Child Genius

Yesterday evening the UK’s Channel 4 aired a program entitled Child Genius, which can be accessed online if you go here. This kind of subject is bound to court controversy, a taster being this piece in the Daily Mail.

I guess a lot of people have their own agenda with this (e.g. selling newspapers) and I certainly wouldn’t dare get into the World of parental one-upmanship in which comparisons are made about the best way to raise your kids. Most of us try to do our best and as the father of a ‘different’ but talented son I know that you can’t always stick to the same guidelines as everyone else. The difference between being deemed a genius or a misfit is often just ACHIEVEMENT, so if your child is of a non-standard variety there’s an especially strong motivation to help them to do well. If they can also develop a compassionate view of the World, perhaps despite being shunned and/or teased, then better still.

And a sense of humor is essential.

Does child chess genius develop into adult genius? Sometimes it does, more often not. When researching chess prodigies I came across this piece by chess historian Edward Winter, which covers reports of prodigies up to 1950. It’s a long list of unknowns with just a couple of exceptions.

I could add other names of players who failed to live up to their massive childhood promise. For example Antonio Fernandes, the Portuguese GM, was ahead of Garry Kasparov on the age/rating scale at 11. He just didn’t develop as strongly thereafter. And then there’s Arturo Pomar, the Spanish prodigy, who again went on to become a Grandmaster but not one of the World’s elite.

Why do so many prodigies fail to develop? Well it could be that they don’t practice enough, and the early attention might be detrimental in this respect. If you gain the impression that you already know it all then why work hard? Isn’t it better to bask in the glory?

Perhaps this is a major reason that prodigies tend to develop more smoothly in strong chess nations, they have other prodigies around to give them some competition. And of course there will be a higher general understanding of chess so they won’t get sent down the wrong path by well meaning but poor amateur coaching.

This coaching issue is a serious problem and a strong argument for seeking out expert assistance early on. But please don’t ask me, I don’t teach anyone whose parents might still be interested!

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.