Reports | November 01, 2008 16:34

What do we think of chess skill?

What are the effects of amount of practice, coaching and age of starting chess on chess skill? And how do we chess players view such notions as skill and talent? Dr Robert Howard of the University of New South Wales in Australia carried out a survey and its preliminary results answer a few of these questions.

On June 15 we invited you to take part in a survey on chess skill by Dr Robert Howard of the University of New South Wales in Australia. Howard's study of chess skill looks at effects of amount of practice, coaching and age of starting chess on chess skill and at chess players' views about chess skill. The study involves a short online survey and is for anyone who has, or who ever has had, a FIDE rating. (Participating is still possible; if you're interested and you have an FIDE rating, please click here.)

We have now received the preliminary results:

Preliminary Results of FIDE Chess Survey

Thanks to everyone who took part in this survey. Here are the preliminary results. The sample consist of 581 players to date, with five grandmasters, 25 international masters, 67 FIDE masters, two woman's grandmasters, two woman's international masters, and two woman's FIDE masters. The results are only preliminary, however.

Some highlights:

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.

Read the full article here.

For any queries, please contact Dr Robert Howard, University of New South Wales.

Not very surprising results, although I'd like to mention a few that struck me.
1) "Number of hours of study of chess material is a factor in expertise level but only a relatively minor one." This sort of confirms my impression that playing many (tournament) games is the best way to improve your chess. But not everybody agrees: "Most believe that playing rated games and studying are equally important in developing skill."
2) "Some believe that almost everyone can get to FIDE master with enough practice and study." I was one of those, and I was speaking of a purely theoretical situation where you pick a random person in the street and put him in some kind of villa where he receives 8 hours of excellent training every day for a few years, and plays against many strong players. As long as this person likes chess, I think he(/she!) should be able to reach about 2200, 2300 FIDE.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

Chess.com

Comments

Philipp's picture

Hi ,

I?Ǭ¥m pretty sure that you can take every young player(16-30 years) with rating 1800 FIDE and train him to become weak IM strong FM in 2-3 years if he practised 8 hours a day with say dvoretzky .
I guess to learn a good opening repertoire on IM-Level takes it 7-12 months. Endings, tactics 6 month each this should to the trick

Philipp's picture

...
1) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNumber of hours of study of chess material is a factor in expertise level but only a relatively minor one.?¢‚Ǩ?

I dont know whether this point is significant , think of aronian being a top-gm and telling everybody whether being asked or not that he doesnt no theory an doesnt study a lot.
This is just childish megalomanic behaviour to create some "aura" of being a genius.
My point : i guess every chessplayer tends to underestimate his on time over a book, some underconsious most partly consious, both ways they tell to few hours of studying.

We all know a 2200 Fide player screaming around : I do not study endgaems, or openings, the same dude, blitzes down a 20 move long variation of the najdorf, or mates someone with bishop and knight in 30 sec

Come on be honest

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