Survey: the role of talent and training in chess

11/24/2008 – In June we published an appeal for chess players to participate in a study by the psychologist Dr Robert Howard of the University of New South Wales in Australia. What is the most important factor in chess excellence? Is it a natural talent for the game? Or motivation and training, talent being a minor factor? These were the questions – 581 players participated. Preliminary answers.

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Preliminary Results of FIDE Chess Survey

By Robert Howard

Players learned the moves at a median age of eight years old (masters about two years younger). The median age of starting serious play and taking part in the first rated tournament is 14, 12 for masters. Most players have had coaching. Players average around five or six hours of chess study a week, but the range is huge (0 to 60 hours). Number of hours of study of chess material is a factor in expertise level but only a relatively minor one.

Most players firmly believe in natural talent for chess and most believe that top ten players have some special traits, that few really can reach that level. However, many believe that a lot of study and practice can take a player a long way. Some believe that almost everyone can get to FIDE master with enough practice and study.

Views on what natural talent for chess consists of vary, but some common ideas are good spatial ability, high IQ, good memory, creativity, high motivation, a strong will to win, control over emotions, and psychological hardiness.

Eventual grandmasters take a median 390 FIDE-rated games from rating list entry to gain the title. Most players do not play anywhere near enough rated games in their careers to have a realistic chance of becoming a grandmaster. About two thirds of those who do play over 900 games actually succeed in becoming a grandmaster. However, those who play over 740 games without becoming a grandmaster on average seem to strike an impassable barrier at around 2400 level.

Analysis of rating data of players who played over 900 FIDE-rated games show that eventual top ten players indeed are identifiable from list entry. They get on the rating list much younger on average, get the grandmaster title much younger and much faster, and rise in the ratings much faster than other grandmasters.

Most believe that playing rated games and studying are equally important in developing skill.


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