Friday, April 04, 2008

Chess tests how hard you've worked, not your IQ

A while ago, I wrote:
Chess is just a game, not an IQ test. It is largely a battle of who has more experience and who is thinking more carefully during the game. If you are thinking carefully, then you will either win or you will be able to learn a good deal from the loss.
There have been previous studies that bear this out, and there is yet another one showing that the amount of time put in is the best predictor of chess improvement. Here is the full summary (which can be found here):

Good chess players are really smart, right? Only up to a point, according to a study that concludes practice is more important than brains.

Merim Bilalić, a psychology doctoral student at Oxford University in the U.K., studied 57 primary and secondary school chess players, giving them chess problems and IQ tests and logging their daily chess practice.

Although years of experience and IQ correlated with chess skills, the researchers found that the highest correlation was with the number of hours a day the children spent playing or studying the game. And among the top 23 players (all boys), the correlation of chess skill with IQ disappeared. Within this high-IQ group (average 133, versus 114 for the other 34 players), it wasn't the brightest but those who practiced the most who did best, the researchers report in the September issue of Intelligence. The smartest ones actually practiced less.

Chess has long pitted proponents of "expertise" theory, which emphasizes the cultivation of specific skills, against those who argue that talent is important. Psychologist Neil Charness of Florida State University in Tallahassee says that the study bears out "the drudge theory of expertise. Once you're about average IQ, the most important predictor is deliberate practice." But Robert Howard of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, points out that chess prodigies "rapidly outpace the average grandmaster" despite much less practice time.
So, the upshot? IQ does matter, but practice time is the best predictor of chess performance. It would be interesting to see if the same results hold for adult newbies to the game.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was always under the impression that playing chess seriously (training) as a kid was a large factor in determining how far one can go in chess. But I also think that once someone hits master level, how far they go depends greatly on both innate talent and how often they practice. I don't think anyone can reach GM level without both having innate talent and practicing a lot and starting as a kid. Maybe there are a couple of examples of GMs that didn't start as kids, but the great majority of them did. Of course, when someone starts as a kid they often have more time to practice at that stage as well.

4/04/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

I agree with anonymous, I have to believe starting out as a kid is one of the most important factors. Brain cell growth is still on an upward slope up to a certain age (btw, interesting article here), you have more time to practice... It's the same as with many other things, e.g. languages - a kid will always pick up a new language faster than an adult.

The argument that hours of practice matters more than IQ is supported by the fact that GM's have supposedly internalized some 100,000 patterns vs. much less patterns for lower ranked players.

4/04/2008 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Rocky said...

Great post BDK. I've always been interested in these types of studies and results.

I posted a couple of articles on my blog that somewhat relate to this subject. You can read the articles here and here on my blog.

4/04/2008 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I agree that, just like with language, there seems to be a kind of 'critical period' for chess development. The best adults played as kids. It really pisses me off. :)

Rocky--thanks for the links to the cool posts!

4/04/2008 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Wahrheit said...

It sounds to me like Rolf Wetzell's "vase theory" is backed up by this study! Rolf rocks!

Aren't you sorry now you got rid of his book?


4/04/2008 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wahr: let me check my flash card on that one. :O

4/04/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

Not only am I going to get MY Rolf book signed by the MAN... I will ask him for a picture of him while looking sternly at a flash card that reads " BDK says your book didn't make the list"

4/04/2008 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

BP: lmao.

4/05/2008 01:11:00 AM  
Blogger ChargingKing said...

I don't think there is a very concrete answer to this question. In fact there are many, many players that have lots of over the board experince and practice quite a bit but they lose to promising up and comers with very little training or experience.

Much of this would have to be considered natural talent or chess intelligence. Since experience is on the other person's side.

4/05/2008 01:56:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Chargingking--more studies should be done that look at interactions betwee age and experience.

The equation is likely something like:


Where 'time' is time you have spent studying

'Time' ignores things like motivation and especially quality of time (e.g., did you spend it all playing 1 3 games at ICC and not analyze them afterwords, or did you play slow games and work with a coach, that kind of thing).

I have it weighted so experience ('time') gets 70% importance (with diminishing effects due to age, which I added in with the age/100 term, which says by the time you reach 70 you basically are screwed).

OTOH IQ only gets a .3 relative weight. By 'IQ' I don't necessarily mean IQ as measured by psychologists, but it is a measure of "natural" chess talent.

All the youngest chess players that have been called prodigies have actually put a TON of time into it. There was a study of this, and all of them had coaches (except one), and all of them (without exception) devoted their lives outside of school almost exclusively to chess. Nobody, not even the so-called prodigies, spends a little bit of time on chess and becomes a master. But clearly, someone who started as a kid (and puts the time in as a kid) will be better even as an adult.

Obviously my 'equation' isn't meant to be all that serious.

4/05/2008 10:20:00 AM  

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