Intelligence - and not just relentless practice - may play a significant role in determining your chess skills, a comprehensive new study has found.
The study led by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) in the US provides some of the most conclusive evidence to date that cognitive ability is linked to skilled performance and refutes theories that expertise is based solely on intensive training.
“Chess is probably the single most studied domain in research on expertise, yet the evidence for the relationship between chess skill and cognitive ability is mixed,” said MSU’s Alexander Burgoyne, lead author on the study.
“We analysed a half-century worth of research on intelligence and chess skill and found that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill,” said Burgoyne.
“When it comes to expertise, training and practice certainly are a piece of the puzzle,” said Zach Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology.
“But this study shows that, for chess at least, intelligence is another piece of the puzzle,” he said.
For the in-depth study, known as a meta-analysis, the researchers considered nearly 2,300 scholarly articles on chess skill, looking specifically for studies that included a measure of cognitive ability (such as IQ score) and objective chess skill (such as the Elo rating, which ranks players based on game performance).
The final sample included 19 studies with about 1,800 total participants.
The meta-analysis represents the first attempt by researchers to systematically investigate the best available scientific evidence for the link between intellect and chess skill, said Burgoyne, a graduate student in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience programme at MSU.
The study found that intelligence was linked to chess skill for the overall sample, but particularly among young chess players and those at lower levels of skill.
This may be because the upper-level players represent a winnowed distribution of cognitive ability - in other words, they all tend to be fairly bright.
“Imagine that a genius can become a skilled chess player relatively easily, whereas a person with average intelligence may take longer.
“So the idea is, as you practice more and develop more skills and knowledge about the game, you may be able to circumvent limitations in cognitive ability,” said Hambrick.
The research was published in the journal Intelligence.