As you get a couple thousand games of Chess under your belt, you learn just how difficult it is to improve. Looking at the level of ability that Grandmasters play with makes you wonder if Chess is a skill or a talent, or both. We address this question in this article.
Skill vs Talent in Chess
There is no doubt that chess is a strategy game that requires an incredible amount of skill when it comes to attaining an elite level of play. Those who achieve the highest levels of proficiency in the game of chess have put in countless hours of in-game practice as well and many long hours spent studying its nuances.
There is also no doubt that dedication to constant improvement is a requirement for achieving one’s maximum potential in chess. At the same time, there are some strong arguments that only certain individuals have the natural talent in chess to be capable of achieving the highest levels of mastery. This brings up a key question. Is chess a skill or talent?
It is difficult to provide a definitive answer as to whether chess is a skill or a talent. The reality is fairly simple when it comes to those who achieve the highest levels. They have honed their skills through constant study and practice. At the same time, many of the chess world’s elite players seem to have a natural-born talent. This can be compared to many of the world’s elite athletes who seem to be able to achieve more than their peers that may be working just as hard to become great.
Though virtually anyone can become better at chess by devoting themselves to improvement and building their skills, it also seems clear that the best chess players in the world have a certain talent for the game that they were simply born with. Their dedication to constant practice and improvement simply serves to refine that natural talent that they possess.
Does Chess Have a Skill Ceiling?
Is it possible to peak in Chess? Actually it’s not possible. We know this because of Chess engines. The top engines like Stockfish and Leela Chess Zero are so far ahead of human capability, and yet even they are so far away to ever “solving” Chess. Chess is not a solved game and it’s mathematically impossible to ever solve.
The subtopic of a skill ceiling is one that commonly comes up within this overall topic of whether chess is a skill or a talent. There are good arguments out there that the biggest factor behind becoming a strong chess player is the individual’s will to achieve this status. As with anything, the will to work hard and constantly improve can help you to go far in your chess game.
Though it is true that working hard and studying is key to improvement whether you are a beginning chess player or a Chess Grandmaster, it is still accurate to say that there is a skill ceiling that players will inevitably face. Simply put, there are a lot of players out there that can work hard and dramatically improve their chess game and their rating. At the same time, this does not mean that they will ever have what it takes to achieve feats such as a chess world championship or the attainment of Grandmaster status.
Given these points, it does seem pretty clear that there is a skill ceiling in chess, but this should not deter any players from working as hard as possible to reach their maximum. The truth is that most players never max out their skill ceiling. Those who do are going to tend to be quite formidable opponents to go up against in a game or tournament.
How Do You Know If You’re Talented in Chess?
Knowing if you are talented in chess can be a difficult thing to verify quickly unless you are an individual who finds that it comes as second nature. The important point to remember is that most good chess players get to that position by diligently studying and working hard.
If you are someone who has a consistent ability to concentrate, then there is a good chance that you might have some talent when it comes to playing the game of chess. Another attribute that tends to correlate closely with natural chess talent is the ability to use your memory effectively.
Other key factors that indicate a natural talent that will translate to success in chess include the ability to be self-critical, a dedication to diligent study, the presence of a determination to become a good chess player, and the ability to effectively recognize patterns. If you naturally possess these types of traits, there is a good chance that you will find that chess is a game you can play effectively and improve in.
It is important to remember that only a minuscule segment of the population is going to have the natural ability to play at an elite level without spending a lot of focused effort honing these skill areas. There might be some exceptions of the rarest of Grandmasters who simply took to the game as a duck takes to water but the majority of the world’s elite chess players combined their talent with an endless amount of work that was put into improving.
Are Grandmasters Born or Made?
No distinction in the world of chess is more prestigious than being bestowed the title of Chess Grandmaster. These masters of the game represent the elite of the elite within the chess world. One of the biggest questions that loom in the minds of chess enthusiasts regarding this topic is whether these elite players are born with the ability to achieve this level or made into a Grandmaster through countless hours of study and practice.
Common sense seems to suggest that it is a combination of both, but it is also hard to deny the fact that a person has to have a natural propensity to excelling at chess to achieve this elite status. There are certainly examples on both sides of the argument, but even in the cases where one could argue that a Grandmaster was made, it still seems clear that they had a superior chess IQ that made it possible for them to excel beyond their peers.
The Example of Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov is an example of a Chess Grandmaster who is often cited as an individual who was simply born to be elite in the game. His impeccable intellect helped him to rapidly develop into one of the world’s greatest chess players. At the same time, it is impossible to deny that he also put the work in to hone his skills. Regardless of this fact, what seems to be clear with Kasparov is the fact that being great at chess came fairly easily for him.
The Polgár Sisters
The Polgár sisters are often brought up when speaking on the side of the argument of Chess Grandmaster’s being made. Two of the three sisters, Susan, and Judit have achieved Grandmaster status while the third sister Sofia holds the rank of International Master and Woman Grandmaster.
While the sisters certainly showed a great deal of promise within the game of chess from an early age, it is also true that their father László Polgár went to great lengths to train the sisters and provide them with the best instruction in the world. His goal was to mold them into chess champions. He also wanted to demonstrate that children who were trained as specialists from a young age, and with the right instruction, could achieve greatness. At the same time, given the fact that this is a case where three siblings have all achieved greatness in chess, it forces one to return to the argument that there is a significant component of natural-born talent when it comes to achieving the highest levels of chess mastery.
Chess Grandmasters can be made, World Champions are born.
Chess legend and Grandmaster Bobby Fischer is another player who is commonly brought up within the scope of whether chess is a talent or a skill. His natural talent at the game became obvious from an early age but he combined that talent with a lifetime of constant study that was devoted to improving his game and raising it to the next level. Bobby Fischer is a clear example that Chess Grandmasters are virtually always the product of natural talent combined with becoming a lifelong student of the game.
The Verdict – Chess Grandmasters Are Born With Natual Chess Ability But Made Through Dedication to Refining Their Skills
Given these two examples, it seems to be quite clear that those who achieve Chess Grandmaster status are always going to be individuals who were born with the intellectual makeup necessary to achieve the feat. There should be no doubt that their dedication to refining their skills also played a definitive role in making them into Chess Grandmasters.
Given the nature of chess as a game of strategy, concentration and intellect, there is no doubt that there are certain individuals who possess natural talents that translate to success. For the overwhelming majority of players, natural talent at chess will not be enough for them to achieve their skill ceiling. It seems to be quite clear that this is only accomplished by the vast majority of players when they successfully combine their talent with a commitment to studying the game, playing it regularly, and constantly improving.
To go back to a previous analogy about sports, Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time because he had a natural ability that his peers could not match. He harnessed that natural ability by working harder than those peers. This same concept rings true for the world’s chess players that achieve the game’s greatest heights.