Random Posts

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Does Hard Work in Chess Pay Off?

      Natalia Pogonina’s site has an interesting article by GM Daniel Gormally in which he voiced his opinion on the subject. I found it interesting because it set off a storm of replies, some agreeing, some not, not only on Pogonina’s site, but on a couple of other forums. For example: “This guy is a GM and he nails exactly what I’ve been saying for years.” “The article is 100% conjecture and based on pure opinion. And not really all that insightful. He could be correct, or completely wrong. What he doesn't do is bring anything new to the discussion.”
      So what did he have to say? Gormally wrote, “You often hear a debate about work vs talent. The "10,000" hours rule is brought up again and again by those who like to champion the merits of hard work. Basically the theory is, if you put in 10,000 hours of preparation, study, training and so on, you are certain to achieve a level of mastery of whatever subject or activity you are involved with. As if it can be boiled down to a mathematical formula. What a load of crap.”
      My first question, why do we think chess is any different than anything else? Sports, music, writing, or any profession. Talent will only get you so far. As a corollary, hard work will only get you so far. 
      In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck argues that there are two fundamental mindsets that people use: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Dweck describes the properties of these mindsets in great detail, and demonstrates their profound effects by applying them to education, sports, relationships, and personal change.
      The premise is the idea that people exercise either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe their talents and abilities cannot be improved through any means. They feel that they are born with a certain amount of talent and typically do not wish to challenge their abilities due to the possibility of failure. Individuals with a fixed mindset frequently guard themselves against situations in which they feel they need to prove their personal worth. Challenges are frequently viewed negatively, instead of as an opportunity for personal growth.

People that practice a growth mindset believe abilities, such as athleticism and mathematical capacity, can be improved through hard work and persistence. When presented with an obstacle, those practicing a growth mindset tend to rise to the challenge. Often, people of the growth mindset do not fear failure; instead, they view it as a chance to improve themselves. Dweck explains that mindsets …can drive multiple aspects of our lives, ranging from parenting and relationships, to sports and work. She reveals how prominent members of a variety of fields – business, literature, music, science, and sports - possess the growth mindset to achieve personal goals and dreams.
      In the realm of sports, mindsets have a bigger role than most realize. Often 'the greats' are looked at as perfect specimens with innate talent that allowed them to excel, but in reality, this is not the case. Talent and being 'a natural' can only get you so far. Hard work and dedication are necessary to fulfill your potential. People with a growth mindset realize this and push themselves to achieve and maintain this high level of accomplishment. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that you possess certain skills and that any attempt to go beyond this natural talent is not only useless, but is looked down upon.
      There are 3 main things that sports researchers found when they looked at commonalities between the athletes that exhibited the most (growth mindset):

1- found success in doing their best, in learning and improving
2- found setbacks motivating because they're informative and are a wake-up call
3- took charge of the processes that bring success and maintain it.

      This is not to say that natural talent means nothing and cannot take a person far, but the growth mindset and the motivation and dedication that comes with it will take a person farther.
      It seems you can have (1) a talent for chess but not work at it, (2) no talent and work very hard, or (3) both talent and the gumption work at it. Obviously the third possibility will result in more success while having just 1 or 2 alone will result in only limited success. My guess is that’s where most of us find ourselves; we’re not (3)’s.

1 comment:

  1. Hard work driven by distant goals or true passion for the subject? This could make a difference. Chess has got an reputation as the ultimate mind sport, the arena for comparing our intellectual manhoods. This means that there are many that try to improve their Elo without really being innately interested in the game. The masters don't just work hard, they are also passionate of the game. The "10000 hours" could reap more results for the passionate that is driven by the subject and not only by his ego.

    Also, if you have the choice, spend as much as possible of those 10000 hours in your childhood. Brains are more adjustable then and the greatest mastery of chess might require some serious plasticity of the brain. I recall that some study found that when chess masters looked at chess positions - in their brains activated parts that normally work with face recognition. I'm guessing that this kind of plasticity could be much harder to achieve later in life.