Why I’m learning chess

Published by Richard Hare on


When I was a teenager, my aunt bought me a flat, magnetic travel chess set. I often played against friends at school during registration.

It’s always been a disappointment to me that I didn’t acquire a deeper understanding of chess. I assumed a talent for the game depended on the ability to think some number of moves ahead which approached infinity. My reading – Know The Game: Chess, available from all good sports shops – on opening and endgame theory stopped almost as soon as it started – and I never took the time to learn the notation.

Recently I read Gary Klein’s book “Sources Of Power – How People Make Decisions”. (Perhaps you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” which quotes a couple of the cases, but draws some erroneous conclusions.)

Klein explains how we make decisions not based on a rational analysis of the available data, but by looking for a recognisable pattern with which we are already familiar. This trait – pattern recognition – is especially well developed in chess players and correlates with an ability to speak languages.

This would all be pretty much by-the-by were it not for something else I learned at the recent Cognitive Edge Accreditation Course. Up to the age of 25 our developing brains are open to new pattern formation. (No coincidence that Einstein did his most important work before this age.) But after the age of 25, the established brain works with the patterns it has already formed. Until… around the age of 45, when the brain becomes more open again.

That means I’ve got about five years to practice and learn in preparation. And thanks to the wonders of modern global communication, I’ve already got a coach. In Albania.

I realise it takes talent – I’m not expecting to become Grandmaster.

Not in the first five years.

It’s good to have something to aim for though.

Categories: Knowledge Management

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