Are Chess Players Smart?

Chess Questions / By Andrew Hercules
are chess players smart

Growing up, I used to think that chess was for extraordinary people who had a much greater brain development than I did. In fact, all this was proven wrong when I myself tried out for this intriguing game. So, are chess players smart or what?

After three years of studying the game, I realized that chess players were no different than ordinary people. If I could spend three years learning a game and becoming good at it, then anyone could do the same. It then came to me that being smart has nothing to do with natural gifts or talent.

Being smart is something that is developed through continuous practice and work. It’s through hard work and dedication that allows chess players have an excellent system of thinking which is developed over the years.

Yes, most chess players who play the game professionally are quite smart. They have good memory, pattern recognition, excellent calculation abilities, and strategic thinking skills. 

This system of thinking is what makes chess players smarter than the average person. They are able to recognize patterns quickly, retain large information and make correct decisions at a given point in time, not only over the board but in real-life situations. Although this system of thinking was developed from hours of studying and practice, I must point out that it took a considerable amount of discipline and consistency to reach a level of mastery.

With that said, here are 8 solid reasons why pro chess players are smarter than the average person:

  • Chess players have a good memory recall
  • They are quite creative
  • Chess players are good at recognizing patterns
  • Chess players are great at calculating 
  • Chess players are skilled at evaluating
  • Chess players are strategic thinkers
  • Chess players have a high IQ 
  • Chess players are intelligent

Now, let’s go over each point in detail.

8 Reasons Chess players Are Smart

Are chess players smart?

1. Chess players have good memory recall

The game of chess can be divided into three stages: opening, middlegame, and endgame. A serious chess player at the elite level must study and know up to at least 10 moves ahead in the opening stage.

There are several different opening variations that one could possibly play at the beginning of the game. It is therefore necessary that chess players come prepared in their opening repertoire against whatever their opponent has in store. One of the most popular chess openings played in the Sicilian defense and is reached after 1.e4 c5.

This chess opening encompasses a family of openings and is usually played with Black pieces. The white player who chooses to open with 1.e4 must have prior knowledge and preparation of the various options for Black in the Sicilian defense. There are literally over 10 variations of the Sicilian and each of these must be studied thoroughly if one is to get any advantage in the opening.

Apart from memorizing the openings, strong chess players who are serious about the game of chess must be able to retain middle-game positions and should be able to explain the plans and strategies for both sides.

A middle game in chess is basically the second phase of the chess game which entails the real battle. It is filled with excitement and drama, and if you’re not prepared, you may be wiped out very quickly. Similar to the openings, there are different variations that can be played. Calculating and evaluating are two important skills that should be mastered if one is to gain any advantage in the middlegame stage.

Endgames require a lot of memorizing as well, if not the most. As a grandmaster, you must know the different rook endgames and the strategies behind each. And, like middlegames, chess players must be able to retain different plans in the endgame positions.

The world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen is a perfect example when it comes to memorizing and retaining information in chess. This supernatural talent can recollect several positions of old grandmaster games played as far back as the 20th and even the 19th century. Many other grandmasters possess this talent as well. All in all, the ability to retain and memorize information in chess certainly justifies why chess players are smart people.

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2. Chess players are creative

Creativity in chess generally means that a player is resourceful and can do well with whatever little he or she has in a position. It can also mean that the player is able to create a unique scenario or attack against the opponent that leads to a beautiful mating combination or to win material.

Sometimes there isn’t a clear plan for one side. That player would have to construct a feasible plan or idea that could give him some counterplay during the game(i.e he has to get creative). The player must first imagine a scenario that he wants to happen for him in the game. He must then construct a winning plan with concrete lines/variations if he wishes to make the idea a reality.

The creation of such an idea and the execution of the plan is what make chess players so creative and smart. Another example where you could find creativity in a chess player is when he or she is on the losing end. Most times when a player is down material or simply has a losing position, desperation often sets in. This level of desperation forces the losing player to become creative (resourceful) in his thoughts and actions.

Because he has nothing to lose, he would make obscure moves that tend to complicate the position for the opposing side. These types of obscure moves really increase the tension on the board and cause the winning player to scratch their head and turn in his chair. The player on the winning end may even get nervous and make a mistake that could completely turn the tables.

3. Chess players are good at recognizing patterns

Bishop Mate in 1

Like any math genius or someone with a high IQ, chess players also have good pattern recognition. They can spot mating patterns and sequences at any time during their game. In chess, a mating pattern is one that leads to a checkmate. The player who recognizes this pattern will try everything in their power to create such a scenario and mate the enemy King.

Patterns in chess are not only related to mates. There may be patterns in the opening, patterns in the middle game, and patterns in the endgame that every player wishes to possess.

In the opening, a player may wish to achieve an ideal pattern that could set them up to achieve an early advantage in the game. Patterns in the opening could be:

  • Centralizing your pieces to control the center of the board
  • Getting your King to safety
  • Coordinating your Rooks

Patterns in the middle game could include foreseeing your Knight onto a stable outpost. Once a player recognizes this pattern, he would do everything in his power to maneuver his Knight onto that dream outpost.

Apart from Knights and outposts, you may even recognize to get your rooks onto the seventh rank which could put you in a winning position; or even get your bishops onto a long diagonal through a fianchetto.

The same scenario goes for an endgame. If you have a rook pawn endgame, then one of the patterns you should look for is how to get your pawn to the queening square. You could do so by supporting it with a rook behind the passed pawn, or bringing your king closer to support it.

All in all, finding patterns in a chess game is what really directs the flow of the game. Let’s move on to our fourth reason that makes chess players so smart.

4. Chess players are great at calculating

A great skill to have as a chess player is the ability to calculate lines in complicated positions. Calculation in chess is slightly different when compared to mathematics. Calculating in chess is a decision-making process that involves a thorough investigation of the different alternatives a player could opt for.

A player begins to calculate when there is a certain degree of tension on the board (contact of the chess pieces). Calculating can be very difficult. However, with a good system of calculating, you are bound to avoid making mistakes in your games.

In mathematics, one could simply use a calculator to do the calculation for them. In chess, however, that is completely different. There are no numbers to work with; only the number of possible combinations to investigate. And, in the end, you must choose the one that is most promising for your position.

Calculation can begin as early as the opening stage of the game where pawns come in contact with each other. Even in this early stage of the game, it’s critical that you carefully investigate the different alternatives and choose the one that best favors your position. A well-played opening can put you far ahead of your opponent, thereby helping you to create more winning opportunities. Hence, it’s essential that you take the time to find the best line of play for your opening choice.

The degree to which a player calculates varies in the stages of the game. We talked about how calculation can present itself as early as in the opening. However, the intensity of calculation begins to rise after transitioning into the middle game.

The middle game is filled with surprises, drama, and attacks. It’s where calculation reaches its optimum level. In the elite class of chess, grandmasters sometimes spend up to an hour trying to calculate the best move in the middle game position. Not only do they have to calculate properly, but they have to construct a feasible plan that will direct the rest of the course of the game.

As tension rises, players have to be smart in their decisions. After calculating all the possible combinations, players must deduce the right course of action by evaluating the position. This takes us to our next point…

5. Chess players are skilled at evaluating

Woman Evaluating Chess Position

Evaluating in chess is a valuable skill to possess. A lot of players may know how to calculate and win material. But what separates the great from the ordinary is the ability to evaluate a position. Evaluation in chess simply means the ability for one to observe a given position and tell who is better (Black or White).

What makes evaluating rather challenging, is that players have to take into account more than one factor. These factors can be positional factors or material factors.

Usually, at the beginner level, players will evaluate based on their material advantage. However, a true master knows the importance of taking into account both positional and material factors.

Positional factors may include:

  • The activity of the pieces
  • Weaknesses in both camps (weak pawns, weak squares, back-rank threats)
  • Counterplay
  • King safety

And more….

On the other hand, a material advantage is often evaluated with ease.

Queen – 9 points

Rook – 5 points

Bishop – 3 points

Knight – 3 points

Pawn – 1 point

Knowing this basic point value system, one could easily evaluate who is better based on material factors.

Overall, we can conclude that chess players are smart at calculating and evaluating positions. But apart from owning these skills, there are a few more qualities that really cement why chess players are smart people.

6. Chess players are strategic thinkers

A great chess player will at no time make an arbitrary move on the board. Every move is made for a reason and a lot of planning is involved. There are many strategies involved in chess. In the opening stage, the main strategy is to get your pieces out as quickly as possible.

Chess players are encouraged to follow this strategy since time is against them. It’s just like going to war. You want to get your troops out as far as possible so that when the right time comes, your army can penetrate into enemy territory. An undeveloped army will suffer from breaking this rule.

The second strategy in the opening is to get your King to safety. The king is the most important piece on the chessboard and at all costs should be protected. The best strategy to protect your King is to castle on either flank of the board. If you are interested in learning more about castling in chess, then read chess rules for castling.

The third and last principle in the chess opening is to play for the center. Your pawns should occupy the central squares and your pieces should help to control them.

In the middle game, however, the strategies are different based on the type of position. There are many strategies that you could use during your games. Here is a list of the top strategies you can use in your games.

  • Deploy Knights on outposts
  • Attack on the flanks when the center is closed
  • Open files for your Rooks
  • Play in the center (play in the center if you ever encounter a flank attack)
  • Open files to attack weak pawns
  • Exchange your Bishops in a closed position
  • Exchange your Knights in an open position
  • Get your rooks onto the seventh rank
  • Create pawn islands for your opponent

These are just a few strategies that I could think of in my head. However, there is a lot more that can be applied to your games.

Although it seems like there are a lot of strategies to take notice of; an elite chess player will notice that each strategy points to one main outcome, and that is activity.

Yes, all these strategies which I listed are covered under the principle of activity. For example, deploying your knights onto an outpost is just making it more active. Opening files for your rooks and getting them on to the seventh rank is also obeying the principle of activity. Just this one principle alone can really help to direct the remaining course of action in your games. 

7. Chess Players have a High IQ

Chess players indeed have a high IQ score above the ordinary. When you take an IQ test, it’s usually filled with pattern recognition questions as well as sequences and visuals.

Well, this is all present in a chess game. A player has to imagine an outcome and construct a plan that will get him there. He has to look for mating patterns and threats in the position. This continual approach of visual problem solving does indeed help to develop the player’s imagination and creativity, which justifies why so many chess players have a high IQ level score.

I wanted to prove this myself, so I went to a grand Prix chess tournament held in my country which had some of the top-rated players (FM, NM, and IM). At the end of the tournament, I kindly asked 10 participants to complete a short quiz containing just 10 questions that will test their logic and understanding (pass mark 7/10). All of them agreed, and at the end of the test, they hand me back the papers. The results were jaw-dropping:

ParticipantScore out of 10 marks
Participant #18
Participant #27
Participant #37
Participant #47
Participant #54
Participant #69
Participant #76
Participant #87
Participant #910
Participant #104

After testing the group of chess players, I later head out that day to test a group of college students who weren’t particularly involved in a math major. I managed to get 10 students to take the same quiz as the chess players from the Grand Prix tournament. And these were the results:

StudentScore out of 10 marks
Student #16
Student #210
Student #33
Student #45
Student #55
Student #67
Student #74
Student #83
Student #98
Student #106

Even though the college students didn’t do a bad job at all, it was clear that the chess players were the best at pattern recognition and problem-solving. 7 out of 10 chess players scored above 7 points which was the pass mark, while only 3 college students passed the test. This again justifies that chess players are indeed smart people.

8. Chess Players are Intelligent

Chess Queen

Some may relate intelligence to the fluency of speech, but in the majority of cases, we shall look at intelligence as a way of logical thinking. Many may wonder if there is any correlation between playing chess and having intelligence. In fact, there is.

Chess players have developed a system of thinking over the board that could also be applied to their day-to-day lives. Their ability to make decisions, construct feasible plans, and have inward conversations with themselves all help to develop their intellect.

Chess has taught them how to be logical in their thinking and actions. Therefore, whatever words come out of a chess player’s mouth in the attempt to solve a problem will often be rational and solution-focused.

There are many intelligent chess players across the globe. Some are well-known mathematicians, authors, and lecturers. A lot of historical figures were quite avid and intelligent chess players from King Ferdinand to Queen Isabella of Spain, not to mention Euler (well-known mathematician), and Benjamin Franklin.

For such famous high-class figures, chess was not just for amusement and a hobby. Rather, it was a game that allowed them to hone valuable life qualities such as perseverance, vision, and circumspection.

Andrew Hercules

Hercules Chess, launched in 2020, is a website that teaches you about chess. We started as a chess blog and became a chess training platform in early 2022.

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