Practice Doesn't Make Perfect When It Comes to Chess

Study suggests that you need to be naturally smart, too
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2016 5:00 PM CDT
Practice Doesn't Make Perfect When It Comes to Chess
Zach Hambrick, left, a Michigan State University psychology professor, discusses the met analysis with graduate student Alexander Burgoyne.   (G.L. Kohuth)

If you were hoping to become a chess master by practicing 10,000 hours, think again. Contrary to the theory that expertise at chess is based on intensive training, researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded based on a meta-analysis of 19 studies that hard work is important but not enough. In this game, if you're not smart, you're probably sunk. "When it comes to expertise, training and practice certainly are a piece of the puzzle," psychology professor Zach Hambrick says. "But this study shows that, for chess at least, intelligence is another piece of the puzzle."

The researchers found that intelligence is always linked to chess skill no matter the age of the participant, though the link appears strongest in younger players or those at lower skill levels. It's possible, the team suggests, that this is because upper-echelon players are all pretty bright anyway—at that point, "They're all smart cookies," as the Huffington Post puts it. In an interview with Business Insider earlier this summer, Hambrick conceded that practice is probably important for mastery in any field, but he cautions against "thinking that anybody can accomplish anything with no limits" based solely on hard work. (The youngest ever chess grandmaster in the US has been playing since he was 5.)

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