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May 25, 2013

Nonverbal clues of Chess players

Recently, my three colleagues and I appeared in a quiz competition. It was based on general knowledge in area of science, geography, history and sports. There were three rounds and there were entirely different querying formats in each round. Most of them were really wonderful and challenging - I never heard about them before.

Even if we were recalling our memory to tackle different sort of questions, we had to keep ourselves in a control and remain coordinated to avoid giving wrong answers in both excitement and uncertainty. Our faces and bodies were giving out some clues that we and others could easily pick.

Stocking chin, scratching head and touching different part of face was obvious. However, in such kind of team activities, it’s really hard to keep each other in sync for better performance. Both win and loss is shared by each team member so personal stakes are quite less. Throughout the competition, it gets reflected through body language of whole team members.
We know that being in a team is good to compete but what about competing on your own? Individual body language speaks by great volume. Those who are good observer can easily pick both distress and delight clues given away by players.

Yesterday, I went to watch a chess competition held my company. It was an inter-company event and many friends were competing to assure their challenge in next round. Watching chess matches on television (which I never did yet) and in still photographs is entirely different than watching players in a close proximity.

When people you know from several years participate in any competition and challenging situation, it definitely occupies some space in your mind as like those people. It affects on emotions of an observer and ultimately its body language.

Probably, you might know that game of chess was originally invented by Indians. In ancient era, people of India used to call it as Chaturang (चतुरंग). It can be entirely mythical that Chaturang or Chess was used to be played with real men in different characters standing on a large board (painted or marked on ground) and two competitors controlling their moves.

Perhaps, today's chess board and pieces might be an exact replica of same arrangement. Unlike poker or card game, playing chess takes lot of mental energy because both competitors can watch each other’s move.

Vishwanathan Anand (India)
Board has 64 houses and each player has to compete with the help of 16 pieces belonging of different characters and having various tactical abilities. Players have to keep their emotions under control (which is really a hard part) to remain into game without loosing concentration and tactical edge. What our brain needs to overcome intellectual challenges? It direly needs more supply of blood, oxygen and sugar to keep working until we win or give up. Body arranges itself to increase their supply to brain.

We can easily observe a player paying great attention at board and sitting (or choosing to seat) in a shrunk or submissive posture - narrowed shoulders, one or both hands touching to face, leaning forward by torso (upper body) and legs entwined at ankles. Players has to engage itself into getting visual clues wiz current location of pieces of its own & of competitors and number of pieces available (alive) for competition. We can call it as an Intellectual or Tactical posture. Players submit themselves to the game, keep anticipating next move of an opponent and juggling with tactics.

Mature and veteran players show very less emotions on their faces because they think an opponent might take unfair advantage by knowing their emotional responses. However, body gives away certain clues through alteration in posture, eye ball movement, self-touching, scratching of different body parts and face.

They unconsciously make macro, micro and subtle muscular movements on their faces which an external observer can easily pick and decode in given context. Since players have to concentrate on facts and tactics, they seem to pay less attention towards an emotional body language of their opponent. Audience not only watch the game but try to make predictions.

As players age and becomes mature, they give away less obvious clues. Their clues remain miniaturized, subtle and complex, often intermixed with displays related with cognitive or physical processes. Hence, it becomes really hard for both opponents to gauge or judge each other on expressional basis.

However, a seasoned or trained observer can systematically observe both players and accurately predict that who's going to win or loose the game. As players are deeply submerging in game, an observer has to pick both obvious and not so obvious clues by burying its eyes in their moves.

Related articles:
1) Observation is the key 2) Micro Expressions

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