Can air quality impact the decisions a chess player makes?

Mar 14, 2023, 9:53 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — The game of chess is based on strategic decision-making.

“I think every chess player hits that point where they are doing well but they are looking for every little thing they can do to improve their game,” professional chess player Kadeyn Troff said.

A recent study found that bad air can throw everything off.

Troff has played professionally in Utah for most of his life.

He said, “It’s one of those things that didn’t surprise me, you know. I never thought too much about the air quality and chess before that.”

Researchers and economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at the moves chess players made and different levels of indoor air quality, specifically fine particulate matter – the same gunk that creates the hazy skies Utah sees in the winter.

“We find that an increase in the indoor concentration of fine particulate matter increases a player’s probability of making an erroneous move by 26.3%,” the study said.

The inversion is made up of high levels of chlorine and bromine according to a recent study. The study said particulate matter levels increase by 10-25% in the Wasatch Front area during a winter inversion period.

“When you sit down to just play a chess game, I think every chess player would just love to be like, ‘Hey, this is how good I am, these are my skills,’ and be able to execute whatever they’ve practiced for perfectly but it’s not that easy,” Troff said.

It isn’t that easy. The researchers found dirty air made decision-making harder and the more particulate matter, the more likely the player was to make a mistake.

The bad air quality can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath, and an increased risk of getting infections. In the long term, it can lead to premature death, lung and heart disease, and a higher risk of developing lung cancer.

“For anyone that really doesn’t understand chess or maybe is watching one of these top tournaments and wondering how could a top chess player just completely mess up if they really are the top, and it’s like, well it happens because we are all playing a game here on the chess board but we are also playing here (gestures to head) with ourselves,” Troff explained.

Researchers think this extends beyond chess tournaments and into offices.

For Troff, it’s still all about skill.

“You know you have bad air quality, you don’t, maybe it will make a slight difference but if you’re a good enough player, you should still be able to overcome the bad air quality,” Troff said.

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Can air quality impact the decisions a chess player makes?