Talent Issues

Boris Spassky once remarked that the one thing that had prevented Viktor Korchnoi from winning the World Championship was ‘chess talent’. Of course Korchnoi actually had great talent for the game, but perhaps not as much as those who have actually won the title.

At lower levels I’ve come across many intelligent and dedicated chess enthusiasts who could barely improve no matter how hard they tried. In such cases there can be a genuine lack of a specific ‘chess talent’ which no amount of work can change very much. They can often get a bit better by focusing on the aspects of chess that can be learned but without tactical ability it’s hard for them to make rapid or extensive progress.

Are there issues with having too much talent? Surprisingly there are, though they only tend to manifest themselves at higher levels. The main problem that I’ve come across is that early and rapid progress tends to leave a player’s ability to work on their game undeveloped. So a highly talented player might reach IM or even GM level but then find it difficult to conduct the kind of difficult self analysis that allows them to break through to higher levels.

I’ve met many players like this, their gift being almost a curse because of the frustration it brings. They can know they have tremendous talent, seeing through complex variations in the twinkling of an eye. Yet for one reason or another they never fulfil their early promise and have to watch less gifted players gradually overtake them.

Is there a way for a very gifted player to increase their odds of developing? Yes, I believe there is, though it may seem difficult or impractical to implement. Essentially they need an early challenge from other strong players which will get them used to the idea of working on their game but this can mean moving somewhere where such players can be found such as a major city.