What Makes a Great Chess Player

by Andy Pitcher

There are non players, poor players, average players, good players, great players, and brilliant players but what makes the difference? After all, chess is just a simple game with its defined and restrictive piece movement all on just 64 squares. Isn't it? To a non-chess playing onlooker, all games look the same. To many poorer players, all games are the same!

Let's start with some mathematics to put things in context. Chess is infinite: There are 400 different positions after each player makes one move apiece. There are 72,084 positions after two moves apiece. There are 9+ million positions after three moves apiece. There are 288+ billion different possible positions after four moves apiece. There are more game-trees of Chess than the number of galaxies (100+ billion), and more openings, defences, gambits, etc. than the number of quarks in our universe! In fact, the number of possible, unique chess games is far greater than the number of electrons in the universe. The number of electrons is estimated to be a mere 1043, while the number of unique chess games is 10120. In English, that's a thousand trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion games. In his book Chess Metaphors, Diego Rasskin-Gutman points out that a player looking eight moves ahead is already presented with as many possible games as there are stars in the galaxy.

We need to understand that the game of chess is not just a board game. In the words of former world champion, Anatoly Karpov, "Chess is everything; art, science, sport."

Chess is an Art because it requires all kinds of creative tactics to win. One cannot just play in a mechanical way and succeed very far. One must use different strategies and creative planning, sometimes making what appear to be blunders to the average player, but it could be excellent sacrifices for a more strategic position and a brilliant attack on the opposing king.

Chess is a Science because there is a very technical side to chess which a mathematical and strong logical mind does well at. There are numerous combinations of moves and potential outcomes of a certain move given a certain strategic position. Sometimes 4 to 8 moves in advance need to be contemplated and the various possible combinations of moves and the probabilities of the potential opponent's moves need to be taken into account.

Chess is a Sport. Let us not forget the training leading up to playing a chess match. A fit mind cannot be fit without a fit body and vice versa, a fit body cannot be fit without a fit mind. Numerous medical doctors and spiritual leaders have demonstrated and taught about the mind-body connection. Successful chess players have known this for decades. The top players all participated in sport and exercise activities.

What this tells us is that chess is an incredibly complex game with infinite possibilities and variations making it impossible to master by solely 'learning' the theory of openings, middle game and end game. During a game the chess player must be able to adapt, understand possibilities, and see and think clearly. They must be physically and mentally fit but above all they must be able to Judge the effectiveness of a move or series of moves and make decisions which reflect this.

Contrary to popular opinion there is actually no direct connection between a person's Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and their chess playing skills. Scholars of maths or expert computer programmers do not necessarily turn out to be chess champions. What must be going on in the mind of successful chess players?

A successful chess player, as well as having intelligence, is able to use their focused consciousness as a switch to turn on their neuronal supercomputer to analyse the opponent's moves, compute the pros and cons of millions of possible moves in real time and prepare a strategy to win the game. Chess champions have powerful neuronal resources, often developed at a very early age which help them with this.

Perhaps all of this explains why 605 million people worldwide know how to play chess, 285 million people play via the internet and 7.5 million are registered players, but only 673 of these are Grandmasters.

About the Author

Andy Pitcher is a chess player and manages the website http://www.freechessinformation.com where he is committed to providing varied and diverse information about the game of chess. The website is jammed with loads of facts, tips , tricks, historical gems, and trivia - all you could possibly think of that defines chess yesterday, today and tomorrow. Whether you are a chess enthusiast or just a dabbler, you will be enriched, by this resource.