Monday, February 05, 2007

If Science Says It . . .

Some good news for dedicated chess idiots like me from Kathy Sierra, via The Atomic Patzer: it's never too late to become a Grandmaster.

"How many people think they've missed their opportunity to be a musician, or an expert golfer, or even a chess grand master because they didn't start when they were young? Or because they simply lacked natural talent?" asks Kathy. "Those people are (mostly) wrong." And since she found this out via "some brain scientists," there's obviously not much room for doubt either.

(On the other hand, I recall being determined once to learn Salsa Dancing, since a girl I met on a train decided upon a lesson as a first date. One fractured toe and a Thursday night in Casualty later, I vowed never to return, and just stick to Chess Club the week after.)

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

GM Chris Ward told me that he is a Salsa dance teacher. Not sure if he's ever got any dates from train journeys though!
(Andrew)

Anonymous said...

The article also says that many people become fairly proficient at something and then coast along at that, never really improving. There are loads of adults at chess congresses to whom this applies to, aswell as myself and whoever is reading this atm. Think this can be applied to openings also- I'm giving up the Dutch Stonewall as I feel I am coasting along in it. Maybe I should put more effort into improving it, but it somehow seems more pleasant to go back to square 1 with another opening. I know one of the Cutmores changes his opening every season.
(Andrew)

ejh said...

I don't believe it's possible to significantly improve later in life, and I particularly don't believe it from somebody who one suspects says things like "go for it!". All right, maybe if one concentrated on chess to the exclusion of all else, but even then I don't really think so. You're not just accumulating knowledge, which you can do at any age, you're trying to improve dedeply ingrained patterns of thought, which frankly you're rather more likely to damage than improve.

I do wonder, however, whether it's possible to identify one's failings and cut them out, to a degree. Not to become better, but to become, if I may use the ungrammatical term, "less worse".

Anonymous said...

You've sort of answered yourself. The article was saying that people get to a certain level, but this can only take them so far. They need to discard what they learnt so they can learn something that will help them reach higher levels. One of the comments to the article mentioned Tiger Woods replacing his swing- this would have a short term negative effect but make it able to attain higher levels in the future. Of course as you said- unlearning gets harder, the more ingrained something is. Perhaps computers can help- you believe something to be true, a computer can help put you straight. That said, a computer would probably put you straight even if you were right all along!
(Andrew)

Jim said...

I actually collaborated with Kathy Sierra on a book - href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0596005717/immaculate-books">Head First EJB.

She knows what she's talking about.

ejh said...

Well, that perhaps remains to be seen - until such time as somebody actually becomes a chess grandmaster late in life using her methods?

Otherwise it's just railway-station bookstall stuff, to me.

Tom Chivers said...

I wonder how old the oldest person to qualify for the GM title was?

ejh said...

Well, if you click here and scroll down to Grandmasters...









... you'll find out that even Edward Winter doesn't know.

Tom Chivers said...

He really is the Schrödinger's box of chess history, isn't he?

Nothing happened for certain unless you know it from him!

CP said...

Tom,
I know Salsa is one of the more energetic ballroom dances, but is it really possible to break a toe doing such an activity?
Did you trip down the step leaving?

Tom Chivers said...

I can tell you for a fact - it's definitely possible to break the toe of the person you're trying to seduce, during Salsa lessons. You do it by stamping on their foot.

cp said...

Ah, was that when you said you'd rather be playing chess?

Tom Chivers said...

What I was getting at was - I'm so clumsy a dancer, no partner's feet is safe with me!

Right, I'm hopefully off to the airport to catch a flight to Holland, if the runway's not snowed under...