Is Chess a Game or Sport?

Is Chess a Game or Sport

Chess is a competitive activity that requires skill and strategy. Consequently, many people wonder if chess is a game or a sport. In fact, people have debated chess’s categorization for decades, potentially longer.

Chess is a sport according to the International Olympic Committee. But because chess doesn’t require excessive physical effort or activity, many people don’t consider chess a sport. Still, most countries in the European Union recognize chess as a sport. Personal opinion is the determining factor.

This article will attempt to answer the question, “Is chess a game or sport?” First, we’ll determine what factors qualify an activity as a sport. After that, we’ll compare the qualities that chess players and athletes share.

Understanding the Qualities of a Sport

Before we can determine whether chess is a game or a sport, we’ll need to identify the qualities people use to define activities as sports. Typically, the attributes that make something a sport include:

  • Physical effort
  • Competing against others
  • A standard set of rules

Games that feature physically active players, competition against others, and a standard set of rules often qualify as sports. Most sports also feature teams of players rather than singular players competing against one another.

That said, some sports don’t involve teams. 

For example, cycling and boxing are two popular sports that feature individuals instead of groups. To a lesser extent, wrestling and swimming are also individual-based sports.

In many ways, chess games are similar to sports. After all, chess players compete against others and follow specific rules when playing. Additionally, chess players can play as individuals or as part of a team.

So, how do sports and games differ?

How Sports and Games Differ

Sports and games are incredibly similar in many ways. In fact, people call some types of sports matches games. For example, the average person would call a competition between two baseball or football teams a game, not a match.

The one defining element that often separates games and sports is physical activity. After all, most games require minimal physical activity. However, nearly every sport requires some type of physical exercise. 

Consequently, physical exertion is the primary determining factorOpens in a new tab. distinguishing sports from games.

That said, chess players share many similarities with sporting athletes. These similarities add to the challenge of determining whether chess is a game or a sport.

Qualities That Chess Players and Athletes Share

Chess players and athletes share several traits, which can help determine whether chess is a game or a sport. For example, both athletes and chess players:

  • Practice strategies to improve their abilities.
  • Adhere to strict rules that apply to all players.
  • Participate in a variety of competitions.
  • Can earn prizes when they win matches.

Let’s take a few moments to delve more deeply into these commonalities.

They Practice Strategies To Improve Their Abilities

Both athletes and chess players practice their strategies and skills to improve their abilities. There are rare exceptions where players have natural gifts, but even the most talented chess players and athletes benefit from practicing learning new techniques.

They Adhere to Strict Rules That Apply to All Players

While most team-based sports feature a variety of positions, the general rules and goals of a sport remain the same for all players. For example, a baseball team can win a game by earning more runs before the end of the ninth inning.

Chess players must also adhere to strict rules when playing against opponents. 

These rules don’t change based on a player’s win-loss ratio or who they choose to compete against. In this way, chess players and athletes are very similar.

They Participate in a Variety of Competitions

Athletes don’t typically start their careers as top-earning professionals. Instead, they spend years competing in lower-ranked competitions and tournaments.

When they’ve distinguished themselves as worthy players, professional teams and organizations might reach out to hire them. The same is somewhat true of talented chess players.

Most amateur chess players spend several years playing local matches against regional champs. If they win against the most skilled players in their area, they can go on to play in the district, state, or national competitions.

They Can Earn Prizes When They Win Matches

Though chess players may not compete in widely recognized leagues like professional athletes, they can still participate in competitions. These competitions feature cash prizes ranging between $50 and more than $1 million.

The top chess players around the world earn about $100,000 annuallyOpens in a new tab. from winning chess tournaments and championships. That’s comparable to the world’s best amateur athletes!

Check the blog How to make money from Chess? to learn more about how chess players get their income from different methods

The Argument for Chess’s Classification as a Sport

As we’ve established, there are several similarities between chess players and professional athletes. The only distinguishing factor between them is physical activity and exertion.

But there may be a case for chess as a physically draining activity, thus qualifying it as a sport.

First, chess players need to be in optimal physical shape to perform well against opponents. A bad diet or lack of sleep can make it challenging for chess players to focus on strategies and techniques.

Consequently, many professional chess players have dedicated dieticians and practice healthy lifestyle habits. They avoid drinking, overeating, and smoking to keep themselves in prime physical condition.

Second, chess players can burn hundreds of calories (potentially up to 6,000 caloriesOpens in a new tab. per day) while playing a drawn-out match. That’s roughly equivalent to an athlete playing about a dozen consecutive hours of baseball.

Last, chess is a game that requires plenty of mental exercises. While chess players don’t run circles around the room between moves, they exert a lot of energy while strategizing against their opponent.

Places Where Is Chess Considered a Sport

In the United States, there’s no official categorization of chess as a sport. However, several countries belonging to the European Union consider chess a sport. 

There are only a few nations that don’t consider chess a sport, including:

  • Sweden
  • Belgium
  • Ireland

The United Kingdom (once a member of the European Union) doesn’t consider chess a sport. Still, the International Olympic Committee has announced that chess is a sport. So opinions seem mixed.


Your personal opinion and location determine whether chess is a sport or a game. For example, many people believe that chess is a sport due to its competitiveness. Additionally, only the most skilled chess players win competitive matches, which is also true of athletes. 

But others argue that chess lacks physical exertion, making it a game. Still, the International Olympic Committee and 24 members of the European Union recognize chess as a legitimate sport.

Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.

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