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bunta 10 ( +1 | -1 )
Chess talent How do you know if you are naturally gifted at the game? Is there any real way to determine if you are going to become a GM or something?
ccmcacollister 201 ( +1 | -1 )
Imo There is one very good way to tell if one will Not become a GM. That is if they try to make it unassisted, without a trainer that has dealt with players of such calibre. Someone serious about international Chess needs to seek out an individual who has made a GM already and pay the price.
I have seen a lot of very talented, intellegent players not make GM. Of those who have not had such a trainer, the highest rated ones I can think of are FM's. Very strong players, who have beaten GM's at times. Possible exceptions IM's Watson & M.Brooks from around this area more or less. I dont know what type training they may have had.
I think that is another big factor, that you must Live where there Are GM's and such players as are needed to challenge you to that level, and ultimately (one hopes :) to 'feed off of' for rating.
As far as abilities, you better be able to visualize a combination over 10 moves (full not 1/2 moves) deep, at least. I've had to look at some 8 to 12 and only made Expert. But didnt used to get out analyzed much even from Masters up to 2400 ish
. Havent played a GM, so could only say, I expect they are better at it than that.
Analysing thusly takes a good short term memory to retain such positions.
Besides that they will know a great many positions. Position types and specific ones. I think where the opening book lets off will often be where they would be studying positions and knowing the ways of handling them.
And one would have to have good habits of play. Efficiency that an uncoached player usually doesnt seem to get, imo.
Then there are matters of character. Patience, determination, will to win, not to be lazy at the board or preparation, and a big one ... Restraint.
Maybe thats all wrong. I've only even known one GM. And not very well. I hope you get some answers from some Intl players. It is a very interesting question.
Regards, Craig }8-)
ccmcacollister 54 ( +1 | -1 )
PS// sorry I cant recall the test name or source. But as far as testing for Chess talent, there has been a test done where a player is shown a position for a certain number of seconds, then asked to recreate it. Apparently results from it did correlate to ones ability in the game, with Masters being able to note and remember more and lesser rated players less. Still I think this would just show ones potential in that single area, and not a true indication of their chances to make GM.
ionadowman 101 ( +1 | -1 )
Craig... ... I've seen some comment on that test. It formed 2 parts, one in which they were shown an early middlegame position from an actual game, the other of pieces and pawns randomly distributed over the board. The masters and grandmasters would observe 'clumps' or 'constellations' of pieces as if they were single entities, e.g. the castled K behind the fianchetto bishop within a pawn triangle, and Knight of f3, being an example. Less experienced players recognise fewer such constellations, and are less likely to observe special features (in a test like this, but possibly also in general) that might make this position different in character from one that looks similar. So Gms amd IMs could reconstruct the middle game position far more accurately than less experienced players. It was noticed that GMs and IMs were not significantly better than the rest at reproducing the random positions. Clearly the recall powers are experiential and specialised.
More: Chess
kewms 20 ( +1 | -1 )
If you work really hard at the game and study with a high level trainer, you might become a GM, and certainly a master. If you don't, you probably won't, regardless of how much talent you might have.

ionadowman 74 ( +1 | -1 )
At that... ...talent is recognisable after the fact. If it transpires that one learns quickly, that might indicate natural talent. Child prodigies seem to learn very quickly indeed!
But talent won't make you a GM. In other arenas, coaches apparently look out for attitude at least as much as talent. The kind of attitude thay look for is determination, perseverance, patience, endurance, a willingness in New Zealand's rugby terms "to do the hard yards." No doubt the expression is as well-known among American football aficionados.
New Zealand is not the place to grow GMs - we have one, Murray Chandler, who augmented his talent with the determination to go [to England and Europe] where he could get the experience and learning he needed, and to work at it. And he succeeded. Good on him.
ketchuplover 5 ( +1 | -1 )
Beating GM's sounds like a good indicator to me?
kewms 18 ( +1 | -1 )
If you beat GMs regularly then you are, by definition, a GM. If you beat a GM once in a simul, you are someone who had a lucky afternoon. Both are indications of current skill, not necessarily inherent talent.

fmgaijin 220 ( +1 | -1 )
Aggressive IM's Just beating GM's regularly doesn't make one a GM, either--for example, certain strong, aggressive IM's (such as the late Igor Ivanov) can beat many GM's but can lose even more frequently (few draws) and not make the requisite norms because they're not consistent enough to make the mandatory 2600 performance ratings.

On the main topic, I would note that the research cited above (originally by Adrian de Groot but later replicated and improved by Nobel winner Herbert Simon and others at Carnegie-Mellon U.) led to the discovery of "chunking" of memory when Simon noted that the stronger players grouped their pieces together in memory, as noted above. (Side note: BTW, I took part in a number of CMU experiments and found them very interesting, but again most of the results depend on developed chess skills such as recognition of typical pawn structures and hence reflect current chess skill rather than inherent talent.

An attempt to test the latter aimed to evaluate the ability of players to complete a chess-related but "new" task. Try this: place Black P's at c3, f3, c6, f6 and a White N on a1. Now have someone time you while you manuever the N to b1 WITHOUT landing on the Black P's or moving to the squares attacked by the P's: Na1-c2-a3-b1. Now do the same to get the N to c1, then d1, then e1, etc. When you reach h1, go to h2 then back across the board up and down the ranks, skipping and avoiding the occupied and attacked squares. Have the timer penalize you 30 seconds for each error or illegal move. The Czechs tested a number of young players (none yet masters) back in the early 60's and the best results came from players who would later become GM's (Kavalek, Smejkal, Jansa if I remember correctly). I ran this test on two of my players who later became a WIM and an FM and had inconclusive results--the young girl scored very well but below the "GM" threshold set by Kavalek and friends, while the young boy tried TOO hard and got frustrated by mistakes and had only an "average" talent result. Despite that, he went on to become a Master by the age of 15. He left chess at age 16 and did not return until his late 20's, when he quickly became a strong FM but never became a professional player and hence did not earn the IM or GM titles.
ccmcacollister 135 ( +1 | -1 )
A few unsubstantiated "tests" In pondering this matter, today I came up with some things that are not substantiated in any study that I'm aware of, but from observations over 30+ years of tournament play ... I believe probably any GM can do these. In fact, almost all Masters, I would think:
1) Review a games scoresheet in either Descriptive Notation or Algebraic Notation &
transcribe it into the other notation without a set or pieces.
2) Review a scoresheet for the first 20 or 30 moves and then set up the position it would show there.
3) Play at least one competent blindfold Chess game at a time, using mental imagery only, from moves called out to you. No set, board or scoresheet. IMO I believe most any Master should be able to. And would think that a GM could handle
a number at one time if they rely not strictly upon mental visualization but their positions familiarity which enables one to say "This is like my Key-Position from Karpov-Capablanca Move #20 Except that BL played Rac8 instead of Rfc8 here ...
So if one wanted to gather if they have an inkling of the visualization capacity that
I think a GM would display, they might have some fun doing these exercises, which
I see as something more of a minimum GM ability rather than what they might be able to do working at full capacity.
bunta 15 ( +1 | -1 )
so... so anyone can become a GM if you are determined? i dont think so.. there are people who studied about 8 hours of chess a day and did not become GM, like joshua waitzkin
paradoxal 18 ( +1 | -1 )
If you really put the effort in, I believe with something like Chess anyone could become a GM. However to be part of the elite circle of GMs, a raw natural talent must be present.
zenbum 131 ( +1 | -1 )
I disagree... ...with paradoxal. I think most people have no hope of becoming GMs, no matter how hard they try. I know of no definitive proof one way or the other, but here are a couple of reasons I believe this:

1. Personal experience. At one time in my life (about 10 years ago) I was working like the devil to be the best chess player I could possibly be. My rating was approaching Expert level (2000) and it was conceivable that with a few more years of hard work I might attain Master level (2200). But to suggest I could ever attain GM level (2500) is just laughable. No way. My memory isn't good enough, my ability to picture a position in my mind isn't good enough, and I don't think fast enough. In short, the neurons in my brain just aren't wired right to be a GM. If you've ever met a GM -- I've met several and have been coached by two -- I think you'll agree that their brains are just different from the rest of us.

2. In the last FIDE ratings list there were fewer than 1000 GMs. On the other hand, there are more than 42,000 professional footballers. Can anyone become a professional footballer if they "really put the effort in." I think not. I think you have to have exceptional athletic talent to begin with. Same with GM's and "mental talent."

That's my opinion, anyway...
honololou 1 ( +1 | -1 )
zenbaum… is right.
ccmcacollister 120 ( +1 | -1 )
zenbum ... Very interesting. It supports a conversation once held here in Omaha betwixt an FM an NM and an evesdropping CCM :) Where it was generally concluded I think that with enough hard work someone able to be a competent player to begin with could probably attain Expert ratingj if they went about it right. But the first two still disagreed largely about the contribution of natural talent.
I stuck with Chess due to being very bad at it, in a relative sense. Not a natural thing at all, despite having the prerequisites it would seem. That is something that really interests me. When it looks like someone should just do very well but takes years to get it going :) Of course starting at 777 probably doesnt help in that regard, as I did. But it does seem that a little problem in one area or another can be a real stumbling block. Even attitude.
I think a lot of people fail to realize just how intellegent Chess players tend to be as a group. So knowing that they are so themself they expect a lot too fast. Not realizing the true state of the competition, and that other factors appear much more important to success.
kewms 137 ( +1 | -1 )
Scientists have spent years trying to find a predictive measure of talent. Chess has been one of the most well-researched laboratories for this search, since chess skill is relatively easy to quantify. They have failed.

(See also: -> )

There is essentially no evidence to show that anyone, even GMs, has an inherent talent for chess. There is lots of evidence to show that a sufficiently rigorous training regime can create GMs. (See also the Polgar sisters.)

The problem is that the necessary training is *extremely* rigorous. So much so that many (probably most) players will give up before they've put in enough effort, deciding that they "don't have the talent for it". The best working definition for talent appears to be "ability to persevere."


PS There are 42,000 professional footballers, the post above says. But what percentage is that of the total number of recreational footballers in the world? And what percentage of the pros are capable enough to play on a Champions League or World Cup team? I would guess the large numbers have more to do with the popularity of football than with the inherent difficulty or simplicity of the game.
fmgaijin 264 ( +1 | -1 )
Based on My Experience . . . . . . (which includes losing at blitz to Fischer as well as playing and analyzing with Anand, Barua, Thipsay, Speelman, Tisdall, Benko, Spraggett, Balinas, Xu Jun, Wang Zi Li and many other GM's) along with my scholarly work on the phenomenology of human skills, I would argue that attaining GM status is a combination of talent and hard work. Of course, some players with the requisite talent do NOT become GM's because they do not put in the work needed (not necessarily LAZY; can just be that they chose to do other things with their lives!). Far fewer players become GM's by overcoming lack of talent. In these days of the "debased" GM title and database prep, a few COMPARATIVELY "untalented" players may obtain the rank with the hard work that Katherine claims will make a GM, but they do not become strong players. And I have seen hundreds of players work that hard WITHOUT becoming GM;s. Conversely, it's easy for anyone who has ever taught chess to children to see WITHOUT the need for "measurement" that chess comes more readily to some than others. Fischer and Anand worked at chess, but their work just made them world class--they would have been GM's even without that. Katherine's example of the Polgar sisters even works against the "hard work alone" theory because it's again easy to see that while all three had some talent and worked hard, Judith always had the most "talent" while Susan was the hardest worker. IMHO, the problem with the studies Katherine cites is that the ones looking for "chess talent" and not finding it always try to reduce talent to some single variable such as memory for stored patterns when it may in fact be a complex combination of factors PLUS the opportunity, drive, and effort needed to develop those skills.

Sidenote: I read the Scientific American article mentioned and was bemused by a sidebar correlating football skills with being in the "oldest quarter" of an age group (suggesting that because the players were the oldest in their groups, they had early success and hence worked harder and become pro-level players. I suggest another interpretation of the data: that instead the OTHER talented players who were younger and hence slower/smaller got discouraged and did NOT develop their talents. If talent were NOT a factor, why didn't ALL of the "older' group become pros? Oh--perhaps they were the most TALENTED among the oldest quarter? Hmm? Maybe??
fmgaijin 40 ( +1 | -1 )
Talent Redux In short, I believe that (a) human skills are a combination of talent and hard work; (b) talent comes on a continuum rather than a Have/Have Not basis, so a person with "less talent" may often overcome a minor deficiency in talent by working harder; but (c) behaviorists who think that you can train anyone to do anything with the proper stimuli are just plain deluded.
stendhar 231 ( +1 | -1 )
My two cents First, let me give the definition of talent. In one internet dictionary talent is being reffered to as "a marked ability or skill." This however does not presupose that there is a born inclination towards the field in which talent manifests itself, but rather that talent is something that differentiates the level of results as opposed to the quantity of effort in a number of individuals. Also, how do you establish which are the more "talented players"? Are they the ones with the high ratings, or are these only the best coached and the ones that are in maximum form?
My personal opinion is that it takes just an ounce of talent, and this is just to get you started, to have confidence in your abilities and to persevere. Afterwards it takes tons of hard work, sometimes with disapointing momentary results. zenbum said that GM's brains are different than the rest of the players that couldn't attain such a high level of recogniscion. That is not true. We are born with alomst no synaptic connections. But the ones that we do form over the years and the ones that we use most often are the ones that respond the quickest and best.
Let me just give you two examples. Gata Kamski who was coached by his dad in his adolescence. He recieved nothing but chess information. He was locked up from all exterior stimuli and was forced to focus on chess. He achieved a very high chess standing at a very young age. How much of his talent and how much coaching do you think marked his chess performance?
The other example is Jose-Raul Capablanca. He is more of a counter-example to show that there are exceptions in all things. His chess was remarkable, still he didn't allot very much of his time to training, but rather just to playing. His wins came very easy for him, and he lost very rarely. If there is any player that can be called the epitomy of chess talent the great Capa is.
In conclusion, there are exception to the rule of hard work, but if we were exceptions we would have known by now, so we must be in the other class, those with some chess talent and woh's only chance of ever attaing the rank of GM is to dedicate a large part of our existence to realising that goal.
kewms 102 ( +1 | -1 )
It's not just my claim, fmgaijin.

There is no known measure that will predict which players will become GMs and which won't. Furthermore, while people who are GMs score better than non-GMs on chess specific measures, they score about the same on tests of general abilities.

(The same is also true in other fields, BTW.)

I'm not saying that some people don't pick up the game more quickly than others. But after you control for training differences, there's little or no correlation between early success and eventual GM-hood.

Finally, arguments that this or that person "would have" become a GM without hard work, or is a "weak" GM (whatever the heck that means) because they don't have talent are utterly ludicrous. Fischer without the hard work wouldn't be Fischer, he'd be someone else, and that person might or might not think chess was important. And without a measure of talent, there's no way to say who the "untalented" GMs even are.

fmgaijin 384 ( +1 | -1 )
Not So Fast, My Friend! Katherine, just because there is not a "known measure" which serves as a simple "predictor" of who will become a GM does NOT mean that there is no such thing as chess talent. That argument would commit the basic fallacy of trying to prove a negative ("There is no evidence that there are witches; therefore, there ARE no witches.") Moreover, you're overlooking a basic point made in much of the literature: just as in other fields involving intellectual skills, the "top performers" DO have some things in common, and while it's hard to distinguish the skills that make "top engineers" from those that make "top GM's," even the earliest studies by Binet, de Groot, and others made it clear that the "top GM's" were above average in a NUMBER of ways. Hence, lack of basic intelligence, poor grasp of spatial relationships, etc. are, while not clear predictors of chess successs, ARE clear predictors of the opposite because, as with professional athletes, the "skilled" group does NOT contain many individuals who LACK certain abilities. Would you argue that, just because we do not know that the presence of certain physical predispositions will make one a great basketball player (in other words, we do not have a measure to test "for sure" whether a given player will be successful), we cannot therefore predict that the ABSENCE of those predispositions will dictate against success in the NBA?

The point is that intellectual talents (as for chess) may be a skill set that could have made one successful in a number of areas IF one also put in the hard work.

As for my "ludricrous" argument about the relative importance of work, I know from interviews I conducted with Anand that he himself did not spend much time "working" at chess when he was a young player. He relied on talent alone, which took him a long way, but eventually (according to him), he realized that he had to start working both over the board and between tournaments to move up in the hierarchy. In other words, it's not that he "would have" become a GM without hard work but rather that, in his own opinion, he DID become a GM without working hard. At the risk of vanity, I would have to say the same about my own chess development--I never had a trainer until my 30's when we occasionally had a trainer for the national team for a few weeks, and I never worked as hard myself as I asked my own students to work (and I assigned them the same tasks as I had assigned myself growing up), yet I became an FM with ratings of over 2400 in multiple ELO systems. Hmmmm . . . would I have become an IM or GM in different circumstances or if I had devoted more effort to it? THOSE questions, I would agree, are unanswerable, but it's obvious that some players become masters and grandmasters with much less effort than others.

Incidentallly, I was one of the subject in several of the studies by Simon and others cited in the Sci Am article (and later conducted additional published research of my own in the field), and I happen to know that the results were NOT as simple as suggested in that article or by you. In fact, what they found on the "flash memory" test was not that the better players scored no better than the lesser players on the random positions but that the correlation was not as strong. The better players on average still scored better, but the results did not group themselves as simply as in the "traditional" de Groot test because SOME in the top group scored a little lower (though not at the bottom) and some in lower groups scored a little higher (though not at the top), meaning that there was more overlap between the rating groups (which they tried to separate out by about 200 ELO points). Hence those results are open to more than one interpretation, and the researchers themselves did not necessarily agree on the significance of those results.
kewms 92 ( +1 | -1 )
"Katherine, just because there is not a "known measure" which serves as a simple "predictor" of who will become a GM does NOT mean that there is no such thing as chess talent."

No, but it does mean that you can't make useful decisions based on a young player's (or your own) perceived talent (or lack of it). This means that scholarships and other means of encouraging "talented" players tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. If John Q. Prodigy becomes a GM after he receives the Stamford Fellowship, was it because of his talent, or because of the fellowship?

The example of Anand reminds me of Capablanca. Who "never worked at the game," but flunked out of Columbia because he spent all his time playing chess. If chess is a consuming passion to which you devote every waking moment, you may not consider yourself to be "working," but you are clearly spending more time on the game than the average amateur.

zenbum 51 ( +1 | -1 )
Tabla Rasa stendhar writes:

> . . . .
> We are born with alomst no synaptic connections.
> . . . .

Nonsense. That was once the prevailing theory in psychology (and still is in many of the social "sciences") but it's been disproven by many studies in the last few decades of neurological research. For a readable popularization of current knowledge in this area, see Steven Pinker's book "The Blank Slate."

The rest of your argument & conclusion may be valid, but since you mentioned me by name I felt compelled to point out this one fallacy. :)

fmgaijin 153 ( +1 | -1 )
Agreed! Yes, I would agree with Katherine's suggestion that we should keep an open mind when it comes to scholarships, etc. Personally, I would rather give them to players who may not have the greatest talent but will maximize their efforts--then at least I know that I've gotten the most I could for the money! And even though MOST strong players showed early development of skills, there are the exceptions (Akiba Rubinstein, for example), so while I believe that there IS such a thing as having a greater or lesser predisposition to develop chess skills, as a believer in the human spirit I also believe that one can to SOME extent blur those predispositions by hard work, fortuitous environmental conditions, and the touch of the muse (see the movie "Gattaca" for example *grin*), so the future is NOT a foregone conclusion.

Make the best life you can, but be aware that just wanting something very much and trying very hard for it will not NECESSARILY make it happen.

P.S. Vishy spent at least SOME time becoming an educated and cultured human being. He can carry on conversations about a number of interesting topics, which is more than I, alas, can say for the great Bobby. He DID spend much time playing, but the Sci Am article actually claims that playing time has virtually no role in the development of chess skill other than serving as a benchmark--the author claims that only STUDY actually makes one better. Hmmmm . . .
fmgaijin 49 ( +1 | -1 )
P.P.S. Anand No Dropout! Vishy's wife Aruna writes: "Anand holds a [university] degree in commerce; his other hobbies are reading, swimming & listening to music."

Fischer, alas, was a high school dropout and Capa a college dropout (as noted above). Both were certainly capable of completing their studies, of course, but did not. Oh, BTW, Capa didn't spend ALL of his wasted time at Columbia playing chess--I believe that he also played shortstop on the Columbia U. baseball team!