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Learning Chess at 40 (nautil.us)
242 points by sergeant3 on May 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

Probably the most interesting example of someone pursuing chess later in life is that of Marcel Duchamp, the famous Cubist artist. He grew up playing chess for fun, but at age 36 he basically stopped making art and started pursuing chess full-time.

"I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art—and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."

"The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. ... I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists."


During this period his fascination with chess so distressed his first wife that she glued his pieces to the board.

I just don't see the beauty in chess. It's got a lot of unjustifiable, inherent complexity. Different pieces with different rules under different conditions. You wouldn't expect multiple designers to converge, or discover, that game. It even has cultural elements embedded.

Whereas Go is nearly as simple as possible, yet much deeper. It's easy to imagine different designers coming to the same set of rules.

While it's obviously true that rules of chess are more complex, I can't see what it has to do with beauty or the lack thereof.

It's very unlikely that different writers would independently come up with "War and Peace", does it make it less of a masterpiece?

Sure, the rules aren't beautiful, the theory that's entirely emergent is.

As someone who played a lot of competitive chess at a very high level in my youth (and poured hours and hours of my life into it), I can attest that it is a game that seems to attract eccentric minds. Whether they are eccentric before chess or whether chess introduces eccentricity, I don't know, but I met so many interesting people through chess, the likes of which I would never meet in my other usual social circles.

I can also agree that, at a high level, it can be an all-consuming game. It can be difficult to turn off. There are a lot of activities and pursuits that you can physically put away, but for a great chess player, the positions are always in your thoughts.

> Marcel Duchamp, the famous Cubist artist

I always think it is interesting to observe which are movement is used to describe artists who did work in more than one (in this case Cubism and Dada).

Not at all a nit-pick or a correction; Duchamp's writing on Dada has influenced some of my own research/work and so I just find it interesting which labels we choose (of course one label is easier than some label fitting a monarch: Marcel Duchamp, Painter of Cubism, Assembler of Dada, Player of Chess).

It's fascinating that people say Duchamp stopped being a practicing artist when he turned his obsessions to chess. I would say he just changed his medium. He wasn't one for retinal works anyway.

This mag (mentioning Duchamp) called it "chess sickness":


“Much of an exile’s life is taken up with compensating for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule,” wrote Edward Said. “It is not surprising that so many exiles seem to be novelists [and] chess players.”

["Chess-Playing Excitement” in 1859 - comments] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9786486

> I would say he just changed his medium.

I would agree with this. Another change like the change from Cubism to Dada to 'make your paint' in reaction to production of factory made paint.

Cubism -> Dada -> Chess

I think the author's real problem is less his age but his tendency to stick to rules which are just meant as "rules of thumb". He says that this is how he is thinking but still primarily blames his age.

Following rules and schematics in chess is great/necessary for end games (which he says he wins) because there you really just work through the algorithms and it also allows for quickly played openings (assuming you memorized the few standards that are played 99% of the games).

But in mid-game you actually need creativity and concepts like forks become much more important and I'd trade a "knight on the rim" for a choice between two forks the next move any time. His daughter seems to be playing with creativity while he is so stuck in schematic play that his daughter can even predict his moves (“I knew you were going to do that.”).

What I think is really curious is his remark: "She played [...] as if I were just some lower-level chess engine making haplessly random moves. Indeed, when I made my moves, her eyes would often drift elsewhere—as if what I was doing was almost inconsequential to the larger game."

She is right to do so, nobody cares about what one did 3 moves ago. The board is in a state that does not care about its history, it only cares about future possibilities :) When I play chess and look at the board when it is my opponent's turn, I don't care for my opponent but just take the time for a deeper analysis.

I'm a national master chess player and I think the opposite. In middle games heuristics are more important because even the final positions in your calculations will often still be very dynamic so you need some tools to be able to evaluate these positions you've never seen before. In endgames the same thing may happen, but the confidence around my evaluation will generally be much higher.

Yes, heuristics are a very good guideline and I am grateful to have learned those at a very early age (that's how you were introduced to chess in the GDR).

I too apply them but my point is, in mid-game I'm much more free to ignore them than in openings or end-games in which I usually let my forearm do the thinking.

I'm learning the game of Go at near fourty. But I'm not having any of the problems he describes.

A great thing about learning and playing online is that you can find an opponent at your same skill level within minutes. Unlike learning in a local club, where every person you will ever play beats you every time, I win slightly more than half my games. I also get this nice increasing graph of my skill level. This is a lot more fun.

I wish physical sports were like this. Anything online is blessed with this mechanic where you can keep it challenging for everyone other than the people at the top or bottom (based on my experience in CoD where I'm pretty sure I'm bottom).

With sports like soccer it's quite noticeable that some people are way better than everyone else, or way worse. And there's no way to improve since you can't just rearrange thousands of teams.

I'm not familiar with your experience to be honest.

For example in the Netherlands we have Football right. There's 9 divisions. You get promoted or demoted at the end of the season, such that on average you're roughly in the middle of a spectrum of 5% worse and 5% better teams.

Of course there's lots of individual differences and some teams get much better suddenly in one season, and ought to play a division higher right away. But that's an issue for online mechanics as well. Online mechanics make that 5% range more granular, sure, but the notion that thousands of teams aren't rearranged isn't true, that's exactly what happens in most sports!

Of course going to the court and playing a quick match with strangers doesn't have this effect, but the vast majority of football players play in some formal sense in a team which plays in some organisation's league system with divisions. At least that's how it is here, although football is an extraordinarily deep sport in most countries and so the difficulty of opposition will be less granular in other sports.

Coming from of the United States and hearing about how federated soccer is all across Europe is really saddening.

In the US we have baseball where we have a sane semi-pro system. In football and basketball which are the real money, growth sports, there's the best-in-the-world professionals, the unpaid 20 year old college players and not a lot in-between.

In college, a buddy of mine became close friends do with a semi-pro soccer player out of Austria. He wasn't the best in the world and he was an au pair in the off-season, but he was in tip top shape in his late 20s playing soccer for a living.

It really isn't like that here. On the top end of the average case scenario, you have 3 years to make a living doing what you've been trained practically 20 years to do and then you're out in most cases. The whole employment market for these athletes would be a lot more sane if it were like baseball where you have families coming out to see minor league football and basketball players at reasonable prices.

The guy you're replying to is talking about amateur sports, and you reply by talking about semi-pros and making a living out of something. The divide runs deep.

The people in those 9 divisions have a game every weekend, and training once or twice per week on weekday evenings, as a hobby. Pro sport is something different entirely.

Ages ago I was in the top five for Domination in CoD:WaW. It was still remarkably challenging and exciting. Its not about which team wins (as long as I had one or two of my "good friends" any lobby was going to be a team win), as you get better the number of "micro contests" on each map grows: can I get dogs before we get the B-flag, can I satchel charge the enemy tank as I hop in the weakened tank my loser teammate bailed from, etc. Not to mention there is always the increased expectation to never have a bad game if you are on the top of the leaderboards and a bad game is not just a dent in your W/L, it also produces the inevitable deluge of moronic messages from people accusing you of boosting and being a try hard.

I think competitive video gaming is like anything else, in order to excel and stay at the top you have to constantly compete against yourself.

If your up for it, try climbing. Competition is almost entirely with yourself and its typically quite easy to climb with a friend across multiple grades of difficulty. It also heavily involves problem solving, strategic thinking, and risk management that is not found in most other sports.

It takes a bit more effort to figure out, but it is possible. I started playing tennis regularly about 2 years ago; I eventually found an academy attached to a resort, so there's a steady stream of players coming through of all skill levels.

About 2 months ago, I left my job at Facebook to move out here and it's been great -- I can always find someone that wants to play, and they're all in a good mood because they're on vacation.

Many physical sports are actually just great for 40+ folks, that's why there are "masters" categories in competitions.

As long as individuals recognize the limitations of their age groups they'll be just fine.

Actually, even if individuals _don't_ recognize their age limitations and play against 20-somethings that's also OK (if they're willing to have their ass handed to them on every competition).

I started playing soccer at 40 - the best way to learn is to play with and against people who are much better than you.

BUT is is a dangerous game - you can get hurt playing against 20year olds!

For a modest value of “much.”

My experience is that you need to play against people who will challenge you, but within an appropriate level of attainment. I am a keeper, so I will speak of keeper skills.

One important skill to learn early is to get off the line and cut off the angles. If you stay on the line when you are just learning, the net is too big and you have no chance to make saves.

Thus, you never learn to make saves because you have no real feedback on what you do. You always lose.

Now if you come out a bit, you start making some saves, and you get better at it. This would lead you to a place where you make nearly all the saves, and you would stop learning, unless your opponents are good enough to use passing and make you keep track of multiple strikers at once.

But if they are so good (or your defenders are so bad) that they are always swarming the net in threes and fours, you would get stick on the line and never learn anything.

So, the best way to learn is for your opponents to be better than you, but not so much better that they discourage good play on your part. And as you get better, they must get better as well, so that you must continue to get better.

This is very common with foos ball. There are local maximums where a player can get stuck. If you're playing opponents as good or a little better it pays to practice your foosball skills like passing and high accuracy shots. However if you're playing opponents far stronger then the best strategy is lower percentage Hail Mary's so it trains less important skills.

I've seen the opposite effect. Parents with too much money placing their mediocre kids on mediocre traveling teams, to drive 800 miles to play other teams, when you know there is local talent that would give them all they could handle.

I tried to learn Go, obviously beyond understanding the rules, and found it very difficult comparing to Chess. I wonder how you dealt with the huge exploration space of just putting one stone in the beginning of the game. In Chess, every movement is very constrained.

I often feel like "learning Go" is deceptively a few steps deep. When one learns Chess you effectively can get to the tactical aspect as soon as you know how the pieces move. When you "learn Go" at the first level you understand the rules and their basic consequences, but you still don't quite know "how the pieces move". This is natural since no rule dictates these things in Go—they're something you learn as handed down from thousands of years of people playing it.

But once you get the "how the pieces move" of Go—essentially, the Haeng-ma and maybe the basic opening algorithm, you can quickly dig in to the really rich tactical and strategic levels just as you can with Chess.

The first move is actually pretty constrained - there's only four normal choices, of which only two are usual. You are trying to grab a corner, and trading off between a certainty of controlling a corner (4-3), or more influence on the rest of the board (4-4 on the corner dot).

Crowdsourcing your opponents online is a perfect way to train a skill. (Assuming you've identified a clear skill you wish to train, and that you're willing to make that time commitment to train it.) Anonymous opponents can take the sting out of the learning curve.

A lot of local special interest clubs fail because they don't deal well with newcomers and beginners. This essay was perfect down to the last line, written through the lens of that special bond of parenthood.

Where do you play?


I highly recommend it.

5 kyu checking in. The client is terrible and old, but the community on KGS go server is unparalleled. Highly recommend giving it a shot - very high level players will often provide commentary to help you improve.

I just started on there as well, great website.

11k there. What are your strengths?

19k. I started a few weeks after AlphaGo's big games.

I'm hovering around 18k, still a noob

Try http://go.ba.net Play Go with Friends or Bots no registration, no download needed

I find answers such as "my brain is getting slower as I age" distasteful and unsatisfying. One can not do anything with an answer like that. On the other hand, a somewhat careful review of the process can lead in useful insights. Reading between the lines in this article I notice a few points that I think are important to the cause of the author's delayed progress at learning the game.

First the author describes how he set about reading all manner of strategies, variations of strategies, positions, tactics, etc. I think he shot himself in the foot with this. Humans tend to surrender when a task looks too daunting and his real goal was to keep up with a child who did not know anything about chess. None of the stuff he studied would be initially useful against a fellow novice with an innately short term focus.

Second, the author hired a coach, ostensibly to teach both him and his daughter, but later notes "I would sometimes wander into the room when coach Simon was there, watching him present her with some puzzle on the board". So I have to wonder, what was he doing during the other occasions where his opponent was learning chess from an expert?

Third, the author's stated motive to learn was to teach his daughter; he removed that motive when he hired the coach. Without motive to drive engagement learning anything becomes extremely difficult.

Finally, after he discovered the complexity of the learning task the author then set about studying all of the reasons why he could not do well at his initial goal. This, again, is not useful in actually learning chess.

All in all, it seems like the author actually learned a lot more than his daughter did in the same amount of time. However, his lack of focus lead him to spend the time learning many things that did not help him play chess at a novice level.

I see the learning curve of chess to be similar to that of poker: Learning the basic moves is as easy as learning what hand beats what. You can memorize each in an afternoon. Then, you learn a few basic tactics and work on your ability to enumerate your opponents next possible moves. Similar to the basics in poker like betting strategies, calculating odds, etc. At this stage, you're still not going to go out and start winning. Finally, there's this huge learning cliff for both where, in order to even start winning even a little, you need to invest an enormous amount of time, read a lot of literature, and practice, practice, practice.

I'd like to get into chess, but the time commitment needed to get even moderately competent is daunting.

I wouldn't say that's the case. If you play online as a complete beginner your rating will drop like a stone at first and then you'll be matched against other people of your level. At that point, the system will take care of you, generally keeping you at a 50% win rate as you progress along.

There's only a huge cliff if you expect to be able to win against 1500 rated players as a complete beginner, a totally unreasonable expectation.

Thankfully I'm 39 for 3 more months, so this article doesn't apply.

That's the thing with age, it's an eventuality. No matter how smug you are, the age you are smug about not being comes and much more quickly than you thought it would. I am not quite at 40, but still I know it will come soon enough.

I'm a parent in a similar situation. I'm ahead of my young child, but I think my days are numbered. I've improved since we both started getting interested, but my ramp is slower. (In part because he has classes, and I don't)

Perhaps with this in mind, I found the interesting context of the story more about the parent-child relationship, than learning beyond a certain age. It is very easy to mis-balance the roles of parent, coach and competitor. In the last line, the author captured this very clearly.

Children are definitely quicker, and in my experience with Chess... tactics are king. And tactics favor the quicker minds.

Strategic chess can be taught with words, and adults will naturally lean towards the strategic parts. We respect our predecessors, we seek knowledge that has already been discovered. Alas, heuristics and such aren't worth very much to a Chess beginner, who will regularly make "simple blunders" (like putting their own pieces in a knight fork) until Elo 1500+ (a moderately skilled beginner club player).

And even then, Elo 1800 to 2000 will regularly put themselves in a position where they can be forked in two or three moves.

If you can manage to play a blunder-free game (much harder to do than it looks), that's when strategic thinking comes in. Knight placement in the center vs edge, or backwards pawns here and there, or whatever.

In part, I think children do best at chess because they aren't distracted by any of the myriad of books and research on the subject (which are... hopelessly irrelevant to beginners)

In my experience this is very true. I was a better chess player aged 11 than I am now.

Think like a Grandmaster is a great book that illustrates how tactical chess analysis is -- all about iteration and composition of simple value judgements.

However, I have found books about chess strategy to be a very useful way to practise tactical thinking. For example, following the thematic sections in Think like a Grandmaster, or something like Bobby Fischer's analysis of his most memorable games (which both cover strategic concepts like two bishops or a strong centre) requires tactical analysis -- you're visualising moves and combinations in your head and making value judgements about positions just to follow along.

So strategy is a great way for an older player to keep tactical practice interesting!

As someone who has lost to a child on national television;


I can sympathise with the author of the article. The cruel truth is that it is very difficult to improve as an adult. I think the analogy to learning language is a good one - to get really good learn as a child.

As far as I know there are no instances of a player learning to play as an adult and reaching grandmaster status. Akiba Rubinstein, an all time great who didn't learn until 16, was (nearly) an exception. Another famous (almost) counter-example is one of the pioneers of the Russian school of chess who learned chess from scratch twice - the second time as an adult after suffering total memory loss from a war injury. Unfortunately my Google Fu is failing me and I can't summon any confirmation or recall his name.

It turns out it was Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky, I thought as much but his Wikipedia page makes no mention of it.


I never knew about chocolate chess. Thanks for posting it!

I wouldn't say chocolate chess was a thing, per se. Just a one-off promotional idea I think.

I learned Go several years ago at the age of 20, and tracked how much time I spent on it. Comparing my progress with that of a certain strong amateur who started at age 14 and estimated how many games he played throughout his progression, I think I reached my current strength of 1-kyuu after roughly the same amount of practice that he had when he was 1-kyuu. This anecdatum of mine agrees with children's extra synaptic density leveling out around age 12. I would guess that it doesn't matter whether the writer was 40, 20, or 14; hypothetically, it might matter if the writer were 4 (or 7).

The first time I beat my step-dad at chess was the last time we played. I tried not to gloat, but I could tell he was disappointed. I half-heartedly suggested another game the next week, he declined, and that was the end of it.

My favorite quote on chess:

Why shall I not judge Alexander at table, talking and drinking to excess, or when he is fingering the chess-men? What chord of his mind is not touched and kept employed by this silly and puerile game? I hate it and avoid it because it is not play enough, and because it is too serious as an amusement, being ashamed to give it the attention which would suffice for some good thing. He was never more busy in directing his glorious expedition to the Indies; nor is this other man in unravelling a passage on which depends the salvation of the human race. See how our mind swells and magnifies this ridiculous amusement; how it strains all its nerves over it! How fully does this game enable every one to know and form a right opinion of himself! In no other situation do I see and test myself more thoroughly than in this. What passion is not stirred up by this game: anger [the clock-banger!] spite [the spite check!], impatience [the hasty move!], and a vehement ambition to win in a thing in which an ambition to be beaten would be more excusable! For a rare pre-eminence, above the common, in a frivolous matter, is unbefitting a man of honour. What I say in this example may be said in all others. Every particle, every occupation of a man betrays him and shows him up as well as any other.

- Michel de Montaigne, Essays, Chapter 50, tr. Trechmann, p. 295

I highly recommend speed chess (5 mins), as it allows for many more repetitions. You'll learn faster what works / doesn't. Intersperse every once in a while with a slow game to rethink your fundamentals and strategy.

Also, speed chess is much more forgiving. 1 mistake is not the end of the game, as time is the great equalizer. Whereas in slow chess, going down a pawn unintentionally is often a loss.

While great fun, I don't think playing blitz is beneficial in the long run.

It encourages plenty of bad habits: guessing (instead of calculating), "gambling" (making bold but refutable moves in hope that opponent misses the correct answer), over-relying on simple tricks like common opening traps which wouldn't work and would get you into an inferior position in a serious game, etc. etc.

Good blitz players are good chess players who happen to put their skills to a use by playing blitz, but they haven't developed these skills just by playing blitz

These are exactly the things that make it more "real" of a game, to me. It encourages guessing, yes, but it also encourages snap-shot pattern recognition, quick decision making, bluffing, calmness under pressure, and as you say, is great fun when the heart gets pumping in a close game as time runs out... In other words, it's less theoretical, and more like life.

>Good blitz players are good chess players who happen to put their skills to a use by playing blitz, but they haven't developed these skills just by playing blitz

I'm a class A player, and I've probably played < 20 slow chess games over the past 15 years.

That's interesting. But what was your strength 15 years ago?

Where can I play speed chess against computer (offline/online) or people online?

A great, free site: http://lichess.org/

Its really a toss up between lichess and fics. I wish lichess did not let people chose color for rated games. I also miss xboard...

esc really needs your look. Stephanie flew to close to the sun and lost her king signal. the whole llama farm in at risk. and my radio sig isn;t responding. my puter is going after the everyone valuable to me. Especially the llamas, the farmers, the dogs goats chicken and CATS. The ducks are just sitting in the line of fire. esc

I'd suggest checking out FICS (Free Internet Chess Servers) which has been running for about 20 years.


There are a variety of clients that you can use to access it. I'd recommend Babaschess (also free).


I think Chess could be learned and enjoyed by all ages. It just takes some dedication.

Hmm, I think it might be easier for young people to get better at chess because they are not burdened with the responsibilities of an adult. Also Chess is prominently pattern recognition which may play a role in chess development in older people, since the recall maybe slower.

I enjoy playing chess since maybe middle school, but it wasn't until about 20 years later that I tried to program my own chess game, including logic and rules. It was extremely difficult for me at certain points, especially figuring out check mate. I really didn't think it was going to be so hard at first.

How do you have a 5 year old to play chess and poker?

I played chess religiously as a kid. I attended chess clubs, went to private tutoring, and completed in U.S. Chess Federation tournaments. I even have a few trophies in my room that I'm still proud of.

Some time in high school, while studying openings and their variations, I was curious if computers would ever beat the great Grand Masters regularly and consistently. It seemed to me that the key to this success would be a full comprehension of knowing which opening to start with, how to respond to your oponent's opening, and how deeply that opening variation was memorized.

So, it wasn't surprising to me to learn that the Grand Masters are Grand Masters because of their memorization of opening sequences, the depth of that memorization, and when to use which variation.

Then while studying old games played by the masters, I saw a trend that disturbed me: more and more, Grand Master games were ending in draws. I recall reading an article recently that more than 50% of said games are draws.

This bothers me for two reasons: first, that the game is designed so poorly, that draws can occur as frequently as they do. But, more disturbing, is knowing that they are ending in draws because of a mastery on the opening game.

I am no longer a chess proponent, and won't play it when asked (although that might change if my daughter wants to learn). The only chess I will play is Chess960, by Robert Fischer, where the back row is randomized to 1 of 960 possible starting positions. This way, the game is less sensitive to opening sequence memorization, but on more on basic tactical strategy, such as control of the center board, when to pull out your queen, and how knights can compliment bishops.

Now, I'm a large advocate of Go. The game is much more strategy based and less memorization (although there are a good amount of tsumego and joseki that should be memorized, and you should know opening theory). But, due to the size of the board, the games are considerably different, and it is less sensitive to tactics. Thus, draws occur mostly based on evenly matched strategies, and less on cognitive capacity.

Another game I am enjoying is the currently developed Tak by James Ernest (http://tinyurl.com/takgameks (link to Kickstarter campaign (I'm not a paid schill, I just enjoy the game))). A simpler game than chess and go to explain, yet deep with strategy, and new enough, that patterns and sequences are still being studied.

Don't get me wrong. Chess is entertaining. I am glad there are people that enjoy it, teach it, and play it. It's just no longer for me. Again, unless the game is Chess960.

> So, it wasn't surprising to me to learn that the Grand Masters are Grand Masters because of their memorization of opening sequences, the depth of that memorization, and when to use which variation.

This is not true. Opening knowledge is a common deciding factor in games between GMs, but that's only because they're already so good at everything else. A low GM actually probably has a smaller skill margin over other players in terms of openings than in other areas of the game: as someone that's arguably a decent amateur (~2200 USCF) and has played against several GMs, I would prefer my chances in a game where we both have our opening knowledge versus one where neither of us has opening knowledge.

Yes that's true. GMs are GMs, because they have full and complete mastery of the game- opening, middle, and ending. But that mastery is disproportionate, which is what I was trying to say (and didn't do that great of a job). You might be able to play a mad middle and end game, but if you didn't open strongly, your game could already be decided.

To pinpoint my gripe with chess, a single tactical error in your opening game can be unrecoverable, and the deciding factor on losing your game. It's too precise. Whereas with some other abstract strategy games, such as Go, you might make a strategical error, but the game might be more forgiving, where you can heal from your mistakes.

Of course, weak players should lose to strong players, regardless of game. I just wish chess didn't depend so strongly on defining a strong player by who has more opening variations memorized.

An error anywhere during the game can be unrecoverable, that's why it's an error. The opening isn't special, in fact I'm sure an error in the ending is more likely to lead to a loss.

Chess strength _doesn't_ depend strongly on memorization. GMs are often content to take an equal position against IMs and then just outplay them in the rest of the game.

At top top level, they do spend a huge amount of time on opening research, but that is because they can. They can work full time, they know who their opponents are going to be, they have engines and seconds. You can use those resources on concrete analysis of positions that might occur, but not as easily on expanding your generic middlegame knowledge. It doesn't apply to normal GMs.

> An error anywhere during the game can be unrecoverable, that's why it's an error. The opening isn't special, in fact I'm sure an error in the ending is more likely to lead to a loss.

Agreed, but a tactical error in the opening is replicated and multiplied throughout the game. if I'm going to criticize it as an abstract strategy game, it's too sensitive in that regard. Yes, an error is an error, that's why they're called as such. In chess, opening errors have much more drastic consequences, depending on the error, than say Go, where you have more opportunity to recover from the error. An opening tactical error can spell doom for your middle game and end game (as analyzed by chess commentators, instructors, books, videos, etc.).

Outside of amateur casual play, you must play a stronger opening game than your opponent, if you want any hopes of winning. Even if your mid and end games are stronger, if you make a tactical opening error, you may never get the opportunity to play that genius finale, because you'll never get the opportunity to recover. Openings have to be damn-near perfect when playing seriously. That's what bothers me.

It's just not true. Even at top level, many games are won from an equal or slightly worse position after the opening, heck Carlsen is famous for it and he's #1 by a huge margin. Saying that you must have a stronger opening than your opponent to win is not true at any level.

That's because the opening is 17 moves deep when the error is made. You're entering mid game at that point. Ruy Lopez, Queen's Gambit, Sicilian, Dutch, and King's Indian defenses, Stonewall, others, are generally preferred, because of their strengths. But if you're not familiar with them 17 moves deep, and several of their variations, you're screwed. There's a reason why you have "Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings"- it's the disproportionate strength of chess.

It's really not necessary, especially with white. Before that move 17 you can deviate at virtually any point and end up with an even game. As black it is harder to be really equal without knowing theory against an opponent who does, but black has a huge information advantage (you only play 1 obscure defence to 1.e4, white has to know them all).

What distorts your view is that many chess players _like_ to study theory. The Sicilian with its famous counter attacking situations! The King's Indian with its famous attacks on opposite flanks and a closed center! I have seen many GM games like that and I want to play like that too.

When both players are like that, they play into really sharp and hard to understand lines, where it really matters if you know the theory one move deeper. There it does, because such positions are often extremely sharp, and as you _can_ prepare them often, that is worthwhile.

But in the other games where you meet an opponent who plays something quiet that you've never seen before on move 3, it's all useless. And such moves are a perfectly legitimate and strong choice.

Anyway, go to any chess club, and ask around which players have memorized the most opening theory. It'll be the 1700 guys, not the masters. Memorizing theory doesn't actually make you stronger.

You only get into those situations if you choose to follow theory, which is not necessary. There are myriad sidelines that are adequate outside of the very top level and will give you a playable middlegame with little to no theoretical knowledge.

For example: as White, you can play 1. g3, 1. b3 or a reversed Queen's Indian and get by with zero concrete knowledge. As Black it's a little more involved but 1... d6 and 2... e5 takes about thirty minutes of research and you can play anyone under 2400.

"She was lacking that larger, strategically metacognitive sense, that Bayesian ability to use probability to change one’s beliefs." - that says it all and puts the age difference into real perspective, there is alot to theory, games, AI which can't be understood until you have a child.

Where can I learn Chess online?


It's lichess.org.

lichess.com is a parked domain with what appear to be some very malicious ads.


The research on young and successful isn't really showing any causation.

Maybe being young and concentrating on a single thing makes you more obsessed about it? So you end up spending a lot of time on just it.

Maybe the older you get the less obsessed you can be, having the interest spread around on family, work, and other thoughts?

Maybe accumulated knowledge makes you slower at learning and playing because you're more cautious due to the mistakes you made before?

The research showing the decline is really weird. As I've got older I felt I learned stuff much more quickly than when I started college. I know so much that this knowledge allows me to avoid traps. Far sooner I have a feeling of understanding and can demonstrate it to someone else.

If your whole life is oriented on learning and improvement it's weird to think that will slow down.

People, as they age, lose interest in learning and rarely become obsessed about something, for most it is right after highschool, for some after college. No wonder the performance drops and IQ too. No one is using that brain as hard as it was used before.

"As I've got older I felt I learned stuff much more quickly than when I started college."

Drifting into a personal monologue, I know I am a lot better at learning now than I was 15 years ago. Learning advanced mathematics now is much easier than it was then (measured in the rather subjective unit of "amount learned / time taken"). Languages also are much easier. The only difference is the amount of time I put in now compared to the amount of time I put in then. If I was in full-time education now (instead of a half hour to an hour a few times a week) I would be yomping through textbooks and courses.

I think some of it is that I just know so much more now, and I've got so much more experience of joining knowledge up and making use of the combined result. I've also got so much more confidence in my ability to learn, and I know that if I'm struggling, grinding through does get results. I don't get demoralised, I don't wonder if I'm ever going to be able to understand it; I just do it.

At around 40, I'm now learning things like math quicker, but then I forget them a year later, whereas the things I learned in college I still remember now.

Is this normal, I wonder?

You might say, well, if you're forgetting them a year later then you didn't really learn them, but I disagree. I feel more complete mastery of a subject matter more now than I did in my teens. No, I forget things I learn much more quickly now, and the only way to not forget them is to practice them at least each week, and that rapidly becomes a time sink.

This might be as simple as the fact that you're spacing your learning out less. In college you learned things over a span of 15 weeks, giving you many opportunities for spaced repetition, which is one of the most effective methods to make material stick. Now I'm assuming you learn material in much less time than a semester, so there's less repetition and therefore less long term retention.


Thanks for this suggestion -- this may well be the cause. Perhaps I'll start trying spaced repetition learning.

This is an expected result of a storage system that has finite capacity being tasked with storing a lifetime of useful information.

Research on this topic points to the notion that the brain is pretty actively trying to ignore things and toss out information that is no longer useful. It seems that the heuristic the brain uses to determine what should be kept and what should be discarded is related to how well some new information fits with information already in memory and how often an area of memory is revisited.

If you were tasked with fitting a lifetime of useful information on a 100 petabyte hard drive, how would you go about it? When you inevitably run out of free space, how would you continue to store new information?

http://brainworldmagazine.com/learning-memory-how-do-we-reme... http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s4/chapter07.html

I agree completely about learning math faster, or maybe easier. My thinking has been that now we have a much better scaffold to construct knowledge on. Calculus, linear algebra, proofs, thinking in arbitrary numbers of dimensions, etc. are all much more ingrained than they were in undergrad, and as a result you don't have to spend as much effort on the details.

I wish I could say I didn't forget things when I was was in university, but I still remember the frustration of coming back from summer vacation and having forgotten half of what we learned last semester.

Same here. Machine learning wasn't in vogue when I graduated, but now I'm actually able to help my younger brother through the last courses in college. Quite surprising, because I'd have sworn when I was that age it would take weeks to understand something like Random Forest.

I reckon part of the reason is that when there's no pressure on you, you can explore around a question (how do you classify this particular thing...) rather than try to steer right towards the answer as fast as possible. Which isn't actually as fast as when you read around.

That would mean that all the GM's very well documented decline after 35 has to with lack of obsession at that age, which seems a rather strong claim.

Maybe amateurs learning at different ages is a different phenomena than the top competitors decline, but the research showing the decline of professionals is certainly not weird, and probably not even research, since they are easy to lookup facts.

Not all GMs decline immediately after 35. Anand is 46 and still right at the top. His peak rating came at age 41 and he held on to his world champion title until age 43 (when he lost to Carlsen).

Viktor Korchnoi gave his expert opinion that most chess grandmasters hit their peak around age 40, maybe a little after. He also tried to analyze what gave various people the drive to work hard enough to become a grandmaster.

Also, Anand would arguably be world champion right now if he had the stamina. His knowledge of the game is probably the deepest of anyone, but he runs out of energy as th game progresses.

That's a fascinating insight about Anand. I wonder if he'd improve by hiring a personal trainer to increase his physical fitness?

Physical fitness is given a lot of attention by players at the very top of chess. Here is a quote from an article that talks a bit about it.

“Anand has been pretty active as well,” says the Bad Sodener Zeitung. “He bought a season ticket for the swimming pool in Bad Soden and swam about 1000 metres per day. He would also run 10km every day and has also been spotted on a bicycle in the beautiful hills around Bad Soden. He lost about six kilos this summer. Most of the time, though, Anand prepared for the match in the Chess Tigers Training Centre with his seconds.”


I would really like to see that too. My hypothesis is that he would.

Currently I'm experimenting with my grandma, trying to get her to exercise to improve her cognition!

Chess, and perhaps Go, might be outliers here, in that both are designed to exceed the human mind's possible ability.

But for everything else, I agree with you. I'm able to learn new skills considerably faster now than in my twenties. Part of that is practice learning, and part of that is having a lot of things to relate any new concept to.

> ...and part of that is having a lot of things to relate any new concept to.

This is an interesting way to put it that I haven't thought about before. I have found it hard to explain that sometimes new things are easy to learn and sometimes hard.

I usually attribute this to the difficulty of the concept, but maybe it's that I'm not really learning the easy things but finding a very similar concept to relate it to that I already know.

Science be damned. I reject any reasoning built on limit based thinking. I'm 40 now and if I wanted to be world class chess player by 50, I would be. We are all constrained by the limits we accept. Limits can be accepted at any age. There are plenty of limits I have accepted by 40. The problem becomes when we believe those limits are not optional. Any limit I accept is optional.

Unless you are already a good chess player, 10 years isn't long enough to become world class, even for a talented youngster. Thousands of hours of practice is necessary, but not sufficient, to become truly world class. You could become a strong amateur, but without special talent you wouldn't be able become a grandmaster.

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