Friday, June 17, 2011

Chess – Talent vs. Experience

With most competitive activities, hard work and experience tends to outweigh raw talent. Of course natural ability is always important, but in what arena do you routinely find dignified and serious adult competitors, many of whom who have dedicated their lives to practice and study in their chosen field, routinely get decimated by children, who have yet to enter puberty. In what other field is the person with the number one ranking in the world still in their teens?

World chess champion Viswanathan Anand was publicly quoted as saying "Nowadays, if you're not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget it." He was of course referring to those who intend to make a living as a chess player. Or a decent living anyway. Only in the world of competitive tournament chess can reality be so cruel.

Susan Polgar, who is a far cry from being as strong as her younger sister Judit, won the Budapest Chess Championship for girls under 11, with a 10-0 score, at the age of four!

To those who are into chess, this is a well-known bit of trivia -- but others might find it surprising to hear that Bobby Fischer became the United States chess champion at the ripe old age of 14. We're not talking junior champion here. We're talking about the overall United States chess champion ahead of numerous talented, skilled, and experienced adult Grandmasters. And this was in 1957; a time when it was a much more difficult task to do at such a young age due to the difficulty involved in obtaining critical games and analysis. This was long before chess computers or the public internet, whereby multi-million game databases could be downloaded upon a whim.

At this point many of you are probably thinking, well that's because we're talking about Bobby Fischer, a one in a billion. While this might be true, it doesn't explain away the hordes of young players who have taken the chess world by storm since then. Even at the amateur level, in most chess clubs you will find some teenager who is able to beat the majority of adult players, if not all of the adult players, and often without having spent much time studying and with limited playing experience.

The talent vs. experience debate seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of talent.


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