Friday, March 4, 2011


I came across 2 interesting posts which dealt with the issue of being a GM. One shows the statistics confirming that the age one becomes a GM is getting increasingly younger, at 12 years 7 months achieved by Kariajkin. Another disputes Anand's quote that if you are not a GM by 14, you should forget about it.

An interesting observation - only 2 of the 10 GMs mentioned are from non-communist countries. The 2 (Bacrot and Fischer) incidentally have enormous innate talent and do not fret about their daily livelihood during their pursuit of the GM title.

Personally, I believe that Anand is being pragmatic about his view. He feels that if one does have the talent to make it, then, with modern technological tools like databases and engines, there is really no major obstacle to attaining the title if one works at it by inferring on his researches of the game and executing them right over the board.

What does it mean when one has gone over the desired age of 14? Two things come to mind.

  • Talent is not sufficient for GMship

  • Not having the other prerequisites (time, peace of mind, health, discipline) plus  distractions (be it work or relationships etc).   
 Insufficient talent is something not easy to accept for many. Everyone wants to try, but to face reality that one doesn't have what it takes is really a humbling experience. A simple test - endgames. Somehow the talented ones never seem to have problems identifying a win in the endgame. When you hear of slip-ups in someone's game, especially in the endgame, it is a sign that the player has failed to comprehend or appreciate simple inter-workings of the pieces. 

Those who have the talent sadly usually have the curse of laziness about them - they take their talent for granted and assume everything will fall in place. Not so today. There is much more that can be learnt from the science of chess if one invests time and effort in absorbing the knowledge from the games analysed and dissected from opening till the end of the game. But knowing it is just one part of it. One has to have the nerves, the iron determination not to err in time trouble, have the intuition and (luck sometimes) to simply sense the right move to play at the critical moment. Hours can be spent, but it simply does not yield the same results for everyone. Hence talent without hard work equates to nothing.

I will say that Anand's quote should be taken seriously if the conditions for excelling in chess do not exist in our country - primarily where individual pursuit does not clash with daily living issues and problems. Children are generally spared from life's tribulations so it is fair to say that as one enters adulthood, the odds to GMship can be insurmountable. In that view, it would be wiser not to ascend the path than to be forced to turn back.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    Personally, this whole issue about what Anand said about chess and age is overhyped. I do not believe that Anand thinks that it is impossible for one to achieve the title once one has crossed the age of 14. I believe he meant it with tongue in cheek, with the increasing young GMs coming up every other day. Anand is an extraordinary human being and should not be compared with the rest of us. In any case, if everyone is bothered by what the World Champion said, there will be no one trying to become a GM now.

    I also disagree with the comment that being strong in endgames means that one is talented, or the other way round. Endgame technique is one aspect that can be polished, albeit only after serious hard work but a good endgame player does not necessarily means he has "talent" or "talent enough to be a GM" whatever that means. Similarly, the converse doesn't necessarily hold ground.

    I am certain that Anand didn't take himself too seriously with his comment but even if he did, there is no reason to discourage ourselves and limit our own abilities. One thing I do agree is that this pursuit of the holy grail should not in any way interfere with your day to day issues because this could be deemed as irresponsibility. :)

    Wei Ming