Chess Psychology

by Bill Wall


Chess is considered the “drosophila” of cognitive psychology.  The psychology of chess and its research has been around for many years, and has been a significant impact in the field of cognitive science because of the experimental and theoretical tools it has provided.  Chess provides a model task environment for the study of basic cognitive processes such as perception, memory, and problem solving.

In 1894, Alfred Binet (1857-1911) carried out the first psychological study of the game of chess, with emphasis on the mental abilities of chess masters.  In 1903, he was the first psychologist to develop an intelligence test.  He devised the Intelligence Quotent (IQ) tests, where the intelligence score was the quotient of mental age to physical age.

Binet observed blindfold chess players as a subset of his investigations into memory. To the average person, playing a game of chess without sight of the board represents an extremely difficult, if not impossible challenge for the memory.  Binet's experiment consisted of a survey which was taken by players of all skill levels, from novice to master. He came to the conclusion that blindfold chess players need knowledge and experience, imagination, and memory.  The masters who took part in the survey gave introspective accounts that had some similarities and yet several differences concerning their blindfold play. A common thread among their responses was the fact that they did not use tactile imagery to represent the board. In addition, they were generally able to remember all the moves played in a sequence of blindfold games. One master, Goetz, was able to quickly recall all 336 moves that he made over 10 blindfold games played simultaneously.  Binet concluded that verbal memory was an integral part of blindfold play. Finally the subjects reported the need to be aware of a general plan of action for each game,4 although this would seem to be a necessity for both blindfold and regular chess play.   The masters differed on whether they used visual or abstract imagery to represent the board. The majority said that they used only an abstract representation, combined with subvocalizations of previous moves, to mentally examine the board. A small majority including the well-known master Blackburne claimed to visualize an actual chessboard with pieces on it corresponding to the current position, "just as if before the eyes."5 Binet thus came to the realization that his original hypothesis of a strong visual memory being essential for blindfold play was wrong. In addition, he did not explore the almost direct correspondence between experience and ability in blindfold chess.  Binet recounted his experiments in a book entitled Psychologie des grands calculateurs et joueurs en echec, (source:

In 1907, Alfred E. Cleveland published “The Psychology of Chess and of Learning to Play it” in the American Journal of Psychology, Vol 18, No. 3, July, 1907.  Cleveland wrote that chess appeals to the fundamental instinct of combat, in a way that is direct and at the same time exempt from the anti-social features that are inherent in actual physical combat.  The author states that chess takes hold upon those suppressed survivals of savage impulse, which is a large factor in adult sport.  The desire to win is fundamentally connected with the fighting instinct, and every chess player finds the elation of victory or the bitterness of defeat.  Cleveland feels that chess players that work hard at the game feel the outcome in proportion to their efforts.  Despite repeated suggestions from books on how to accept defeat, Cleveland wrote that every chess club has members that make excuses for every lost game.  However, he says that chess players do not enjoy winning if their victory is the result of a “fluke” on their own part, or a major oversight on the part of their opponent.

Cleveland’s methodology, correspondence with chess players, found that a player’s temperament enters into his play and determines its style.  A player will try to force an opponent to adopt a line of play for which the opponent was unfitted by temperament.  The example he gives is that a player will adopt a slow, careful game against an aggressive and daring player, who is then often provoked by these tactics into recklessness and loss.

Cleveland asked a variety of chess players how many moves do they plan ahead.  The number varied from position to position.  It was also dependent upon the number and positions of the pieces and the player’s physical and mental condition at the time.  Very few chess players of average experience stated that they were unable to plan at least three moves ahead in a complicated situation.  Four, five, and six were the most favorite numbers that most chess players said on how many moves ahead could they plan.  Most stated that they can anticipate as many of their opponent’s moves as they plan for themselves.   With experience and practice, while most players say they can increase the number of moves planned ahead, the increase in accuracy was the main gain.  The beginner is not able to plan far ahead and scarcely thinks of his opponent’s plans at all.  A little later, the beginner plans 2 to 4 moves ahead, but he overlooks so many possibilities that his plans are practically worthless. 

Cleveland found three classes of players when it comes to visual imagination.  The first class was made up of those who have a clear visual picture of the situation as it will appear after a series of moves.  Then there were a class of players who have some visual picture, but rely also on successive associations, in verbal or possible motor terms, of one move with another.  They were unable to picture a resulting situation, but must build it up move by move by means of visual and other kinds of imagery.  With these players the final term is probably held in verbal terms.  The last class of players are those who are without a visual image of any sort.   This group relies wholly on the presence of the pieces.

In reconstructing an unfinished game, Cleveland found that little or no trouble is experience by most players in setting up an unfinished game from memory, provided the game itself was interesting and too great a time had not elapsed.  The number of pieces on the board was also a factor, though it appeared that it was not of very great importance.  Certain methods are used in setting up a final position.  Some have a mental picture of the whole board and can arrange their pieces accordingly.  They have photographed the situation as a whole and the eye tells them if anything is out of order or missing.  Others reconstruct the final position as a whole, but do it by remembering crucial situations and building around them.  This memory may be in terms of almost any sort of imagery, but it is most likely to be in visual terms.  Some players begin back of the final position at some important place and to build up to it.  Another method is replaying the game from the beginning.  This means running over of a series of successive associations aided and guided by the critical points and by the general plan of the whole game, which gives a meaning to the individual moves.  The reconstruction from memory of a position involving any considerable number of pieces is not possible to most beginners.  They get lost in the mass of impressions which the situation involves.

Cleveland observed that many chess players have “position sense” which is the knack of knowing in an intricate situation how to place the men to the best advantage.  He observed that many chess players are able to tell at a glance which player has the better position without being able to give offhand any reason for the opinion.  Many players were able to give a correct judgment at times without being able to carry out the analysis necessary to prove its correctness.  Some of the reasons to account for the ability to judge a position at a glance are as follows: The mind has been drilled to feel any deviation from principles; it is due to a vague idea of similar situations leading to success or failure; it is the recognition of several fundamental points of strength or weakness; and lastly, it is a symbolic shortening, a dropping out of intermediate processes of inference.  It appears that “position sense” is not dependent on memory alone.

Certain mental qualities are essential to the strong chess player.  Master players have an accurate and persistent chess memory, quickness of perception, strong constructive imagination, power of accurate analysis and a far-seeing power of combination.  A chess master displays his skill in one or all of four forms.  They are simultaneous play, blindfold play, recapitulation of games played by himself or others; and in actual play, by the announcement of the end of the game several moves before that event.  Skillful chess players represent all walks of life, but the skill at chess is not incompatible with success in other lines.    At the same time, the cases of idiots savants in chess prevent the influence that skill in chess ins universally a valid index of high mental endowment.

Cleveland states that chess is a difficult game because it requires a peculiar mental equipment rather than because it calls for one of an especially high order.  First and foremost is required a liking for chess.  The person who finds chess uninteresting may as well give it up at once, according to Cleveland.  Next, it requires powers of sustained attention and an excellent memory.  It also requires considerable powers of analysis and visual imagination.  An increase in chess skill means an increase in the knowledge of chess situations and how to meet them.  In psychological terms, increasing “meaning” in certain arrangements of chess pieces, and increased facility of association between these meaningful arrangements and other arrangements (moves to be made) imaginatively constructed.  Skill in chess is largely, though not wholly, in proportion to knowledge, and knowledge is proportion to experience.

Cleveland divided a chess player’s progress into five stages.  The first step is to learn the names and movements of the pieces.  The second stage is the individual moves of offense and defense during which the beginner plays with no definite aim other than to capture his opponent’s pieces.  The lack of conception of the aim of the game causes the beginner to play at random.  However, in the background of consciousness, some idea of the ultimate object of the play is being formulated.  In the third step, the beginner is soon able to tell at a glance what any single piece can do, but no one piece is very strong unless supported by others.  Hence the task in the third stage becomes that of learning the strength, not of individual pieces, but of pieces in relation to each other.  The play has entered upon the fourth stage when he begins consciously to plan the systematic development of his pieces.  The fifth stage is when the player has developed “position sense.”  This is the result of experience and the culmination of one’s whole chess development.

Another observation that Cleveland made was that short periods of rest from chess practice, varying with the individual from a few weeks to several months, may cause a noticeable increase in skill.  Renewed interest and consequent greater effort in beginning chess again after an interval of no play may account for this in part, and it may be also that in constant playing the details accumulate faster than the mind can assimilate them, so they confuse rather than aid the player.  When the stress of new impressions ceases, an opportunity is given to take an inventory of the mental stock.  This is not possible when new impressions are crowding in, and the attention is fully occupied with them.  For long periods of inactivity, chess players make blunders in the openings, their combinations are not so far reaching, and a greater effort is required.  Every part of the game that requires pure memory is affected and it is often necessary to do consciously what had previously been automatic.  Increasing complexity of nervous function parallels increasing complexity of mental function.   (source:

In 1925, three Russian psychologists (I. Djakow, N. Petrowski and P. Rudik) from the Psychotecnics Institute in Moscow studied eight of the best grandmasters of the time during the strong international chess tournament in Moscow.  The players included Emanuel Lasker, Richard Reti, Savielly Tartakower, Carlos Torre, Peter Romanovsky, Ernst Gurenfeld, and Rudolf Spielmann.  Each player was given a variety of psychological tests, and their performances were compared to subjects who were not chess players.  Tasks included assessment of memory, attention or concentration, and speed and accuracy of performing various intellectual problems like checking arithmetic calculations.  Their imagination, will power, and personality type were also evaluated.  They did not find any differences with a control sample on general intelligence or visual-spatial memory, with the exception of memory tasks where the material to be recalled was closely related to chess. For example, the chess masters performed better in memorizing dots in an 8x8 matrix presented for one minute or the memory for an artistic chess problem, where white had to mate in n moves.  They published their results in 1927.  (source: Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and important games by Eliot Hearst and John Knott, 2009)  However, two difficulties affect the interpretation of this study.  First, the subjects of the control group did not play chess at all, hence may not have been familiar with the material.  Second, the position was a chess problem and not a true random position.

Other studies, such as those done by Unterrainer, Kaller, Halsband, & Rahm in 2006 and Nejati & Nejati in 2012, have failed to demonstrate that chess players are more intelligent than nonchess players.  Other studies have failed to find a link between chess skill and intelligence within chess players (Doll & Mayr, 1987; Lane, 1988, Waters, Gobet, & Leyden, 2002, and Grabner, Neubauer, & Stern, 2006).  In contrast, a few studies on children consistently found a link between chess skill and intelligence.  Frydman and Lynn (1992) found that an elite sample of children chess players had a higher IQ score than their average peers.

In the 1940s, Edward Lasker wrote on an organized study that was made of a dozen leading chess masters by a group of psychologists. It was found that a chess master’s memory was only exceptional where positions on the chessboard were concerned.

Search functions at a chess board, including the number of candidate moves visited and the depth of search, may not differ between masters and amateurs, according to De Groot (1946, 1978).  His findings were that Grandmasters do not search reliable deeper than amateurs.  However, other studies (Holding 1985 and 1989) show that strong players really do search deeper than weaker players.  Holding argued that De Groot’s experiment wasn’t good enough to detect existing differences between Grandmasters and amateurs. 

De Groot’s research is discussed at length in Thought and Choice in Chess, which was his PhD dissertation and a book published in 1965 and 1978. De Groot’s main theoretical motivation was to apply Otto Selz’s (1881-1943) framework called On the psychology of productive thinking and of error (1922) to problem solving in chess.  According to Selz, thinking can be viewed as a continuous and linear chain of operations.  De Groot’s research established that Selz’s framework could explain the main aspects of chess thinking.

De Groot used only two experimental tasks: a problem-solving and a memory task.  He asked chess players to think aloud when pondering their next move in a position previously unknown to them.    Players then investigate the same continuation several times, either immediately or after having directed their attention to a different variation – a process that de Groot named progressive deepening.  In every case, strong players chose better moves than weaker players.  The real question was how this choice took place.  In another experiment, positions taken from master games were shown for a period of 2 to 15 seconds.  Players of grandmaster strength were able to reproduce correctly almost the entire position every time, while weaker players could retain only a few pieces.  Typically, the masters and grandmasters were able to replace about 23 or 24 pieces out of 25 correctly after 5 seconds or less.  The average player could only get a few pieces (around 16 pieces) replaced correctly.  The result could not be attributed to the masters’ generally superior memory ability, for when chess positions were constructed by placing the same number of pieces randomly on the board, the masters could then do no better in reconstructing them than weaker players.

In 1967, Dr. Reuben Fine claimed that any chess master should be able to play at least one game of blindfold chess. To the average person, playing a game of chess without sight of the board represents an extremely difficult, if not impossible challenge for the memory. Blindfold chess players need knowledge and experience, imagination, and memory. Masters who were tested in blindfold games were generally able to remember all the moves played in a sequence of blindfold games. Masters differed on whether they used visual or abstract imagery to represent the chess board. The majority of masters said that they used only an abstract representation, combined with subvocalizations of previous moves, to mentally examine the board.

In 1973, William Chase and Herbert Simon, both at the Carnegie-Mellon University, published “Perception in Chess” in Cognitive Psychology, Vol 4, pp. 55-81, 1973.  The paper developed a technique for isolating and studying the perceptual structures that chess players perceive.  Chess players of different strength were confronted with reproducing a chess position in plain view, and a short-term recall task, where the player reproduces a chess position after viewing it for five seconds.  The successive glances at the position in the perceptual task and long pauses in the memory task were used to segment the structures in the reconstruction protocol.  The size and nature of these structures were then analyzed as a function of chess skill.

The previous studies of chess perception shows that chess masters encode information about a position in chunks, but provide no direct methods for delimiting the chunk boundaries or detecting the relations that hold among the components of a chunk.  More understanding is needed to discover how many pieces constitutes a chunk, what the relative sizes are of the chunks of masters and weaker players, and how many chunks players retain after a brief view of a position.  Chunk size is larger for more skilled chess players, and the number of chunks is within the memory span.  Pieces within a single chunk are bound by relations of mutual defense, proximity, attack over small distances, and common color and type.  The size of a master’s vocabulary of chess-related configurations was initially estimated to be 50,000 to 100,000 chunks, although small perceptual chunks are most likely supplemented by large structures called templates.  (source:

In 1979, David Lane and Lauren Roberton, both from Rice University, tested the hypothesis that memory for chess positions is a function of the depth of processing and, particularly, of the richness of stimulus elaboration afforded by the combination of task and skill-level conditions.  They tested non-rated beginners and rated chess players and could not find a relationship between chess skill and recall under formal orienting instructions or no relationship between chess skill and memory for random positions.  Only when the subjects were able to perceive the 64 squares and various pieces as a meaningful configuration does the player with the better understanding of chess show any superiority.  In addition to being familiar with more patterns of chess pieces, stronger players are better that weaker players at integrating familiar configurations into a coherent whole.  (source: “The generality of the levels of processing hypothesis: An application to memory for chess positions” in Memory & Cognition, Vol 7 (4), pp. 253-256, 1979.

Dr. Fernand Gobet is a professor of Cognitive Psychology and an International Master.  He is a former Swiss Junior Champion and Swiss Champion, and was co-editor of the Swiss Chess Review from 1981 to 1989.  He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the memories of a chess player.  He has written many books and articles about chess and psychology.  He has been studying many aspects of chess psychology such as mental imagery, pattern recognition, and study and playing patterns of chess players.

In 1986, Gobet tried to replicate De Groot’s 1946 experiment of Grandmaster vs. amateur examination of chess positions.  Gobet was able to test four IMs, eight masters, and a total of 48 Swiss chess players on a series of chess quizzes in which the goal was to find the best move for White, without moving the pieces, with thinking time limited to 30 minutes

After studying hundreds of chess players, Gobet has found a strong correlation between the number of hours chess players have dedicated to chess (deliberate practice) and their current rating.  In one study of 104 players (101 males and 3 females), including 39 untitled players without any rating, 39 untitled players with ratings , 13 FIDE masters (FM), 10 International Masters (IM), and 3 GMs, he found that the unrated players reported and average of 8,303 hours of dedication to chess; the rated but untitled players reported 11,715 hours; the FMs reported 19,618 hours and the IMs reported 27,929  hours (no information on GMs).   It took an average of 11,000 hours to reach 2200.  One player needed around 3,000 hours to reach 2200, while another player spent more than 23,000 hours to achieve the same level. 

The average master (rated 2257) had 7.0 years of serious practice.  The average expert (2174) had 1.03 years of serious practice.  The masters increased their rating an average of 7 Elo points per year of serious practice, whereas the experts only increased their rating an average of 1 Elo point per year of serious practice.  Experts increased their chess-playing skill level very little with time, whereas masters kept increasing theirs.

In Gobet’s survey, 83% of the players reported playing blitz, 80% had a coach at some point, 67% used databases (game databases, but not playing programs), 66% played against chess programs; 56% followed chess games without using a chessboard, 23% played blindfold games.  Stronger players were more likely to have a coach, use databases, and played blitz.   

Stronger players also tended to own more chess books (and read them) than weaker players.  As an individual activity, reading chess books was the most important predictor of chess skill.  For group activity, coaching and speed games were the most significant predictors of chess skill, but less a predictor with age.

Dr. Gobet also found that group practice (including tournament games) was a better predictor of high-level performance than individual practice.

It has been shown that non-professional players who started playing chess at a young age, show interest and commitment to chess until the late teens.  This is when the amount of time devoted to chess peaks (about age 18).  After this, players start work or attend university and/or get married, which reduces the time spent playing chess.  By the mid-30s, when family and work issues are more stable, non-professional chess players return to the game and play more frequently.

Gobet showed that there was a clear indication that the first three years of serious chess practice at early ages are much more advantageous than the first three years of serious practice at later ages.    Most masters became serious about chess between 10 and 12.  Most experts became serious about chess around 14.

One important role in chess skill is pattern recognition (vs. the ability to search through the problem space).  Through years of practice and study, masters have learnt several hundred thousands of perceptual chess patterns (called chunking).  When one of these patterns is recognized in a particular position, the master then has rapid access to information such as potential moves or move sequences, tactics, and strategies.  This explains automatic and intuitive discovery of good moves by a master, as well as extraordinary memory for game-like chess positions.

Data from speed chess and simultaneous chess, show that limitations in thinking time do not impair chess master performance.  Chess masters seem to be more highly selective of their moves and direct their attention rapidly to good moves.  Grandmasters do not look at a lot of continuations of the game before choosing a move.  It seems that chunking, recognition of known chess patterns, plays a key role in a master’s ability to play fast and accurate.

So do strong players rely more on analyzing various alternatives, or do they rely on recognizing familiar chess patterns in the situation?  Do chess players put most of their emphasis on their analytic skills or on building up a huge knowledge base in their heads?  Perhaps it is a combination of search skills and pattern recognition.

Both pattern recognition and search models predict that strong players choose better moves, that they select  moves faster, and that they generate more nodes in one minute.  Gobet showed that the first prediction was met, but the second and third were supported only weakly.  Search models predict that strong players search more nodes and search deeper.  The first prediction was not met, but the second was in that the difference lies in the average depth of search, not in the maximal depth of search.  Finally, pattern recognition models predict that strong players mention fewer base moves, reinvestigate more often the same move, and jump less often between different moves.  All these predictions were met.

Gobet showed that another possible predictor of chess skill might be the starting age.  The average age at which players of each group started playing seriously was the following:  non-rated players – 18.6 years; rated players – 14.2 years; FMs – 11.6 years; IMs – 10.3 years; GMs (small sample) – 11.3 years.  Almost all the players with titles started playing seriously no later than age 12.

Becoming a master requires training activities that go beyond the type of repetitive and feedback-informed activities typically emphasized in earlier days.  Chess theory and computer technology has changed the ways chess players prepare for their games.  Masters try to memorize opening variations with the aid of chess databases, they investigate opening positions to find novelties to surprise their opponents, and they play tournament or training games against other players, or on the Internet, or against strong chess computer programs.

Dr. Gobet has also looked into the personalities of chess players.  Studies have found that adult chess players are more introverted and intuitive than the general population.  However, it is the more energetic and extraverted children that are more likely to play chess.  These children are, in general, more likely to try out activities such as chess than their less extraverted peers.  Children players who were stronger in chess than their peers were more curious, had broader intellectual and cultural interests, and were more accomplished in school than children who were weaker chess players.

In addition, stronger players also tend to me more intuitive than weaker ones.  Chess players also scored higher than non-players on the measures of orderliness and unconventional thinking.

Another consideration in chess thinking is the effect of ageing among chess players.  Studies have shown that in memory tasks where positions are briefly presented, for the same skill level, younger players recalled chess positions better than older players.  In spite of producing worse performance than younger players of the same skill level in memory tasks, older players performed equally well in problem solving tasks where they had to choose the best move, and that they were also faster at choosing their move.

In 1985, Dennis Holding argued that the main determinant of chess skill is ability to plan ahead by search, rather than reliance on recognition of positional patterns.  Specifically, he concluded that the differences between players at different levels of skill seem to be attributable to differences in the cognitive activities described by the search-and-evaluation theory.  The better players show greater competence in every phase on the search processes, conducting more knowledgeable evaluations, in order to anticipate events on the chessboard. (reference: Theories of chess skill by Dennis Holding, University of Louisville,

 In 1990, Pertti Saariluoma, a French psychologist and professor of cognitive science, studied the search function of top players and suggested the International Masters and Grandmasters sometimes search less than master chess players.  In tactical positions, he found that masters with a 2200 Elo rating looked at 52 nodes and at the largest depth of 5.1 moves.  By comparison, the IM and GM searched, on average, 23 nodes with an average depth of 3.6 moves.  Saariluoma conducted a series of experiments which suggest that grandmasters are much quicker than novices in certain low-level perceptual processes.  In one experiment, a king of one color was placed on the chessboard along with a piece of the other color.  The subject had to state whether the king was in check or not.  The average latencies were as follows: novices: 1550 milliseconds (ms), class players: 1250 ms, experts: 900 ms, grandmasters: 650 ms.  The results indicated that skill is inversely proportional to the reaction time.

After a century of investigation, not a single study with adult chess players has managed to establish a link between chess skill and intelligence.  Intellect had little predictive power among strong chess players. 


In 1996, Charness and others surveyed tournament-related chess players from Europe, Russia, and Canada to ascertain their beliefs about the relevance of different chess activities to their overall chess skill, and to collect estimates of the frequency and duration of time spent on these different activities. Although participants in this study rated active participation in tournaments as slightly more relevant to improving one’s chess skill than serious analysis of positions alone, subsequent regression analyses revealed that cumulative serious solitary chess study was the single most powerful predictor of chess skill ratings among a broad set of potential predictors, including tournament play and coaching.

In 1996, Fernand Gobet and Herbert Simon looked at the hypothesis of chess masters’ superiority in recalling meaningful material from their domain of expertise vanished when random material is used.  However, they found that strong players generally do maintain some superiority over weak players even with random positions, although the relative difference between skill levels is much smaller than with game positions.  With thousands of hours of intense practice and study, one would expect a master to have stored numerous chunks in their long term memory, including some unusual features, which would allow them to recognize, more often than weak players, familiar chunks that occur in random positions, thereby obtaining an advantage in recall.  It is also possible that masters have developed strategies to cope with uncommon situations, which occur sometimes in practice.  In addition, their familiarity with the materials (better knowledge of the topology of the chess board and its attributes) could give them some advantage in comparison with non-experts.  Gobet’s and Simon’s findings showed that the recall of a random position varies somewhat as a function of chess skill.  This could be due to three possibilities: (1) a large database of chunks in long-term memory, occasionally allowing the recognition of stored patterns that occur by chance in random positions; (2) the possession of strategies for coping with uncommon positions; (3) better knowledge of the topology of the chessboard. (source: “Recall of rapidly presented random chess positions is a function of skill” in Memory & Cognition, vol 24, pp. 493-503, 1996.

In 2001, Reingold, Charness, Pomplun, and Stampe employed eye movement-monitoring techniques in order to provide direct evidence for the hypothesis that a perceptual advantage is a fundamental component of chess skill.  They predicted that the perceptual advantage accruing to master chess players would be reflected in a larger view span for chess-related visual patterns, but not for patterns unrelated to chess.  The encoding of chunks rather than individual pieces by chess masters would result in fewer fixations, and fixations between rather than on individual pieces.  Prior research on eye fixations in chess has shown differences in variables such as fixation duration and coverage of the chessboard.  Previous studies showed that the chess master has an advantage in immediate memory for chess-related information following a very brief exposure to an unfamiliar position.  This study extended the findings by showing that masters have an advantage in extracting perceptual information in an individual fixation.  For check-to-the-king detection, the master extracts the necessary interpiece relations from both the foveal (part of the retina that permits 100% visual acuity) and parafoveal (region of the retina that covers 10 degrees radius around the fovea) regions.  Advanced chess skill attenuates change blindness by improving target detection in meaningful, but not scrambled, chess configurations, and this effect is due to greater span size relative to less-skilled chess players.  (source: Visual Span in expert chess players: Evidence From Eye Movements, published in Psychological Science, Vol 12, No. 1, January 2001,

Motivation in chess is very important.  The importance of the right motivation (i.e., all favorable psychological factors not directly related to technical knowledge of the game such as competitive spirit and the ability to remain calm under pressure) is widely acknowledged throughout the chess world.  Especially in matches between top players, psychological factors are thought to exert a substantial effect on the outcome.  Success in chess is most likely the product of ability and motivation.  Studies by Joireman, Fick, and Anderson (2002) showed that chess players score higher on tests of sensation seeking than do controls.   A motivation questionnaire was added to the Amsterdam Chess Test (ACT) to help measure chess playing proficiency.  The questionnaire consisted of three sets of 10 items.  Each set of items measured a separate motivation trait: positive fear of failure, negative fear of failure, and desire to win.  Items were both positively and negatively worded and included statements such as “Overpowering my opponent makes me feel good.”  (source: A psychometric analysis of chess expertise by van der Maas and Wagenmakers, University of Amsterdam,

In 2005, a group of researchers looked at the role of deliberate practice in chess expertise among a large, diverse group of tournament-rated chess players.  They found that chess players at the highest skill level (i.e., grandmasters) expended about 5,000 hours on serious chess study alone during their first decade of serious chess play – nearly 5 times the average amount reported by intermediate-level players.  These results provide further evidence to support the argument that deliberate practice plays a critical role in the acquisition of chess expertise.  The researchers gathered information on current skill rating, total log hours of serious study, total log hours of tournament play, total years of private instruction, total years of group instruction, current hours per week of serious study, current hours per week of tournament play, chess books owned, current age, starting age, and serious age for over 400 players over 6 years.  Cumulative study alone was the strongest predictor of current skill among the chess activities, with cumulative competitive play and cumulative individual instruction (years of instruction) showing some additional influence.