have), chess GMs are more prone to "madness" than the population at large? Surely there is some madness in genius by virtue of the fact that both are defined in opposition to the norm. But imaginary flies?? OK, that's kinda nutty. I am genuinely curious how a generic stat of insanity (however defined) in the general population would stack up against insanity among chess GMs.

My wife has a penchant for what she fancies as "intuitiveness." She has cited as one example those occasions when she is thinking of someone and they call or knock on the door. I point out the obvious ... that she has thought of many people on many more occasions, but has no reason to recall it because they neither called nor knocked on the door at that moment. My point, of course, is that it is easy to cite two or five or twelve examples and look for a trend, but how many GMs have there been? How would the stats match up? Interesting question.

BTW, great quotes skeeterss0 and philaretus! And happiness ... to the madman goes the prize!
baseline 41 ( +1 | -1 )
Morphy and the shoes Here is a version that I have read, Morph was a small man with small feet, his family was wealthy and owned a large home. Morphy had the space so he placed his shoes in a semi-circle to make it easy to chose a pair each morning. Over time as this story passed around by third parties it grew into the one told at the start of this thread.
bartlebie 41 ( +1 | -1 )
Imaginary fly "Heard" of Tinnitus?

Given that medics weren't quite as far as today, constant ringing in the ear together with some madness, that could be found anywhere at the beginning of the 20th century, could lead anybody to the assumption, that there is a invisible fly around one's head.
Tinnitus can be a consequence of stress and too much intellectual effort, which can surely be found in Rubinsteins life.