Beyond Deliberate Practice

It’s curious how chess players rarely seem to consult research into skill development whilst researchers rarely seem to consult chess teachers in their efforts to uncover the improvement process. This article describes the stunning revelation that it’s not just practice that counts in the pursuit of excellence and that talent probably has a lot more to do with it.

Actually I could have told them that. And some more besides.

First of all I think that ‘talent’ in chess is a complex thing. Chess involves different parts of the brain which might be more or less developed in different people. A good memory could be regarded as a ‘talent’ as could powerful reasoning skills. One might also regard self-knowledge as a ‘talent’, though many people might call this ‘wisdom’. Knowing yourself and being objective about it can mean that you get to play to your strengths and create synergies between different aspects of your game.

What about the much vaunted ‘deliberate practice’? Actually I think that a ‘talented’ person can do ‘deliberate practice’ until the cows come home without making much progress because they can ‘deliberately practice’ the wrong thing! What helps greatly is to have a good approach around which to build the ‘deliberate practice’ and this implies having good teachers (in human or book form). I was lucky in this respect in that I learned directly from Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raoul Capablanca and others through their books. It helped to have started before the massive proliferation of books on openings which has led to a lot of confusion.

How is one to sort the wheat from the chaff? A good start is to gauge someone’s playing strength, those who claim to be magnificent teachers should to some extent have been able to apply their teaching methods to themselves. And one might simultaneously look at their ability to communicate their knowledge at an appropriate level, does what they say make sense and do those who listen to them do well?

This is quite a lot to consider, and way beyond just ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘talent’. It may take researchers quite a while to unravel it all.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.