Are Great Chess Players Born or Made?

Are Great Chess Players Born or Made?

The win of chess whiz Abhimanyu Mishra just a few months short of his 13th birthday and claiming his rightful spot in the elite Grandmaster’s list has taken the chess world by storm. Most people are lauding the young boy’s effort, who came out stronger from his initial setbacks and made sure that his hard work and efforts paid off.

Abhi, as he is fondly called, also brought up the discussion with this incredible feat.

Are great chess players born or made?

Like life and most other games, Chess is not an exception to hard work paying off. Every chess professional at any level spends the majority of their life studying the game, equivalent to tens of thousands of hours of sheer hard work.

Chess is all about your mental strength, preparedness, and never-say-die attitude. Humans may be born with these traits, but the discovery, conditioning, and honing of these as part of a player’s character happens over time. When facing challenges, children as young as five years would be able to respond favorably if they are aware and are shown how to deal with adversities.

In a recent interview, the young GM shared how, as a five-year-old, he lost a game where the time limit wasn’t enforced because the opponent deliberately slowed the game down after 5-6 hours of brilliant play on both sides. Since Abhi was so young, he couldn’t stay awake and had to concede to a draw, which his opponent refused and went on beat the tiny tot.

Not one to give up due to setbacks, Abhi was better prepared next year as a six-year-old. He kept walking around while the opponent decided to make his moves, the game went way into the night, and he finally emerged a winner, defying his age. He became the youngest National Master when he was nine, and then at 10 years, nine months, and 20 days old, he became the youngest ever International Master.

We could say that chess players are born, but they are made. One could quantify it like they are born with 10% of chess talent, and the rest 90% is all their work. Talent is absolutely meaningless without hard work. Talent alone can not get you far. If you quit studying the game and rely on talent for years, sooner or later, you would face challengers who would beat you.

A look at some of the serious and successful chess professionals, and you would realize that not one of them doesn’t reflect Chess in their profession, hobby, passion, even way of life.

To improve, you must realize that you don’t “learn with experience” You lose games, and by not practicing and honing your in-born talent, you just waste your time.

Abhi’s recent win for his third norm happened against all odds and bringing out his best game when it was the most crucial juncture of his chess career. Was it because he was a force to be reckoned with even early on when he became the youngest National Master at 7? Or was it because of the training and exposure he received from his coaches, mentors, and chess legends like GM Garry Kasparov and GM P. Harikrishna? The idea of a child being a chess prodigy sounds appealing and delectably newsworthy.

But to be able to identify a genuine chess talent and hone it early on requires an open mind and a genuine desire to bring out young chess players on a platform where they can practice and discover their true potential.

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.”

Malcolm S. Forbes

That brings us to the second topic, which is trending

Chess is a team game. The player is just a part of the process responsible for the end result!

Abhimanyu thanks his mentors, coaches, and everyone who was involved and participated in his journey to the milestone.

“….Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Abhimanyu Mishra- Youngest GM ever in Chess History

Chess is definitely a highly individualistic sport. Two players are nothing but against each other and even against their own inner weaknesses and challenges. As a result, the journey to be a chess player could seem very lonely, and it might be lonelier at the top. But the run-up to the board and facing the opponent at a game is filled with hours of preparation, discussions with chess coaches, mentors, chess partners, parents, friends, and family who create a supportive ecosystem for the player to work on his game.

Most chess players know that they always need to be surrounded by players who can challenge them. However, suppose they are pitted against someone on par or just below their skill levels. In that case, boredom sets in, and the resulting overconfidence soon translates to surprising losses—the importance of having someone who could challenge a player to raise the bar.

Although Chess is an individual sport, it is an entire support system including a team for a player to succeed at any level. Talent can take an individual only as far. Beyond the scope of talent, Chess is all about finding the right partner and consistently working at your game. With the right coaching, exposure via in-house and rated tournaments, a chess player can be taught how to work through their game and maintain their focus on being the best chess player he could be.

Any seasoned chess player worth their salt will tell you the importance of having someone better at the game than they are, and playing against them naturally helps them improve their game before the next tournament.

Work on your Mental Strength with Hard Work & Discipline

Chess is not all about intelligence or talent. And it is as much about emotional intelligence and resilience. You may be born with a certain level of gray matter, but in the end, it is your ability to perform under pressure, stay calm in adversities, and maintain focus and discipline that could win you games, and in fact, in every other walk of life.

There’s a strong connection that one can make between Chess and emotional intelligence. Chess players swear by keeping their calm in tense situations and making a comeback despite odds stacked against them, based on stability, self-awareness, and empathy.

Chess players are also taught about experiencing disappointments but putting them in the proper perspective, constantly learning from their mistakes. In his famous book, Emotional Intelligence (1995), Daniel Goleman stated that not just pure intelligence but our socio-emotional competence also helps us in succeeding in today’s society.

Today, many parents look for teaching their kids life skills that would matter in the long run, and Chess provides a beautiful opportunity to learn through play.

Before he became the youngest GM, Abhimanyu faced several setbacks, including straight losses in 2019 that could have disheartened any young mind into putting the chessboard away. Then the pandemic happened, derailing his plans to work on his mission to be the youngest 11 years old to be the champion. But, not one to give up quickly because he had support and was by people who had faith in his game. So, he rose again, dusted off, and moved on to conquer another game, another board, and another player.

Chess teaches the importance of putting up hard work behind every game you play. This is not just true for the game but also for every other area of your life.

“If you work hard enough, you can achieve your goal, whether in Chess or anything in life”

Abhimanyu Mishra

For every great chess player of his time known to be born with it, hundreds of players wrote their destinies across the chessboard with their hard work. Even the prodigies like Magnus Carlsen developed their game by starting early, practicing consistently, and are still working at being better than the best.

To quote László Polgár , famous for giving us chess legends ZsuzsaZsófia, and Judi -famously known as Polgár sisters:

“When I looked at the life stories of geniuses” during his student years…I found the same thing…They all started at a very young age and studied intensively.”

The good old “nature or nurture” argument holds for chess players as well. Confucious said that people are born a blank slate and could develop any kind of personality that can come from their experiences. Nature may have a substantial role in how you turn out to be, but ‘practice makes you perfect.’

You may not be able to harness your full potential without trying. Still, practice never fails you, and regularly working on your game with people who are as passionate about the game as you are could definitely lead to astonishing results.