08 November 2008

Howard's Chess Survey Results

I've already seen this in a number of places (e.g. Results 1 - 10 of about 17 for "Players learned the moves at a median age"), but it deserves maximum exposure. Howard made waves back in 2005 with another study announcing Men better at chess:

The battle of the sexes has spilled over into chess. In a novel approach to testing gender differences in achievement, an Australian researcher has compared the past three decades of male and female international chess results to see if gender differences have diminished with changes in society. But the results of the study, by Dr Robert Howard from the University of New South Wales, may ruffle some female feathers. Despite changes in what society expects of women, access to opportunities to succeed intellectually, and other factors, women don't do as well in chess as men.

When I first saw the announcement for the latest study, I wondered if it would be used to pursue the conclusions of the previous study. It appears my concerns were groundless.


Subject: Chess survey results
Date: Thursday, November 6, 2008, 6:58 AM
From: Robert Howard

Dear Chessplayer,

Thank you for your participation in my FIDE study. A summary of the preliminary results is below and a link to a detailed report on the study is given further down.

Robert Howard


Thanks to everyone who took part in this survey. Here are the preliminary results. The sample consist of 581 players to date, with five grandmasters, 25 international masters, 67 FIDE masters, two woman's grandmasters, two woman's international masters, and two woman's FIDE masters. The results are only preliminary, however.

Some highlights:

Players learned the moves at a median age of eight years old (masters about two years younger). The median age of starting serious play and taking part in the first rated tournament is 14, 12 for masters. Most players have had coaching. Players average around five or six hours of chess study a week, but the range is huge (0 to 60 hours). Number of hours of study of chess material is a factor in expertise level but only a relatively minor one.

Most players firmly believe in natural talent for chess and most believe that top ten players have some special traits, that few really can reach that level. However, many believe that a lot of study and practice can take a player a long way. Some believe that almost everyone can get to FIDE master with enough practice and study.

Views on what natural talent for chess consists of vary, but some common ideas are good spatial ability, high IQ, good memory, creativity, high motivation, a strong will to win, control over emotions, and psychological hardiness.

Eventual grandmasters take a median 390 FIDE-rated games from rating list entry to gain the title. Most players do not play anywhere near enough rated games in their careers to have a realistic chance of becoming a grandmaster. About two thirds of those who do play over 900 games actually succeed in becoming a grandmaster. However, those who play over 740 games without becoming a grandmaster on average seem to strike an impassable barrier at around 2400 level.

Analysis of rating data of players who played over 900 FIDE-rated games show that eventual top ten players indeed are identifiable from list entry. They get on the rating list much younger on average, get the grandmaster title much younger and much faster, and rise in the ratings much faster than other grandmasters.

Most believe that playing rated games and studying are equally important in developing skill.

The full article is below.


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