Remembering Adriaan de Groot

11/4/2014 – Adriaan de Groot never became a grandmaster but his influence on chess is enormous. In 1965 his book "Thought and Choice in Chess" appeared in English and showed how chessplayers think. It changed our views on chess, talent, learning and knowledge. On the occasion of de Groot's 100th birthday the Dutch institute Cito now paid a fitting tribute.

ChessBase 15 - Mega package ChessBase 15 - Mega package

Find the right combination! ChessBase 15 program + new Mega Database 2020 with 8 million games and more than 80,000 master analyses. Plus ChessBase Magazine (DVD + magazine) and CB Premium membership for 1 year!


Cito pays a tribute to psychologist A. D. de Groot

By Willy Hendriks

Adriaan de Groot (1914-2006)

On 26th of October 1914 Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot was born. De Groot was a strong chess player who played for the Dutch team at two Olympiads. He also was an influential scientist and founder of the Dutch test institute Cito. To pay a tribute to De Groot, Cito organised a chess event on the occasion of the 100th birthday of its founder, with a simultaneous display by Jan Timman and a lecture on De Groot by Willy Hendriks.

In 1946 De Groot's dissertation Het denken van de schaker was published. In 1965 it was translated as Thought and Choice in Chess. This is without doubt the most influential book about (cognitive) psychology in chess but it had a great impact as well on cognitive psychology in general.

Cover of a ground-breaking book on chess thinking (Foto: New in Chess)

De Groot also did a lot of research on education. In 1968 he was one of the founders of Cito (Centraal Instituut voor Toetsontwikkeling), the Central Institute for the development of tests and exams. In the Netherlands the great majority of the children finish their primary school with the so called 'Citotoets', a test that is designed to advise children about type and level of their next school.

In the simultaneous event, sixteen Cito workers and relatives battled with Jan Timman.

Jan Timman, testing de Groot's theories in practice.

Despite the chess tradition at Cito, the Dutch grandmaster was rather merciless and in less than two hours, he finished with 15,5-0,5. Roelof Stienstra was the only player able to hold the balance.

Grandmaster Jan Timman in Wijk aan Zee (Foto: Joachim Schulze)

In his lecture before the simultaneous, Willy Hendriks elaborated on the chances of the participants and tried to explain, referring to the work of De Groot, why a grandmaster facing sixteen opponents, still can reach a very decent level.

Chess author and IM Willy Hendriks pays tribute to de Groot

One of the main themes in Thought and Choice in Chess is the difference between the expert (grandmaster) and the amateur. De Groot demonstrated that this difference does not consist of more and deeper calculation, or of a different method of thinking. It depends on the enormous amount of finely tuned experience and knowledge that the grandmaster activates as soon as he looks at a position, which enables him to, almost in a glance, get to the essence of the position and to see the most promising moves.

Hendriks' modern book on chess thinking

In his book on chess and cognitive science Move First, Think Later Hendriks has dedicated a chapter to the role of De Groot in chess psychology: "In search for the master's understanding - back to De Groot". Courtesy of New in Chess here's a pdf-version of this chapter for download.

See also: Adriaan de Groot, chess psychologist (1914-2006)


Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

oleppedersen oleppedersen 11/4/2014 08:04
You forget that rating is a system to find out who is good and bad within a group of players. There will always be a certain amount of players at the top, some close to the top, some in the middle etc. It is not an absolute scoring system; it says nothing about whether a player at 1700 today is better or worse than a 1700 player in 1957, for instance.
genem genem 11/4/2014 07:18
I know some mid-level class players who have played rated chess games weekend after weekend, at long time controls. During each rated game they see and study approximately 80 positions. These players have spent thousands of hours sitting quietly while studying thousands of positions during their rated games. They make moves and very soon receive informative feedback about the strengths or weaknesses of their moves (in the form of the opponent's reply). At home they can quickly get grandmaster level feedback on the whole game from Fritz. Yet their Elo ratings have always remained middling among class players. According to de Groot's theory their Elo ratings should have risen a lot over the decades.

I did some simple math. One player I have in mind has played 1,600 rated games, and has thus spent 4,800 hours studying 96,000 positions (approximately). Another has played 3,000 rated games, and has thus spent 9,000 hours studying 180,000 positions. Yet both of these players' Elo ratings remain at mid-class levels.

If concentrated study of numerous positions, plus choosing the best move in those positions, plus receiving prompt feedback, plus later at-home grandmaster level feedback from a Fritz analysis - if all that information and practice and experience does not meet de Groot's basic idea about building the crucial store of chess data "chunks" - then further explanation of de Groot's theory is needed.

Or maybe de Groot's theory only explains that internalized chess chunks *Are* very helpful in raising one's Elo rating. Maybe de Groot's theory makes no attempt to explain *Why* some chess students do not obtain a large store of chess chunks despite thousands of hours of intensive study of many thousands of positions: to me this is the interesting unanswered question.
Niima Niima 11/4/2014 05:06
Steven E DuCharm

I am not sure what you exactly mean, but it seems like you are comparing apples (the use of psychology to beat an opponent) to oranges (the psychological factors at work when one thinks about moves).
Steven E DuCharm Steven E DuCharm 11/4/2014 10:11
"I don't believe in psychology. I believe in good moves" - Bobby Fischer