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1000 hours wasted ? February 17, 2008

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, internet, personal.

I recently gave a look at the statistics table of my chess games on the Internet Chess Club, and was left wondering whether I should rather spend more wisely my time. Indeed, here is the table:

In it, you can read the number of games I played, separately for each of the time controls used. The main categories are “bullet” ( one minute per player),  “blitz” (two minutes to 15 minutes, if I recall correctly), plus the fixed “1-minute” and “5-minute” category, which include an automatic pairing system.

If you browse the numbers, you can see that I played a total of just about 10,000 games on ICC since I started with the handle “tonno” eight years ago. Ten thousand games correspond, very nearly, to about a thousand hours of play (5-minute games last on average 8 minutes, 1-minute ones on average 2).

1000 hours spent playing blitz chess! A thousand hours is a hell of a lot of time. They correspond to about seven months of work. In that amount of time I write on average two papers, sign 20 more written by others, present a talk at one international conference, and graduate a student. Am I wasting my life ?

I do not think so. Chess is a way to relax for me, and a very intellectually stimulating activity. I generate endorphines while I play. It is very nearly like a drug. And like a drug, it has anti-social connotations: my wife, in fact, hates it when I play online… But there is a sort of equilibrium which allows both of us to spend some evening time taking care of things we like.

Of course, the question remains… Maybe I could play a bit less and do other things instead. Well, yeah. Like, driving three hours to observe the night sky all night long….



1. A.K. - February 17, 2008

you’re mean–you should give takebacks.

2. dorigo - February 17, 2008

Hi A.K.,

the line says “no takebacks asked, no takebacks granted – not even for ready money”. Chess is a serious game. You err, you pay. Taking this rule out of the game would completely deform it.


3. Guess Who - February 17, 2008

Speaking only for myself, I could never play chess, or any other game of skill, for relaxation. What I jokingly call my mind, I use for work. To relax I need to do something really, really dumb. Like reading or commenting on blogs. 😉

4. carlbrannen - February 18, 2008

A very substantial, but generally unacknowledged, contribution to the game of a good chess player is a very strong impulse control. Some of the greatest are most famous for their corresponding lack of impulse control away from the board. Perhaps there’s some sort of spring or rebound effect.

I agree with Guess Who, the game is not at all relaxing to me. Much more fun to study and watch.

The chess books by my bed at the moment are old classics. 1001 Brilliant Checkmates by Reinfeld and My System by Aron Nimzovich. Of the two, the first, along with the same author’s 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, will definitely improve your game. And the second, even if it weren’t a classic masterpiece with a fascinating history behind it (of being written far ahead of its time, of rejection, and of acceptance only after Nimzovich proved his system in play 20 years later), is a beautifully written piece of literature. (Of course I have the English translation from the original German.) It seems that the English translation of My System must be nearly out of copyright.

5. dorigo - February 18, 2008

Hi GW,

yes, blogging and reading blogs does not qualify as a really meaningful practice… But we need some distraction now and then. I am often criticized for the time I spend blogging… By lower-dimensional people!


6. Doug - February 18, 2008

Hi T,

These 1000 hours may be the practical application of mathematical game theory?
Agents ~ chess pieces
Strategies ~ too numerous to count, but analyzable with incomplete information [John Harsanyi, Nobel 1994 Economics]
Utilities ~ win, lose, draw, resign

7. KC - February 19, 2008

Hey you spread it out over 8 years. Don’t kick yourself for that. Now, 1000 hours in one year would be a sign of trouble. YOu gotta keep your brain limber. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, chess… all the same. Think think think!

8. dorigo - February 19, 2008

Hi Carl,

I suggest “The 1953 international Zurich Tournament” by David Bronstein. It is a wonderful book.


9. dorigo - February 19, 2008

Doug, those 1000 hours are just plain fun – no need to attach any meaning to them.

KC, that is true – it amounts to an average of 20 minutes a day. Not too much. But objectively, if I had rather condensed that time in a few tournaments, I could have enjoyed them more. I really miss playing serious tournaments, but they typically last a week or so, and it is definitely not the kind of time I can devote to chess all in a chunk.


10. carlbrannen - February 20, 2008


Thank you, it’s on order (along with a few other chess books). How come physics books aren’t this inexpensive?

11. dorigo - February 21, 2008

Hmm, I think you got it from Dover (the only edition I am aware of), which has low prices. You can find lots of old classics in Physics at low price from them too.


12. matt - March 6, 2008

Maybe you won’t read old post’s comments, but since I dont’t see it in your blogroll I sugget you visit


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