I began playing online chess several months ago. I’ve known the basic rules since I was a child, but had perhaps played a total of only a couple dozen games in my life until that point. It has been an enjoyable challenge to get into, and like any activity I’ve gotten better with practice. Initially, I didn’t pick up on the standard openings, and made foolish starting plays of the game, which I’ve since corrected. I am a decent mid-game player in my estimation, intermediately skilled at tactics but not so solid on strategic moves and positional play. I do struggle in the endgame, when much of the material has been exchanged and my adversary or I are ahead. I’ve blown several good leads in this part of the game.

Does a person’s ability and style of playing a game like chess give a window into their mind? Intuitively, the answer is yes, but more on that below. If I examine my own play, can I glean self-insight?

As I said, the part of the game I have been struggling with the most is the endgame. The board is emptied out, my opponent and I each have several pawns and perhaps two other pieces. I think this part is a challenge for me because the possible moves are less constrained. I can try to get a pawn to the back rank to promote it, I can make moves to box in the opposing king, I can play defensively, etc. Maybe I need to improve my ability to choose strategic options in a less-constrained environment in the general sense, not just chess. This could also just be the equivalent of horoscope reading for chess players.

I could be convinced to buy that analyzing a player’s personality from their gameplay might work for a middling player such as myself. For the brand new player, skills and an intuitive understanding of gameplay have not been developed, and the rookie mistakes are indicative of inexperience, not a lack of general tactical or mental ability. On the high end it is a bit more interesting. Chess is a solved game, one thing this means is that for every board state there is an optimal move that can be made by a player. I would posit that the top tier chess players are essentially human computers, distinguished by their ability to make this perfect move in more circumstances than their opponents. Can their play-style speak to their character? A contemporary of Bobby Fischer once said of him that he played perfectly, and “perfection has no style“. Psychoanalyzing a player at that tier from the way they play would seem quite a stretch to me.