Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Discussion of anything and everything relating to chess playing software and machines.

Moderators: bob, hgm, Harvey Williamson

Forum rules
This textbox is used to restore diagrams posted with the [d] tag before the upgrade.
Uri
Posts: 429
Joined: Thu Dec 27, 2007 8:34 pm

Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by Uri » Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:41 pm

Like Gary Kasparov, Boris Gelfand, Anand, Aronian, Alik Gershon, Josh Waitskin and many others.

These people are almost superhuman when it comes to their chess ability and are probably also good at many other strategy games because these people have a very high IQ.

So is it genetics?
Last edited by Uri on Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Mike S.
Posts: 1480
Joined: Thu Mar 09, 2006 4:33 am

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by Mike S. » Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:54 pm

My guess is that it is 1% genetics and 99% training, but it's important to start during early childhood.

(Pillsbury is a mysterious exception if it's true that he learned chess at 19.)
Regards, Mike

rlsuth
Posts: 320
Joined: Wed Mar 08, 2006 8:37 pm

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by rlsuth » Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:09 pm

Uri wrote:Like Gary Kasparov, Boris Gelfand, Anand, Aronian, Alik Gershon, Josh Waitskin and many others.

These people are almost superhuman when it comes to their chess ability and are probably also good at many other strategy games because these people have a very high IQ.

So is it genetics?

I think it's 99% genetics and 1% training.

Just my opinion.


I could train day in and day out for the rest of my life and never be much of a chess player.

styx
Posts: 338
Joined: Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:59 pm
Location: Germany

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by styx » Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:24 pm

I heard that people who are good at math or physics, also tend to reach a good chess performance earlier than other people with the same training. I don't know if its true. If so, then maybe it's more than 1% genetics.

It's a given fact, that some people solve problems with ease, while other struggle.

I guess you could say, that in this small field of logic and strategy, Chess-Grandmasters are very very smart people. On the other hand, some of them may have a low social IQ.

I personally don't know any Chess Masters but I once heard a speech of Anand on youtube and I was amazed. Without a doubt he is an exceptionally smart guy.

User avatar
Kempelen
Posts: 620
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 9:44 am
Location: Madrid - Spain
Contact:

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by Kempelen » Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:58 pm

I think it depends a lot on when you start learning and if chess catch you. In that case emotions plays a very important role in learning. If those little boys suffer a kningh fork that force them to loose a winning game, the feeling is so strong that they never will allow it again. For my that is talent, and is proportional to the level the boy love the game, and that continues along their live of professionals, the more age the less impacting is that emotion. Training is only the process of repeating that emotion.
I think most people had had that process in their life, but with different grades, and maybe most of us only understand or study chess as a reason-type process and not emotional.
Fermin Serrano
Author of 'Rodin' engine
http://sites.google.com/site/clonfsp/

Karlo Bala
Posts: 306
Joined: Wed Mar 22, 2006 9:17 am
Location: Novi Sad, Serbia

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by Karlo Bala » Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:31 pm

styx wrote:I heard that people who are good at math or physics, also tend to reach a good chess performance earlier than other people with the same training. I don't know if its true. If so, then maybe it's more than 1% genetics.
For example, Alexander Alekhine who was a chess genius, was not good in math, but he was an excellent writer.
styx wrote: I guess you could say, that in this small field of logic and strategy, Chess-Grandmasters are very very smart people. On the other hand, some of them may have a low social IQ.

I personally don't know any Chess Masters but I once heard a speech of Anand on youtube and I was amazed. Without a doubt he is an exceptionally smart guy.
I know personally more than 20 Grandmasters. Few of them have exceptional IQ, most of them are above average, but also know few of them that have no education or any other skill except playing chess. However, I'm talking about Grandmasters with 2450-2650 FIDE elo. (not about Anand :D)
Best Regards,
Karlo Balla Jr.

Dschmitt
Posts: 33
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:18 am

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by Dschmitt » Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:49 pm

Research by K. Anders Ericsson seems to point to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. There is some info in the pdf at http://www.uvm.edu/~pdodds/files/papers ... n2007a.pdf. I haven't read the more technical publications yet, but it makes sense. If you have more "natural talent" early you get more attention and might have more enthusiasm leading to more hours of practice etc.

Lasker wrote that with 200 hours of focussed training he could turn someone into a chess master, but I think without significant individual effort not included in those bounds he was overly optimistic. Even Fischer, who had a fantastic memory for chess, required 9 years to make GM.

gerold
Posts: 10121
Joined: Wed Mar 08, 2006 11:57 pm
Location: van buren,missouri

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by gerold » Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:53 pm

Uri wrote:Like Gary Kasparov, Boris Gelfand, Anand, Aronian, Alik Gershon, Josh Waitskin and many others.

These people are almost superhuman when it comes to their chess ability and are probably also good at many other strategy games because these people have a very high IQ.

So is it genetics?
Maybe 50 genetics/50 IQ.
I think its mostly training and being interested in the game.
Einstein 160 plus IQ with elo of around 1800. Most good chess players could have beat Einstein in chess.

User avatar
geots
Posts: 4790
Joined: Fri Mar 10, 2006 11:42 pm

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by geots » Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:33 am

Uri wrote:Like Gary Kasparov, Boris Gelfand, Anand, Aronian, Alik Gershon, Josh Waitskin and many others.

These people are almost superhuman when it comes to their chess ability and are probably also good at many other strategy games because these people have a very high IQ.

So is it genetics?


Genetics? My mother graduated from high school at age 13, graduated from college at LSU (Louisiana State University) with a masters at early 18- started immediately teaching in high school, some students older than her. Have you ever seen my piss-poor chess game?

gts

rreagan
Posts: 102
Joined: Sun Sep 09, 2007 4:32 am

Re: Why are some people so good at chess? Is it genetics?

Post by rreagan » Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:17 am

Uri wrote:Like Gary Kasparov, Boris Gelfand, Anand, Aronian, Alik Gershon, Josh Waitskin and many others.

These people are almost superhuman when it comes to their chess ability and are probably also good at many other strategy games because these people have a very high IQ.

So is it genetics?
An amateur looks at a grandmaster and thinks the GM must have great "natural talent". That is not a natural conclusion if you think about it. Who is born knowing how to play chess? Follow me for a moment.

The Russians say if you memorize 300 key games, and know them so deeply that you don't have to think about it, the same way you walk or talk, then you will be at or near GM level.

If a GM plays an amateur, why does the GM win? It's because he knows 300 of the most important situations in chess, and he knows them completely and can execute them instantly without having to spend 1 second thinking. The amateur probably doesn't even know 1 position as well as the GM knows his key games and positions. The GM is constantly in familiar territory, while the amateur is lost, trying to figure out complex situations with no experience to fall back on. If you understand this, it's obvious why the GM wins.

Think about it another way. Pretend I drop you off on a corner in New York City and tell you to get a watermelon and take it to the nearest hospital as fast as possible. You are competing with someone. Your opponent has been a New York City taxi driver for 25 years. He knows the area completely, without having to think about it. Who do you think will win? It should be obvious. The person who is in familiar territory more often will win. Maybe 1 time out of 1000 you see a fruit stand across the street, and a hospital on the next corner, so you win by pure luck.

So what's the difference between a GM and the top players in the world? The GM knows 300 key games and positions. The top GM knows more. Maybe 500 or 1000. Magnus Carlsen has said he knows 10,000.

If you think about it this way, it should be obvious. Does anyone know how to play a Phildor position because of "natural talent"? No, that's nonsense. It takes work to study and learn how to play that position. It takes many hours to know even 1 position completely and deeply. It's also well established that you can only learn a limited number of things in a day, and once you get to that limit, you have to sleep before you can learn more. This means it will take a long time, years, to become world class at anything. This is the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that others have mentioned. You can read "Talent is Overrated". Deliberate practice was a concept made popular in recent years in the book "Outliers".

So the answer to your question is, I believe, it's almost completely a result of hard work.

Genetics may play a role, but not like many people would expect. Genetics may contribute to a person having a different brain chemistry that somehow benefits their study of chess. For instance, there is a form of attention deficit disorder called "over-focus", where a person can focus on something intensely for long periods of time, but that person has a hard time changing their focus to something else. Imagine how beneficial this would be if you were able to focus on studying chess for 12 hours straight. They say this condition results from imbalances of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain.

So if genetics play a role, it's only because it allows one person to put in more hard work than another person. I'm sure there are other conditions that would allow a person to have high endurance, or patience, and so on. I'm sure there are people that happen to be good at pattern recognition and problem solving, so they can accomplish more hard work in less time. But in the end I think it comes down to who knows more key games and positions.

Magic Johnson played with the best of the best, certainly he would have some idea of whether the best players are the "naturally talented" or the "hard workers".
"Talent is never enough. With few exceptions the best players are the hardest workers" -Magic Johnson
I've also heard successful people say that they think it's more difficult for "smart" people to be successful, because they spend their time trying to figure out a better way, while the successful people spent their time putting in the hard work.

They did a study where they praised one group of children for "being smart" and another group for "working hard", just one sentence of praise. Then they tracked the children's performance. Short version, the group praised for "working hard" went on to be significantly more successful than the group praised for "being smart".

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2 ... yre-smart/

Post Reply