Saturday, 29 September 2007

Chess and Intelligence

One of the few social advantages of being a chess player is that people assume you must be intelligent. Chess players, of course, know this is simply not true. I've known plenty of players who could barely string two words together and were so dumb they probably needed an instruction manual to go to the toilet.

Me? Well, I'm a mathematics graduate, an accountant, and have an IQ of around 130. So I'm not exactly Einstein (pictured) but I can tie my own shoelaces. However, as a chess player I'm utterly mediocre. Chess requires a very specific set of knowledge and skills, so there is no guarantee that being smart will mean you are a budding Kasparov.

Of course, the opposite also applies. You don't have to be smart to play good chess. This is the big secret that the non-chess paying world doesn't know. You are all sworn to secrecy - I mean it! If word ever gets out it will be the end of one of the few perks we chess players have. So if someone asks you if chess players are smart, just answer in the affirmative and misquote Descartes, "I think, therefore I play chess".


ookwelbekendalsemc said...

What is an IQ?

Ryan Emmett said...

IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient. It's a standard measure of intelligence, although it's not without it's detractors.

See for details.

ookwelbekendalsemc said...

I meant that as a joke. You know? As in, look at me being a chessplayer, i'm smart. But at the same time not knowing what IQ means.
I never expected you to take my comment seriously.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Good to see you back. There was a fun discussion of chess and IQ a while back.

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks for the link BDK. Looks like my dreams of getting to master level may be possible after all - lol.

Edwin - I frequently miss the sarcasm in comments in everyday conversations, so I've no chance whatsoever of picking up on them in text. That's why I love to use smilies! :)

Chessbuff said...

I think there is a distinct difference between knowledge and intelligence. An intelligent person has the ABILITY to comprehend, retain, and the apply the information. Knowledge is all that. I read a book many years ago by Jacques Barzun, a Columbia University professor, wherein he argued that all three ( comprehension, retention, utility ) have to be present to form knowledge. You take away one, and it isn't knowledge. So, you can meet knowledgeable people who might not be intelligent enough to be regarded as smart. I earned my FAA private pilot's license in 2001, and I have met some fellow pilots who are knowledgeable in this particular field, but they are not exceptionally intelligent people ( they took a long time to learn )as most people assume pilots are.

Dan Scoones said...

Former U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy once said that to be successful in professional sports you have to be smart enough to play the game well and dumb enough to think it matters.

On a more serious note I would suggest that Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (as outlined in his book Frames of Mind) is particularly applicable to the mystery of chess ability. I count myself among those who believe that particular modes of intelligence represent individual manifestations of a more fundamental field of pure intelligence.

What qualities are required to play chess well? Spatial ability, certainly. Logical ability, almost certainly. Competitive drive, definitely, especially if that includes persistence in the face of adversity. Finally, one must be physically strong enough to maintain clarity of thought for long periods of time. When these qualities happen to show up in a single individual one speaks of a "gift" for the game. Of course there are other games and sports requiring different abilities and they too have their "gifted" players. Strangely enough, most of them consider hard work to be the single most important factor in their success.

As a squarely middle-aged player who has held a master rating for 25 years, I often encounter other adult players who are frustrated that they cannot rise above a certain level, be it beginner, B-class or even expert. May I say that the most common characteristic I have observed in such players is a peculiar form of closed-mindedness. Advice is heard politely but almost never acted upon. Perhaps like many others, chessplayers want things to improve but at the same time do not want to change.

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks for your interesting comment, Dan; especially the last sentence. Wise words indeed.

That sounds like an interesting book - I'll look it up.

I'd be interested to know you score on the male/female brain test on my next blog post after this one. :)

Anonymous said...

I play chess on Yahoo, and have been able to increase my ability from middling to very good by playing 50,000 games. One chaacteristic I find in chess players, in general, is aggression. I'm not an agggressive person and this hampers my ability in chess, which rewards aggression, or the killer instinct. Cavemen were probably good chess players.