Category Archives: Addiction

Chess Therapy: Launching Research

Launching Research on a Novel Approach against Addiction

Sabine Vollstädt-Klein

People suffering from a substance use disorder often have cognitive impairment in several domains (e.g. a poor working memory and short attention span). Cognitive training has therefore become a part of the range of addiction therapies. We invited Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, the German addiction scientist, to talk about chess-based therapy for substance use disorders at the 2016 London Chess Conference.  She was sceptical at first but after reviewing the evidence on anti-addiction cognitive training and taking into account the positive responses to her lecture and workshop presentation at the conference, she decided it was worth exploring further.

Recently, we caught up again with Sabine at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim. She had some very good news. She has secured funding from the German Research Fund (DFG) to pursue two research projects. This type of funding is highly competitive and allocated on purely scientific merits. She will apply chess-based therapy as an add-on intervention to treatment protocols with patients suffering from alcohol abuse disorder. Patients in the control group will get treatment as usual. Similarly, chess-based therapy will be applied in a larger project on nicotine addiction in which the Central Institute is partnering with several German universities. Sabine expressed her gratitude for the suggestion that chess could be used for therapeutic purposes. 

Sabine became acquainted with chess and chess-based therapies from other participants at the London Chess Conference. She has just returned from Spain where she observed it in action. Chess-based therapy has been developed by the psychologist Juan Antonio Montero and is applied in two dozen institutions in the western province of Extremadura. It is deployed not only with addiction patients, but also with prison inmates, people with Down Syndrome and other conditions. The therapy is not intended to develop chess playing strength but is oriented to improve cognitive functioning. 

“They have very good results but no control group and therefore no robust research to show if and how chess-based therapy works”, she told us. She explains that chess-based therapy has a probable advantage compared with other cognitive therapies against addiction: other therapies tend to be repetitive and boring. Chess offers a more structured and gamified approach.

Professor Vollstädt-Klein is now looking for a PhD student to work on both research projects with her in Mannheim, a vibrant town in southwest Germany. It is crucial that the candidate has the appropriate academic background and scientific training. Only a rudimentary chess knowledge is necessary to deliver the cognitive trainings, Also, because of the need to interact with the patients. the candidate should speak some basic German but fluency is not expected.

Official vacancy advert

Chess can be Cure or Disease

online addiction unknown sourceHe was in his mid forties and there was nothing better for him than playing chess online. He had loved the game since his youth, but didn´t become hooked until worthy opponents were always within a few clicks´ reach.

He started to miss work, spent whole nights in front of the screen, eventually got missing. His wife didn´t see him for days. Later it turned out that he spent them locked away in the attic, idling away on online games and sleeping right there not to be bothered by anyone or anything but chess. Later was when his wife dragged him to a therapist. The couple went there three times but to no avail. The man didn´t find anything wrong with his constant urge to play chess. Nor with giving up on life apart from the game.

Developing a behavioural addiction in mid life is not unusual, we were told by this man´s therapist. He usually treats patients who gamble online or spend their wake life with video games. But he wasn´t aware that chess could be fast enough to constantly trigger dopamine responses. When he learned about the very fast time limits of online chess, he confirmed that it can be addictive.

We have learned of grandmasters who blitz away far beyond what could be legitimated as training or having fun. The majority of those who loose control over their online play are amateurs. What can online chess servers do to help players at risk?

When we invited Danny Reinsch, Vice President of Chess.com, the biggest chess server, he was certainly aware of the problem. He pointed out though that some of the heaviest players used to have more damaging addictions in the past. Chess was rather a path out of the dark for them.

Chess therapy might be an efficacious add-on treatment for some addiction patients, suggests a review by Sabine Vollstädt-Klein.
Chess therapy might be an efficacious add-on treatment for some addiction patients, suggests a review by Sabine Vollstädt-Klein.

Online chess addiction is one of the aspects in our path breaking workshop Chess and Addiction. Sabine Vollstädt-Klein from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and Professor at the University of Heidelberg reviews the latest research on cognitive remediation therapy, which suggests that chess could be an effective and cheap intervention for some addiction patients. In Brazil chess has already been tried as a therapy for drug users. Darcy Lima will present promising data from a brand new study.