Thoughts On Age In Chess

As today is my 53rd birthday I thought I’d offer some brief thoughts on age in chess.

The average age of top players seems to be declining, and part of the reason may be because expertise can be acquired more quickly in this information age. But another very significant part has to be that playing schedules have become much more intense, with a 7 hour session being the norm. At one time we used to play for just 5 and then have rest days and even separate adjournment days on which to finish the game.

Do players naturally weaken with age? Probably, though much of this effect may be down to the fact that older people tend to acquire more responsibilities so they can’t just spend their days studying chess or go off to play in a tournament. I’m not sure it’s just ‘brain deterioration’.

One area of known deficiency is that older people don’t seem to be able to acquire new skills as quickly as youngsters, and it’s now believed this is because the body produces less myelin. But perhaps there are ways to prevent this myelin depletion, via eating particular foods for example.

Finally I suspect it’s very important not to believe the hype about how getting older means you’re basically done for, why should we roll over and make way for the young? It’s tempting at this point to mention the example of Victor Korchnoi who has stayed competitive into his 80s. But instead I’ll mention another and lesser known player, George Koltanowski.

Here’s a Koltanowski gem with a brilliant finish that has appeared in many chess books. And he was still playing some seven decades later…

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.