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Are Chess Masters Born or Made?

Chess is an interesting game because the skill level that is involved is completely measurable. In chess, a rating system is used that determines the chances that a certain player will win the game. For example, if two players have equal ratings, each player has a 50% chance of winning the game.  If one player is rated 200 ELO points above the other, he has around a 75% chance of winning the game.

When we encounter a highly rated player it’s natural to wonder how he or she became so good at chess. Two master level players can play a blitz game in a few minutes that resembles a work of art. It’s admirable to watch each of them making beautiful moves in mere seconds. To us mortals we tend to wonder to ourselves: ‘How can I do that?!’ Despite these thoughts, studies have shown that much of what makes up skill is actually a result of continuous practice. Even if someone is born with great talent they still require hours of practice and dedication. It is obvious then that great talent without work ethic is worth little.

A famous psychologist and chess master, Adriaan de Groot showed that master level players were able to recognize patterns of pieces on the chessboard much faster than non-masters. When masters were asked to memorize a pattern of pieces that resembled a real game they did considerably better than non-masters. However, when they were asked to memorize a random assortment of pieces they did no better than the amateurs. He found that masters had thousands of patterns in their head from previous experience. This subconscious database gave them a big edge over lesser skilled players. So how do you build up our chess memory? Study tactical and strategic patterns. As you study these patterns over and over, they will become part of your memory. Then during the course of one of your own games suddenly you will get an idea or inspiration. That’s your previous experience at work. As you learn more patterns, your skill level increases, and then maybe you too will play a game that’s a work of art!

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