06 December 2015

Age and Chess

IM Silman's latest article at Chess.com is "Old Age, Great Chess!"

In it, he takes as the centerpiece of his discussion IM Anthony Saidy, who is something of a legend in US chess, with his career stretching from the Fischer era to the present.  While it's intended to be an homage to Saidy, there are also some points made about age and its affect on chessplaying ability.  For those such as myself looking to improve while past the teenage years, there are a number of interesting observations in the comments section that go beyond the article's focus.

Basically, there's no need to give up hope.  Even if technically speaking we may have passed our absolute peak potential in terms of mental energy and focus, with sufficient time to devote to effortful study there's still an upswing possible on the learning and performance curve.


  1. I think, the performance in chess is based on "KSA" = Knowledge,Skill and Ability. While Skills seems to be hard to improve after a certain age ( and training ), Knowledge and Abilitys are still improvable.
    Old folks still can "learn more about openings, memorise more key positions..."( = knowledge ) and learn "how to win more endgames like KNBk RPKrk and so forth" ( = abilitys ).

  2. I don't consider this article to have any relevance to my (or possibly our) situation. Saidy was good when he was young. This is simply about him retaining his skills. My (and many Knights') situation is about gaining skill in middle age. So basically, there might still be reason to give up hope! :)

  3. There is no reason to give up hope to improve a few hundred points. I am solving tactic puzzles about as good as Munich but Munich has a OTB Rating 300 points above me. Tactics is not everything in chess.

  4. I think its Not clear what limitations age puts on our ability to dramatically improve on our whole game. overall chess performance is dependent on quite a lot of different skills, and abilities. everything from being able to accurate see important counterplay in a complex and forceful variation to just the athletic ability to keep concentrating- once a game has gone very long.

    some of those abilities, definitely are hampered by age. but it is also very odd and unusual for a hobby to be SO obsessed on ones ability to dramatically improve in it. think of running; tons are people run- including those that are shockingly old. many people have no dramatic desire to become very competitive about it; and Just about all the older runners; accept that their performance is bound to decrease. Instead they take joy in it; even though there really is no hope for future improvement.

    I'm not saying; we MUST or should accept no improvement in our hobby; chess offers an opportunity for improvement (for older people) that something like that doesn't. but Nonetheless- we DO take this rating thing Far too much. Rating isn't neccesarily improvement & improvement isn't neccesary to enjoying chess.

    In fact, I think the fact that improvement is so hard won; is very motivating. only my best most determined effort will work; and because improvement doesn't easily come every day (well not in a obvious easy to see way)- means I need to persist and continue to try

  5. I strongly believe there is some kind of "weird old rule" - it states: THE older you are THE harder it is to improve (especially if you are B or A class player).

    There are MANY factors that are responsible for the difficulty of making progress when we gets older. For example: lack of necessary stamina, perseverance, motivation, endurance or just a will (willpower). It may be not that important when you have a coach and you work really hard. Otherwise it is quite unlikely that most "old-timers" are able to reach a substantial (significant) improvement at chess. I simply do not believe it - at least not when you are above 40! At least your private and proffesional life come into the way of chess!

  6. you HAD to say 40! (as I am 41)

    I strongly agree that I lot of hard work is the only way forward- I also think a HUGE aspect of improvement at this age is persistence and the seriousness of our chess improvement.

    to the young-- chess improvement can come with simple whims and perhaps a mild case of peer-centered motivation (the desire not to be humiliated in front of ones peers)- but for older players- only deep rooted habits and long term efforts are good enough.

    Consider two players; one of which spends nearly all of his free time day after day- looking over his game errors; doing puzzles, devouring instructive books.... the other is more passive; he routinely blitz's but only puzzles sporadically, rarely looks at his games mistakes; has a token study of endgame and annotated games, and faithfully pays a coach but mostly nods his way through the lesson. He thinks his dissapointing results are clearly the result of age based blunders...

    both players sustain these habits for a year. which one would improve? of course player A. player B's program is more imagined than real. but both players MIGHT say they faithfully studied chess, (constantly) for a year. IN fact, both players might even put in similar amounts of time. But the quality of that time spent is Very important IMHO.
    BTW I give these examples because I sometimes am more like the first and other times more like the second.

    the fact I haven't built serious long term habits about deep study, is a very real concern to me. I can only say that I think ( even at 40+ ), where there is commitment and dedication there is hope. I DO spend nearly daily efforts at improving and am not just blitzing poor moves into bad habits. I want to improve my ability to deeply study chess and have recently been scrutinizing my game MUCH more closely.

    I also want to make the point that a coach is NOT as important IMHO, as a personal dedication to instructive and deep study of chess- not just constant playing , but careful analysis of our errors. a coach can help us see those errors, but in the end, the few hours a week is just a fraction of the deep study neccesary to improve at my age.

  7. I want to briefly say, that while this topic is not the most common of chess.com forum topics- its brought up often and usually said something like...

    "I'm just starting studying at the age of 45, can I become a FM?"

    in truth no one Knows the limitation of age on an otherwise committed and persistent chess player. Few people have become masters as an adult- and many of them were strong youth club players that didn't take it seriously as a teen.

    the point is the very question is silly and too hypothetical.

    I wish silman had said that.

    the most important question for me, is not whether I can attain a given rating level- but "HOW do I get a little better at this game" and for me, I constantly obsess about that question.

    I figure, If I get good answers to that- the rating will eventually reflect the drive to improve.

  8. Hard Work and success.. thats religion, a puritanistic believe, an capitalistic Hoarx.
    I "believe" in passion and love, joy and happiness.. thats more convenient and makes a smile in your face ;)
    What seem to be "hard work" in chess becomes "fun" for the person with love for the game. Without love for this game improvement will be virtually impossible no matter how hard you work.


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