How do you play when sick?

December 30, 2010 at 3:45 am 10 comments

Not long ago I was having a discussion with a chess player about one’s capacity to play while sick. I’ve always considered that something like a serious dose of the flu or even something like food poisoning doesn’t preclude playing well. Optimally well? Maybe. Maybe not having the energy to be bothered with extraneous considerations makes for more dedicated application to the job at hand.

I did expect, however, compared with chess and bridge, that speed chess would be an exception. It is quite a physical game and one has to be really switched on the whole time. As it happens a few Sundays ago I went to hospital with a very serious condition that had already made me ill for a couple of weeks. The day before, however, I played a speed chess competition and got a result that would have greatly pleased me even if I’d been 100% well, let alone close to dying, as I discovered was the case the next day when I became an emergency. I had many pulmonary embolisms as well as the flu, so I could scarcely breathe and had very little oxygen in my blood. I also had very little energy. Yet I had a performance rating of 2011, lost only to the winner and one other top player, and generally did not look like a person who had last played an event like that 25 years ago.

I should point out that I had certain advantages, nobody ‘knew’ me and being female afforded a presumption that I would be weaker than I was. But still, one might just as well argue that I gained nothing out of any of the players being ‘scared’ of me, something from which one can expect to receive an advantage now and then.

All in all, I’d say in bridge I’ve had some of my best results with serious doses of the flu.

I’m curious to know what other people think about this.



Entry filed under: chess, thoughts on bridge.

My life at the moment Norma is dead.

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. phil markey  |  December 30, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    i think the observation that you can play well when your not well is right – i recall hearing a stat about gordon greenidge having some enormous average opening the batting for the west indies when he was lame

    i think its about trusting your memory – when your not 100% you dont have the time or inclination to question what your doing so your lapse into doing it by memory – when your really practiced at a certain skill your going to perform well when all you do is sit back and run the usual program rather than confuse and second guess yourself with largely erroneous detail

    • 2. cathyc  |  December 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm

      I like this idea. Yes, relying more on instinct less on present analysis.

      And I guess there are good examples of men performing well at physical sports under circumstances that can only be described as heroic. Was it Boone for Australia in India who had a remarkable innings where he kept vomiting from the heat and was rushed off to hospital at the end?

      But if this is so, are we getting into that thing about men being good at immediate pain and women at chronic. Are there men who perform well in the circumstances I described of Brunner etc in a comment below? I suppose Lance Armstrong comes to mind? Did he actually race while he was having treatments that put a huge physical stress and mental stress on him?

      I played with Michelle Brunner a while ago in a duplicate session and although she was strongly affected by morphine, at the same time her bridge was as sharp as. I confess I was amazed at some of the things she pointed out.

      • 3. phil markey  |  December 30, 2010 at 11:23 pm

        dean jones

  • 4. sartaj  |  December 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Welcome back to blog land, Cathy. Best of luck with everything.

    I think there was a tournament that involved Soloway going to the hospital in the sessions he was sitting out…

    The worst day of Tony’s play I’ve ever witnessed was when he was very sick although my worse days have rarely anything to do with sickness.

    I tend to play faster when not feeling well, it leads to the occasional howler but the conservation of energy works well otherwise for me. Doubt very much if i’ve ever had a good day at bridge when my health wasnt at its best…

    • 5. cathyc  |  December 30, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      I recall in an Australian championship one of the players actually had to be hospitalised during it and was really quite ill, but nonetheless performed at expectation, if not better. Again, one could argue that his opponents had a difficult time because they had to play him in hospital…not enough data.

  • 6. Andrew  |  December 30, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I’ve certainly played well when sick; there’s a kind of tunnel vision that sets in, I find, where 100% of the available mental energy is focussed on the game. Given my propensity for self-distraction, I’d say 100% use of a 30% functional brain would be about on a par with my normal 100% functional brain trying to do 8 things simultaneously.

    But I’ve also played badly when sick, so there’s more to it than just illness.

  • 7. Paul  |  December 30, 2010 at 5:06 am

    I think you should have gone to hospital earlier!

    I cannot play bridge when ill. But then I’m a man.

    • 8. cathyc  |  December 30, 2010 at 9:02 am

      I wonder if there is anything in that idea, even if you meant it to be throwaway. Now I’m thinking of Michelle Brunner, Kate McCallum and Liz Havas, all of whom have had exceptional results while undergoing brutal treatment for cancer. Are there male equivalents in bridge? I’m not away of any who have performed at or above their previous best, but I’d love to be informed on this.

  • 9. memphis mojo  |  December 30, 2010 at 4:46 am

    Students entering college in the U.S. have to take standardized tests. I believe I’ve read that if a student takes the test when sick, then retakes it later when well, the results are the same.

    • 10. cathyc  |  December 30, 2010 at 9:02 am

      That’s interesting. You’d think just for retaking it you’d get some improvement even if you were sick both times.


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