How many hours does it take to become a chess grandmaster?

On average, grandmasters spend about 11,960 hours from their starting age before becoming a grandmaster

Being a grandmaster in chess is an astonishing achievement that takes a lifetime of effort to actually perform. You just don’t wake up tomorrow and be a gm just by “pure talent”.

Even really gifted individuals still have to pursue a level of investment in time to reach this level. That is what we are going to explore today, how much time (in hours) does it take to become a grandmaster?

Now these estimates are from the data of my findings, different sources will give a varied answer. But this should definitely express the gist of what we are looking for.

So let’s break it down one by one.

What factors determine a chess player’s studying hours?

In order to determine a grandmaster’s allotted time before reaching their status a couple of factors should be considered.

A grandmaster’s starting age, hours per week, and hours exerted before achieving the grandmaster title are the factors that produce the grandmaster’s total studying hours.

We need to calculate these three components (per grandmaster) in order to formulate a proper understanding of the total hours.

Here they are:

Starting age

This is the age by which the grandmaster started playing or learning the basics of chess, basically when did they start their journey. I have some trouble with the research about finding the data, which tells you how vague the history of the numbers.

Even really famous players who are on top of the world status have really few documentations of when they really got into the chess game.

The results (for me) in this article is a little bit untrustworthy since it just comes from interviews and some general sites online.

But I do believe that this serves everything around the area we are looking for (since this is just an estimate anyway) so it may not be precise, but can still be accurate.

Hours per week

If the previous one has a degree of ambiguity in its nature, this one is completely black. Almost nobody completely opens their studying time each day (much less a week).

The only one I’ve seen was the likes of Carlsen, but we can’t really take him as a full representative of the general population since his numbers are beyond the regular players.

I’ve seen a thread though that discusses how more than 20 hours of studying time will pose some issues on the player’s mental health (in the long term). This I believe is enough evidence to warrant the average as 20 hours per week.

That is like 20÷7= 2.8 hours per day sure (which seems few), but this does not include watching other people’s games (not a direct study) and taking breaks every now and then for a whole day.

So I think this number is really fitting for our needs.

Hours exerted before achieving the grandmaster title

If all the other information is those that I have some doubts about, this is definitely not one of them.

Being granted the desired title is worthy of recognition that would be easily searched online. So I’m pretty confident about the crunches that I’ve made in this area, the year and age by which they’ve become a grandmaster.

Basically this is the last of the line that ends our calculation (the starting age is the first) the one in the middle is what we are interested though (total hours).

First let’s start calculating some of the top player’s studying time.

What are the studying hours of top grandmasters before getting their title?

On average, top grandmasters spend about 9,256 hours from their starting age before becoming a grandmaster

By top players I mean those that have at least reached the top 20 status at some point in their life, the classes of the elites. We are not going to include the rest of their career, just the starting age until they’ve become a grandmaster.

Let’s break it one by one.

Starting age (top grandmaster)

Below are the data by which some of the elite players have started learning some chess:

PlayerStarting Age
Magnus Carlsen5 yrs. old
Fabiano Caruana5 yrs. old
Hikaru Nakamura7 yrs. old
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave4 yrs. old
Vishwanathan Anand6 yrs. old
Alexander Grischuk4 yrs. old
Levon Aronian9 yrs. old
Sergey Karjakin5 yrs. old
Anish Giri6 yrs. old
Wesley So7 yrs. old

As you can see there is a pattern, a lot of these people have started very early in life and I’m sure has a head start than most players.

This tells you something about what it takes to reach their level, most of them have basically been playing all their life (the lowest is Aronian at nine years old which is still young).

This will be the starting point of our calculation.

Age when the grandmaster title is achieved (top grandmaster)

Here are the top grandmasters age when they’ve fully conceived their grandmaster status:

PlayerAge when becoming a Grandmaster
Magnus Carlsen13 yrs. old
Fabiano Caruana14 yrs. old
Hikaru Nakamura15 yrs. old
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave14 yrs. old
Vishwanathan Anand18 yrs. old
Alexander Grischuk16 yrs. old
Levon Aronian17 yrs. old
Sergey Karjakin12 yrs. old
Anish Giri14 yrs. old
Wesley So14 yrs. old

Following the pattern from before, it is clear that a lot of these people also have reached the gm level very early in life.

Some of them become fully-pledged before maturing in adolescence, so they likely would give lesser studying hours than the general population.

So this is our second end of the line tying the knot from the starting age. The middle is what we’re going to try to get now.

Total studying hours between starting age and grandmaster age

First let’s see how much studying time is there in a year following the guideline (20 hours per week) seeing where we take from there.

There are a total of 52.143 weeks in a calendar year (there is no exact number since February have lesser days), we’ll just count it as 52.

So, 

52 × 20 (hours) = 1,040 hours per year.

Based on this data, this should be the number of hours each player have spent before getting their title:

PlayerNumber of Hours
Magnus Carlsen8,320 hours
Fabiano Caruana9,360 hours
Hikaru Nakamura8,320 hours
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave10,400 hours
Vishwanathan Anand12,480 hours
Alexander Grischuk12,480 hours
Levon Aronian8,320 hours
Sergey Karjakin7,280 hours
Anish Giri8,320 hours
Wesley So7,280 hours

Of course this is not hard to knock data that exactly pinpoint the player’s actual studying time (it only includes the years, not the months).

That is why some players have similar numbers in there since I’ve only taken into consideration the year (between starting age and grandmaster age).

In total, the average of everything (summing all of them and divided by 10) is equal to 9,256 hours of studying time before a top player has managed to snip a grandmaster title.

What are the studying hours of traditional grandmasters before getting their titles?

Traditional Grandmasters on average spend about 14,664 hours of studying time before becoming a grandmaster.

Seeking the statistics correlating with strong players is a good variable, but we can all agree that they likely do not represent a good portion of people who play chess.

That is why we need to take into consideration what I call the “traditional grandmasters”. These are strong players but not top of the world status.

Let’s get to it.

Starting age (traditional grandmaster)

Here are ten of the “traditional” grandmasters I’ve picked and when they’ve started playing chess:

PlayerStarting Age
Ivan Sariç4 yrs. old
Baadur Jobava4 yrs. old
Vidit Gujrathi7 yrs. old
Jeffrey Xiong5 yrs. old
Basem Ammin5 yrs. old
Aman Hambleton5 yrs. old
Ben Finegold5 yrs. old
Eric Hansen9 yrs. old
Nihal Sarin6 yrs. old
Krishnan Sasikiran10 yrs. old

I’m actually surprised by this one, most of them also have started really young (not even beyond 10) and is just slightly far off from those earlier.

This tells you that anyone of them could easily become one of the players at the top (or maybe they are still on the way there). But I’ve personally just found it interesting that there’s not much diversity in here.

Age when the grandmaster title is achieved (traditional grandmaster)

Here’s the age when they’ve become a fully-fledged grandmaster:

PlayerAge when becoming a Grandmaster
Ivan Sariç18 yrs. old
Baadur Jobava17 yrs. old
Vidit Gujrathi19 yrs. old
Jeffrey Xiong15 yrs. old
Basem Ammin17 yrs. old
Aman Hambleton21 yrs. old
Ben Finegold40 yrs. old
Eric Hansen21 yrs. old
Nihal Sarin14 yrs. old
Krishnan Sasikiran19 yrs. old

Now there is a certain degree of polarity in here which I think is pretty accurate for most people. Sir Ben Finegold for example (very helpful gm) is admirable for not giving up and eventually getting that title.

But this should tell you the difficulty of actually achieving such status (which we have taken for granted due to the data earlier). I’m happy though for finding this case since it will make the data more accurate.

Total studying hours between starting age and grandmaster age

Again we are using the variable from above (1,040 hr. per year) to get the total studying time before becoming a grandmaster.

Here are the results:

PlayerTotal studying Hours
Ivan Sariç14,560 hours
Baadur Jobava13,520 hours
Vidit Gujrathi12,480 hours
Jeffrey Xiong10,400 hours
Basem Ammin12,480 hours
Aman Hambleton16,640 hours
Ben Finegold36,400 hours
Eric Hansen12,480 hours
Nihal Sarin8,320 hours
Krishnan Sasikiran9,360 hours

Noticeably, the numbers here are much higher (but only slightly) than those from top players. The average is actually 14,664 hours (9,256 for top players) before someone from above can get close to that title.

I think these two components from traditional to top grandmasters provide us with a more sufficient understanding of the question.

So I want to take the average for the two.

14,664 hours + 9,256= 23,920 ÷ 2 = 11,960.

So the total average for someone to actually become a grandmaster (according to this data) is 11,960.

Conclusion

Becoming a grandmaster really is a hard road filled with sacrifices of both time and effort. This is no joke, people in this industry have been playing for most of their life so we should give them the respect that they deserve.

It is not easy to which reach this far, you can be playing for years like all of the people here and still not make it. Though you yourself are unlikely to be pursuing chess as a profession, this just tries to paint the general picture.

I hope you’re satisfied, sleep well and play chess.

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