Is chess decided by natural talent? A hopeful answer

Chess is both about talent and hard work. Winning chess games below a 2000 Elo rating boils down to which player put in the most work. Talent doesn’t play a huge role in success unless the player is trying to be a professional. Until then, chess is more about hard work.

Talent is something that is needed in order to reach the pinnacle of any pursuit. People who have done the same thing and studied the same subject will have different results depending on their natural talent.

This is pretty important in chess but not in the way that you think, some exaggerated the role of talent in mastering chess too much than what it ought to be. That is the goal of this article, to provide clarification on the role of talent in chess.

There are some out there who impede themselves from learning this great game because they are afraid they don’t have the talent for it, I hope this article will motivate you since I have something interesting for you.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Exaggerated the role of talent in chess

There is of course a degree to which natural talent can affect one’s ability to master chess positively, however this influence is usually exaggerated than what it actually is.

The talent that I am talking about is the ability to absorb ideas faster and apply them in real games. There is a special breed of people that can learn much more quickly than others due to their natural capabilities, this is true. 

However there is a good thing from this information, which is that talented individuals can only really learn chess if they decide to learn it in the first place. 

Chess is one of the games that are more knowledge and research-focused, that a random genius from somewhere wouldn’t beat someone who’s rigorously studied the game (unless they have studied it themselves).

Many of the principles of the game are something that you need to acquire through experience and study, these are ideas that don’t occur to someone naturally no matter how talented they are.

A good example of these are theoretical openings, no matter how much of a genius someone is, they wouldn’t be able to beat someone who has studied a line with a computer extensively.

Talent alone doesn’t equate to a good chess player, it is a factor but at the beginning stages (below 2000 Elo) hard work is much more fruitful.

Being intelligent is not a guarantee in chess

Some people think that being intelligent is already a form of talent that can help them in learning chess, it might be true sometimes but it is not always the case. You still need to put in the work to really learn the game.

A lot of knowledge that can be used in the game can really only apply to chess because it is not something that people normally study.

This means that someone who is good at academics for example wouldn’t excel in chess automatically since it is a completely new subject.

Talent and intelligence are used hand to hand when talking about chess since it is primarily a mental game, it would definitely help if you enjoy studying but is not a guarantee since it is a totally new topic.

Natural talent decides peak in chess, not overall performance

Natural talent in chess will be a deciding factor on how far a player can achieve his strength (peak). However if we are thinking about the strength of below 2000 (which is already strong for some people) it is achievable even without too much talent.

This is true in other fields, natural talent will serve as a tiebreaker when the same individual who puts in about equal amounts of work competes for a single position (winner). The one who is slightly more talented will win.

But the thing is, not all matches in competitive chess will occur at the top of everyone’s potential. The majority of rated games are “the grind” where you are in a smaller league with players that are not really the top of the world caliber yet.

This means that in the majority of cases, you could win even without using your natural talent as long as you study the game.

After all, the majority of the competitions you’re going to be participating in are not the peak of the chess world therefore needing less talent.

It will be a factor for sure, but it wouldn’t be that big of a factor in most of the game since not a lot of people work hard on their chess game (investing money on chess courses, coaches, etc.).

The bigger factor will be the amount of work you have invested in rather than natural talent for the most part.

Talented beginners will learn faster

For those people who are non-professionals, talent will mostly only decide how fast someone can learn and not how better they could actually learn chess.

If someone likes studying outside of chess, then they are more likely to read more books and resources that will make them good faster, this is true. But once you’ve got to the thing that they have already studied then the playing field will be leveled.

Just because someone is much more detail-oriented does not mean that they could apply it in practical positions.

It is of course a possibility that they are capable of it (players who can study faster to apply the things that they’ve learned) but you can still catch up to them once you have studied enough.

Below 2000 elo (which is where the majority of the chess population resides) talent is not much of an issue compared to those above 2000 elo.

You need to be talented to be a professional chess player

I said above, talent is not much of an issue when you are playing in the smaller leagues (basically non-professional), but that does not apply when you are praying for the bigger ones. 

If you are looking to be a professional chess player, talent is definitely something that you should look for within yourself. This is a hard game to play for a living and talent is the deciding factor for competitive success.

If you want to take this seriously and try reaching the pinnacle of the chess rankings, talent is definitely an essential recipe for your success. 

Because at that point you are not really looking to win a game or two from some chess tournament, you are looking to make a living out of a less lucrative career that you need to win a lot of games from. 

This means that you should not only be able to work hard but also be capable of becoming better than anyone else who has put in the same amount of work, talent will be much of an essential in this scenario.

Importance of talent in chess depending on prestige

The level of influence talent has on accomplishing one’s goal in chess depends on the level of the goal. I’m talking about the prestige that a lot of people are seeking in chess, and how some goals are more realistic than others. 

If we are talking about who can reach the top of the world then there is of course a lot of talent into play. But if we are talking about who can win that small tournament in an unknown place, it is usually the one who put in the work.

This is because the level of competition is usually weak in an unknown chess tournament and not a lot of people have put in the work. 

Against prestigious top of the world chess players however, they are likely to have invested an extraneous amount of effort in understanding the game that you need something more than just hard work to excel.

Hardwork and talent in chess

I don’t think some people understand this, but in order to be at the top of the game talent is not enough as the same as hard work is not enough. Without one or the other a player could never reach their peak potential.

I have literally compiled a list of the most underrated chess players ever. A lot of these players have a hard upbringing and are not necessarily talented. It shows that in order to be the best, you also need to work hard.

People who have natural talent at the top of the chess world exert ridiculous amounts of hours practicing their craft. Chess does give bonuses for talents but you need hard work too.

The top 10 chess players in the world speak, breathe, and probably study chess (something that can be boring and repetitive over time) thoroughly without stopping in order to improve their game. 

They may take a break here and there, but I am pretty sure that they are thinking about chess (mostly their preparation) everyday depending on which tournament they are going to be competing in the future.

Chess computers killed the reliance on pure talent

Due to the dominance of memorization and computers, talent is not as big of a factor as it used to be and it is possible to outwork somebody more talented.

You just have to pick a very powerful chess engine (which is the strongest entity that has ever played chess), memorize a line that has a subtle computer move and take your opponent there.

No matter how talented someone is, they are very unlikely to play perfectly against a brute force chess computer that can calculate better than the best player in the world right now. Even if they can find the basic refutation you are very likely to just play better.

What I am saying is that preparation decreases the role of talent in chess since people can just memorize lines beforehand and play it without using their natural ability to find the moves. 

When you can consult an engine that outshine the best talents the world can offer, it really decreases the value of talent since most people can just memorize and beat more talented individuals.

Talent is still important in chess!

Now, throughout reading this article you might come to believe that talent is just something that you shouldn’t worry about since it doesn’t influence your level of play. This is of course not true, talent is still important.

Don’t get me wrong, talent is still a factor since there are people who study chess their whole life and still aren’t at a level that they are expecting. But what I am saying is that it is not as big a deal as a lot of people think it is.

The majority of people who play chess are not really aspiring to be a professional, therefore they are not going to participate in the competitive wheel where there is a pressure of winning. 

Most people just want to be very good to beat their uncle, neighbor, or chess club members that doesn’t require being a chess professional.

If you can reach 2000 elo you are probably better than most people who play chess and can wipe the floor with any non-professionals.

2000 elo is definitely reachable even without too much talent and most people can attain such a rating with continuous study. The fact that it is attainable means that you can be very good in chess even without too much talent for the most part.

The difficulty of qualifying talent in chess

It is very hard to describe the role of talent in chess since there is no way to separate the strength gained from serious study, and the strength that comes naturally.

The thing is, it is hard to quantify whether someone has reached the top because they are talented or because they just outworked everyone (nature vs. nurture debate). It is hard to make a study that will really answer this question.

Even in the future there probably won’t be many bodies of research objectively tackling the role of talent in chess unless some clever way is used to gather the result. From my experience though, you shouldn’t really worry about it.

It is definitely important but as long as you put in the work you are very likely to be better than anyone who plays chess (non-professionals). And if you’re only really competing for fun as a sort of a hobby, then this is acceptable.

This only matters if you are trying to be a professional and reach the pinnacle of the chess world, but if you are not, then it is just fine.

Just study the best you can and you will be better than most chess players (since not all are willing to study).

Final thoughts

Being talented is a gift that we should be proud of and be used to its full potential, however not everyone will be talented on some things even if you like that thing (chess in this instance). But that is okay.

In a pursuit that is centered around knowledge such as chess, studying and hardworking makes more progress than initial talent. One wouldn’t figure out openings with talent alone for example, they need to study it intricately.

Do not allow your mind to be full of doubts when learning chess, it may just hold you back and do more harm than good. You don’t know, you might actually be talented in this. That is for you to discover though, sleep well and play chess.