Talent Identification

Very often we hear about ‘talented’ players, which usually coincides with their position on an age/rating chart. Yet years of talent watching have made me deeply skeptical about the value of this simple approach, all too often they fail to develop whilst others seem to come from nowhere and hit the top in their teens.

So it was interesting to learn last week that soccer clubs have invested massive resources into identifying genuine talent, and this is often not those who shine early on. Early physical maturation is by far the most valuable trait for early success, but other kids will catch up with them later. This leaves other considerations, which seem surprisingly subtle and complex. It’s enough to note that Real Madrid Graduate School is offering a master’s degree in talent identification and development in soccer.

What should be the criterium for assessing real chess talent? Expert opinion still seems divided on the matter but here are a few educated guesses about what to look for and what we should be wary of:

Signs Of Talent And Future Success

1) An ability to solve tactical puzzles.
2) Delayed physical and mental maturation.
3) An ability for mental arithmetic.
4) A strong memory.
5) A fascination with puzzles and board games.
6) An ability to focus on one thing for extended periods of time.
7) Musicians, lawyers and mathematicians among relatives.
8) A family that respects art forms such as chess.

Signs That Success May Be Fleeting

1) Physical and mental maturity for their age.
2) Strong competitive traits which descend into gamesmanship.
3) Greater success in tournaments than might be indicated by problem solving ability.
4) An interest in boisterous physical pursuits.
5) A poor reaction to losses.
6) A lack of patience with studying chess.
7) Play that shows evidence of result orientated coaching, for example playing for tricks.
8) A family that sees chess as a stepping stone to a few trophies and IQ points.

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.