Myths and unknowns about chess...

by Alexey Root
11/9/2018 – Do parents name their babies after chess champions? Do you need 10,000 hours of practice to be a chess master? Does chess helps prevent Alzheimer’s? ALEXEY ROOT explores these and other questions. Republished with kind permission of The Conversation. | Pictured: Reigning Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen, left, from Norway, and American challenger Fabiano Caruana face off in the World Chess Championship, which begins November 9th, 2018, in London. | Photo: Matt Dunham/AP

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...and the contenders for the World Chess Championship

If Fabiano Caruana wins the World Chess Championship match against champion Magnus Carlsen this month, he will be the first American to hold the championship title since Bobby Fischer won it in 1972. The match between Caruana, age 26, and Carlsen, age 27, of Norway, takes place in London, England, from Nov. 9 to 28.

The winner will take home about US$700,000 — or 50 per cent more than the loser.

Here are five myths and unknowns about the world chess championship contenders and the game of chess.

1. Parents name their babies after chess champions

When Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade and her husband, Daniel Meirom, learned that they were having a son, she told her father that she would name the baby either Fabiano or Magnus. “It started as a joke and then we realized how much we loved it,” Shahade told The Conversation. Shahade’s son Fabian was born in January 2017, before Fabiano Caruana became the challenger for the World Chess Championship but after Shahade had admired Caruana’s 7-0 win and sportsmanlike attitude in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup.

Other parents may have had the same idea. According to the Social Security Administration, the name “Magnus” first made the list of the top 1,000 baby names in the United States in 2013, the same year that Magnus Carlsen became world chess champion. It will be interesting to see if the name “Fabian” – or “Fabiano” – experiences a surge if Caruana wins the match and becomes the World Chess Champion.

Status: Unknown.

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2. Chess is not a sport

People may not think that it requires much stamina to move chess pieces and pawns from one square to another. However, as mentioned in my 2006 book “Children and Chess: A Guide for Educators,” chess players sitting at the board experience a quickened heartbeat and higher blood pressure, similar to what athletes experience when they compete in their sports.

Many, if not most, chess players view chess as a sport and approach it as such. For instance, the 2018 U.S. Open chess champion Timur Gareyev – a grandmaster known for playing numerous players at once while blindfolded – has promoted the benefits of exercise for chess players.

Carlsen and Caruana stay in top physical shape to meet the demands of chess. Carlsen plays soccer, basketball and tennis and also enjoys hiking and skiing. Caruana also plays basketball and soccer and partakes in indoor rock climbing.

Status: Myth.

3. You need 10,000 hours of practice to be a chess master

The 10,000 hour rule has been popularized by books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.” However, according to “The Psychology of Chess,” a new book by University of Liverpool psychology professor Fernand Gobet, some need less than 10,000 hours.

Though grandmaster is an even higher title than “master,” Carlsen became a grandmaster at age 13. Caruana got his grandmaster title at age 14. “The quickest players needed only 3,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach master level,” Gobet wrote, based on his research using data from the World Chess Federation. On the other hand, some chess players spend 25,000 hours of deliberate practice – and never make master. Gobet arrived at these findings in a study conducted with his then-Ph.D. student Guillermo Campitelli.

Status: Myth.

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


4. Starting chess as an adult gives you an advantage

While one might think that adults have the edge in improving at chess, due to their emotional maturity for handling wins and losses and their fully developed intellects, it just is not so. “Starting young clearly helps,” Gobet told me in an interview for Chess Life magazine. “In our study, individuals who started playing chess at or before the age of 12 years old had 1 chance out 4 of becoming a master, as compared to 1 chance out of 55 for people who started to play after the age of 12. So, there is truth in the saying that ‘You have to start young at chess to become really great at chess.’”

Status: Myth.

5. Chess helps prevent Alzheimer’s

An ABC news story published March 6, 2018 stated, “Chess, jigsaw puzzles and other mentally challenging activities may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, a study published today says.” A 2013 ChessBase News article likewise cites chess as one of several mind sports that “will be beneficial to an older adult.” Yet rigorous research that specifically examines the impact of chess on Alzheimer’s does not exist. Right now, chess just seems a likely way to maintain mental agility as one ages.

Status: Unknown.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.
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Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 11/11/2018 12:34
By the way, I named my first cat 'Fischer'.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 11/11/2018 12:29
Smoking also gives a faster heartbeat and a higher blood pressure. For the rest, the 'proof' that chess is a sport as given is anecdotal. Lots of CEO's and managers also do their best to stay fit by doing physical exercise. That doesn't mean leading a company can be seen as a sport.
A year ago, the European Court in a tax case ruled that bridge is not a sport. You can disagree with it, but the Court doesn't usually do myths. Before stating 'chess is not a sport' is a myth, please explain why chess would be a sport and bridge not.
Chess being considered a sport is getting the chess world a lot of money, but outside that environment it will be hard to prove that there is a majority with the same opinion, or real objective support.
'Chess is a sport': maybe not a myth, but surely in the category 'unproven'.
KevinC KevinC 11/10/2018 10:14
Chess turned from game to sport for me at about 1800. Certainly, when I hit master, the tension of a game left me spent more than I ever felt when I played tennis...and this coming from a person, who wanted to be a professional tennis player until I was about 18, but realized I was not good enough on the big stage.
JimNvegas JimNvegas 11/10/2018 08:48
There is much about chess I don't understand such as why is it important to classify it as a sport or otherwise. All sports, whether you include chess or whatever, are games. So why not just call it a game and be done with it. Another thing I don't understand is why we connect a persons country to the game. When and why did this start? I am American and admittedly take pride in the fact that Fischer won the title but he didn't do it for America and I don't believe Fabiano is playing for his country. He is playing for a title and , of course, the money. The fact he is American is secondary to the fact. It just seems strange to me that we put the country of origin along side the game. Of course this is just my meanderings. :)
RottingWood RottingWood 11/10/2018 06:53
It blows me away at how many people people STILL cling to the centuries old mind-body Cartesian dualism. Thinking IS a physical activity, period. Concentration, neurological stamina, memory, visualization, and calculation BURN calories and can be trained and improved. Sport is organized competition, nothing more. If you're going to QUALIFY the word "sport" with an adjective like "athletic", then fine, but youre making the category smaller by choice. You don't get to add an adjective to the word sport and then claim it's an intrinsic quality of the word. TLDR; of course chess is a is every other organized competitive endeavor. Such a dumb debate....goes on for years and years ...all based on category mistake fallacy.
Keshava Keshava 11/10/2018 12:58
Chess is not an athletic sport, but it is a mind sport - like G0.
Beanie Beanie 11/10/2018 06:12
fons3 Yes you are right in everything. Jenga isn't a sport. Real sports involve a primary physical component of some sort. Bridge, chess, tiddlywinks, go, monopoly, poker etc are not sports and the people who do them are not athletes.
genem genem 11/10/2018 05:49
Chess is a "digital" sport, whereas tennis is an "analog" sport. Both are sports.
fons3 fons3 11/10/2018 05:27
If an increased heart rate is the criteria then pretty much everything is a sport. Reading Trump's tweets would be a sport. The same can be said for burning calories. Being in good physical shape helps yes, but it helps with everything. It's not a requirement however, as demonstrated by many chess players. ;) Don't know if physical dexterity would be enough either. Is playing Jenga a sport?
Beanie Beanie 11/10/2018 04:47
Chess isn't a sport because physical dexterity is not the most important skill.
Malcom Malcom 11/10/2018 03:28
lol...sorry but was this really worthy of an article!? Come on!
Keshava Keshava 11/10/2018 02:12
Thank you Dr. Root. For years I ignored your books because you were just a name that was unknown to me. Through you writing articles that appear on this site I learned that you have a doctoral degree in Education from a major university. Now I am going to buy one of your books. I don't know how many people are like me but I encourage you to append your degree next to your name on the next edition of any of your books. Consider me a new fan.