Archive for January, 2009

Want To Be A Chess Master?

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Guillermo Campitelli and Fernand Gobet, two psychologists, have published the results of their studies at on how much practice it takes to become an excellent chess player.

Their results are probably surprising to non-chess players, and maybe even to many players.

The measure they use to estimate "practice" is the amount of time spent playing or studying chess. Here is a summary of their results:

It’s obvious that playing well requires LOTS of time, and that the better the player, the more time required to achieve that level of play. Campitelli and Gobet state the following:

“It should be pointed out that there was a high level of variability in the amount of practice. For example, let us consider the number of hours of dedication that players needed to reach 2200 Elo points. The average was around 11,000 hours, but one player needed only around 3,000 hours while another player spent more than 23,000 hours to achieve the same level. Moreover, a few players spent more than 25,000 hours studying and practicing chess and did not achieve the level of 2200 Elo points.”

If the average master has spent 11,000 hours to achieve that ranking, how much time is that?

Let’s consider it in terms of 40-hour weeks. 11,000/40 = 275 weeks. There are 52 weeks in a year, so that is 5.28 years, or 5 years and 15 weeks.

So, on the average, it will take you over five years of working full-time on chess to become a master. That is a huge demand in effort, way beyond the effort required to get a Ph.D, for example.

The Ph.D level in chess is grandmaster, and that requires on average at least 25,000/40 = 625/52 = 12.01 or 12+ years.

Very few masters make a living at chess, yet it requires more time to become a chess master than it does to develop a high-level professional career.

The main factor that makes this huge effort possible is that most players who become masters start playing at a young age. Besides the advantages of youth, such as fast learning and good memory, being young means that you can dedicate lots of time to chess without sacrificing your livelihood, although schooling may suffer. Here are Campitelli and Gobet’s results on age of starting:

Chess - Age of Starting

If you are determined to become better at chess, what are the best training activities? This study suggests the following:

Chess - Training Activities

Note that the number one training activity is playing blitz. Many players avoid blitz, arguing that it does not help their chess.

I disagree. I think playing blitz smartly is the best method to improve quickly. By playing smartly, I mean combining it with study. Play the openings that you are trying learn, remember your games, and then consider them during study time. In fact, you can make notes about your blitz games while you’re playing so you can remember to study them later. If you are playing on the internet, save your games and make them a database.

You can play 5 to 10 or even more blitz games in an hour. That is a lot of patterns and a lot of problem solving compressed into a small amount of time. Use that experience intelligently by integrating it into your chess study.

This study suggests that you need to spend 11,000 hours on chess to become a master. I suggest you can do it with 11,000 blitz games, if you are playing smartly.