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Monday, January 6, 2014


     It’s dark and bitterly cold here, -15 Fahrenheit (-26 Celsius). It’s so cold I can hear the downspouts, the garage door and the gutters on the house popping and cracking in the cold; I feel like hibernating! In fact, at the present time Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the U.S., is warmer than we are!
     I’ve been watching a Bill Gaither CD and doing a little reading and came across an article on the Dunning–Kruger effect which seems to affect a lot of chessplayers.
     The Dunning–Kruger effect is a pattern of deviation in judgment whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion; it causes unskilled individuals to suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than it is. This bias is attributed to the inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Reminds of the time US Senior Master Dr. Eliot Hearst wrote that the definition of a master is everybody’s secret appraisal of his own ability.
     David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University concluded that for a given skill, incompetent people will:
tend to overestimate their own level of skill
fail to recognize genuine skill in others
fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
     The D-K effect causes unskilled people to make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is. Those who label themselves as experts, more often than not, aren’t. Conversely, those who genuinely know their stuff are considerably modest when compared to those who have a fraction of their experience and knowledge.
     It’s easier to brag about how good you are than to actually be good. A lot of D-K people blog.


  1. If you want to see the D-K effect in action, just monitor the forums at Chess.Com. Every couple of weeks someone starts a new thread with a title like "Can anyone become a Super GM?" or "I'm 25 and I just took up chess; can I hope to become a GM?" A huge number of people immediately pile in to say "If you can conceive it, you can achieve it!" or "You just need to practice 10,000 hours." But a small minority will point out that the odds against becoming a GM are very, very steep, but their comments are always discounted by the positive thinking crowd. interestingly. the average rating of the pessimist crowd is way higher than the average rating of the optimists. A perfect example of the D-K effect: the least competent players are also least able to appreciate how good the best players are.

  2. A great many of todays internet players have never seen a grandmaster in action and simply do not appreciate their skill. Apparently they think there is not THAT much difference between a gms skill and their own.

  3. I have to agree with both comments. The level of skill in titled masters is pretty substantial.

    I remember playing a French FM a dozen years ago when I was in peak tournament form. At that point in time my performance ratings in each of my last five tournaments was over 2000. I was playing at my best.

    What happened was that I played a good opening, but slowly but surely the FM put his pieces onto better squares and he beat me decisively. I did not hang a piece or a pawn but he taught me a lesson about hanging useful squares. I was beaten so badly, I did not feel angry or chagrined.

    I got a chuckle from GM who witnessed my destruction when I said: "nice to get beaten by someone who was clearly better."