There is a factor that is more discussed than others when it comes to learning chess, I am of course talking about the starting age where one gets interested in the game. Unlike in other sports the stereotype of players being so young seems to be much more observed in chess, most people that are good started learning from a young age.
But what is the best starting age for learning chess? As a chess player here is what I know:
The best age to start learning chess is between 5 years old to 9 years old, almost all super grandmasters are between these ages when they’ve started learning. Learners can still become a professional if they’ve started between the ages of 13-18, although it is not ideal.
Different age groups seem to perform better than the others and that is what I am going to discuss here, you can self-reflect on your personal starting age so that your expectations will be realistic. Keep on reading if you want to learn more.
There is no absolute ideal learning age when it comes to chess proficiency
If you search this exact question online you might find several answers that are closely related to each other (usually between the ages of 5-12). Though there is a certain element of universality in this question, it is an important caveat to include that every individual is different.
Many individuals will have an easier time learning chess in their younger years since this is the time where they are more susceptible to learning (they don’t have a lot of competing knowledge yet). If you get kids playing chess throughout their childhood that is where they excel, they don’t have to think of other subjects since they don’t have many responsibilities yet.
However many individuals can learn chess better beyond the age of 13 where their brain is developing into a more complete version of their childhood gray matter. In other words, while there is a general rule about this (age) there are exceptions that might make the optimal age quite unique.
Different individuals will have a different optimal timeframe for learning, some would learn better as they pass the age of 10 and some would not. Ideally, the best age to start learning and be as strong as possible is between the age of 6-9.
Kids at the age of 6-9 are those that are willing to learn without becoming too bored of something, also this is around the time when children start to read and understand language. In order to really excel at chess, it is of course important to read books and understand the concern of tutors.
Basically, the rule is that as soon as possible, the optimal age is as soon as people are able to study efficiently (when they can read and write). There are exceptions just as stated above but this is the general range that applies in most cases.
Super-grandmasters have begun learning chess at the age of 5 to 9
One of the best ways to identify which is the most optimal age for chess learning is to look at the best players in the world right now and identify when they have started to learn. Since they are the people who have already “made it” the list will provide us with some data that can confirm our suspicion.
It turns out it is true, many super-grandmasters have even begun learning chess even under the age of 5, (under 5 yrs old is of course only applicable when the child has a natural talent for the game). Most super-grandmaster have begun learning chess as soon as they are able to speak and write.
However what is interesting is that there are also super grandmasters that have only begun learning chess at the age of 9, well beyond the time when the kid has only learned language and speech.
This might mean that people can still become very good even as a late bloomer, that you don’t have to play chess out of the womb in order to reach elite status. But we have to understand that 9-year-olds are not exactly “old”, they are still relatively young and not even considered a teen, what happens if we go beyond that age?
Learning chess at the age of 13-18 will usually still produce a very good player
If you are above the age of 10 there is still a good chance to become a very good player if you study between the age of 13-18, although do not expect to be a grandmaster since it will be improbable.
Chess grandmasters have been playing since they were children, it is not impossible but it is improbable.
Becoming a titled player (perhaps a Fide master or an international master) is well within reach for people who have only started at the age of 13-18, it is definitely not the optimal age for most people but it can be. There are grandmasters that have only started playing within this age group, so it is not exactly impossible.
What if you go beyond this age group (13-18)? Are there instances where people beyond 40 for example can have a very good time learning chess?
Individuals can still learn chess beyond the age of 40, just not on the pro-level
The best age to learn chess is usually on the younger side since this is the phase where the brain incorporates things much more easily, however you have to take this with a grain of salt. If you are not aiming to be a professional it is of course possible to be very good even beyond the age of 40.
I have personally met very strong informal players that are beyond 40, probably as strong as an international master (although they usually don’t have official titles since they don’t participate in tournaments).
Learning chess beyond 40 as harsh as it might sound is not a good starting point, this is the time when the brain is actually deteriorating. Only on rare occasions where the beyond 40 age group is the most optimal time to learn the game, in most instances, people in this group would not be able to reach their full potential.
Anyone who is starting at the age of 40+ can be very good at chess depending on the effort given, but do not expect to be a professional since it is very unlikely.
The best age to start learning chess should be around 6-9 years old, many super grandmasters who have been the best in the world for significant periods of time have begun learning chess at around this age group. This is for a good reason younger people are much more likely to incorporate the things that they learn as their brain is still developing.
People can still be very good beyond the age of 10, but most individuals who have found the best learning curve are under the age of 10. That is all, thank you for reading.