Online Chess Players Avoid Opponents from Hostile Nations During Conflicts

Players from countries involved in conflicts avoid opponents from hostile nations, and adopt safer, more cautious strategies when they do play.

A new study reveals significant shifts in the behavior and strategies of online chess players from countries engaged in international conflicts.

The study examined the effects of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

The research focused on players from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Russia, demonstrating how geopolitical tensions impact player engagement and decision-making on a popular online chess platform.

The study, titled “Nationalism in Online Games During War,” was published as a preprint on May 20, 2024, on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), an open-access repository for early-stage research.

Preprints are preliminary versions of research papers that have not yet undergone peer review.

The full study is available here.


Researchers collected a comprehensive dataset of games from, focusing on the period before and after the conflicts began.

They analyzed 10,768 players, including 3,506 from Armenia, 4,300 from Azerbaijan, 1,562 from Russia, and 1,400 from Ukraine.

The data detailed each individual move made during the games, allowing the researchers to track changes in strategy, performance, and game outcomes.

Conflict-Induced Reluctance to Play

Researchers found a sharp decline in the willingness of players to engage with opponents from hostile countries.

In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the share of games played between Azerbaijani and Armenian players dropped by 19%.

The decline was even more pronounced in the Russo-Ukrainian War, with a 31% decrease in games played between Russian and Ukrainian players.

Safer and More Familiar Openings

The analysis extended to the strategic choices made during games.

Players from countries at war opted for safer and more familiar openings, likely as a means to minimize risk.

The researchers used the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) classifications to determine the risk level of each opening.

They found a statistically significant increase in the use of safe openings, and a decrease in risky ones.

This strategic shift was particularly notable among Azerbaijani and Russian players, who preferred to stick with familiar openings to avoid mistakes.

Performance Metrics and Mistakes

Performance was another critical area of investigation.

The study utilized the Average Centipawn Loss (ACPL) metric to measure the accuracy of moves relative to the optimal moves suggested by a chess engine.

Results showed a general reduction in ACPL scores, indicating fewer overall mistakes.

But the frequency of mid-size mistakes increased, particularly among Azerbaijani and Russian players.

This suggests that while players were cautious overall, the stress of competing against hostile nationals led to occasional significant errors.

Increased Game Length and Persistence

The study also noted changes in game length and persistence.

Games between players from hostile nations tended to be longer, and were less likely to end in resignation.

Instead, players showed higher resilience, often playing until checkmate or running out of time.

The number of games ending in draws, either by agreement or due to insufficient material, also increased.

These findings indicate a reluctance to concede defeat and a determination to continue playing despite unfavorable positions.

Emotional and Psychological Impact

The research highlighted the emotional and psychological effects of international conflicts on chess players.

Top-rated players, who typically manage their emotions better during games, exhibited fewer changes in behavior compared to lower-rated players.

The latter group showed more significant shifts, including a greater reluctance to play against hostile nationals and more pronounced strategic adjustments.

Implications and Conclusions

This study provides valuable insights into how international conflicts influence individual behavior in online environments.

The findings underscore the pervasive impact of geopolitical tensions, extending even into recreational activities like online chess.

Understanding these behavioral shifts can inform strategies to foster resilience and adaptability in individuals facing stress from external conflicts.

It also highlights the importance of considering psychological and emotional factors when analyzing performance in competitive settings.

Study Details

  • Title: Nationalism in Online Games During War
  • Authors: Eren Bilen, Nino Doghonadze, Robizon Khubulashvili, David Smerdon
  • Publication Date: May 20, 2024
  • Link: Nationalism in Online Games During War