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Nurturing a Chess Prodigy

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Written by Administrator   
Friday, 14 June 2013
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by GM Daniel Gormally

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Did anyone watch the child genius programme the other night?

It featured the chess prodigy Josh Altman, who took part in a competition for young kids assessing overall intelligence. He didn't do very well. To be honest chess is an abstract thing that isn't easily connected to other activities, so by demonstrating an aptitude for the game it doesn't necessarily follow that you're going to be that good at anything else involving brain power. Some of these kids that Josh was up against had frightening levels of intelligence and to be honest made me feel very stupid by comparison.

Josh came across as a nice kid but his mother was made to look rather overbearing; however I know from experience of being on T.V. myself how much of what is seen is heavily edited to make a more entertaining show. She stated that Josh would need 10,000 hours of practice and playing to become a Grandmaster.

I'm not sure that's true and to be honest I think she's going down the wrong path. Yes it is important to work hard, but it's more the quality of the work that's important. I'd rather spend half an hour a day doing what I feel is useful study, every day of the year, than trying to do six hours a day and stopping after a week because I'm so sick of it.

The danger is if you drive these kids too far too fast you run the risk of putting them off the game for good, and they can end up resenting their parents as well.

Chess is a very creative game and hard work is just one part of it. Yes it's important to absorb as much knowledge as possible, and the sooner you do that in life the better, but there are many much more important things in life than chess, and over training a kid will end up just backfiring.

You over train someone and they lose all passion for the game, you can end up destroying their natural creativity levels. Josh seemed gifted enough that he's going to become a Grandmaster without having to train to death (after all if I can become a GM, pretty much anyone can).

I can see the temptation of trying to push him quickly as possible though. These super-talents that have emerged over the last few years, like Carlsen and Karjakin, have raised the bar. It's not enough now to become a Grandmaster at 18/19, these days if you harbor any ambitions of becoming World Champion, you need to do it much sooner.

I think part of the problem is that in this country we don't have a professional coaching set-up in the way they do in Russia, for example. This is why barring the unlikely possibility of an English Carlsen, a mega-talent, coming along, we're never going to have anyone in England or the U.K. who is going to realistically challenge for the world title.

Sure we have plenty of people who coach for a living, and we do foreign coaching trips, but in my view it's done in rather a slip-shod way, and I think if you have a kid who has the potential to go to the very top, you are better off sending him abroad to learn.

GM Daniel Gormally is open for chess lessons. You can contact him using this This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:

The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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