Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is Richie a Chess Prodigy?

After the Stamford Times article, I got to thinking about how Richie might be perceived by others. To get straight to the point, I'm pretty sure Richie is not a prodigy. He's a pretty normal 4 year old in just about every way. Generally prodigies exhibit exceptional talent in many different areas. I suppose that Richie stands out in that he has taken to chess at a pretty young age. But other than that, he's actually a perfectly ordinary 4 year old. He learned to walk at a normal age of 13 months or so (Alyssa was actually walking at around 9 months). As far as I can tell, his cognitive skills developed at a non-exceptional rate. He does not know how to read, or have an unusually advanced vocabulary. He doesn't know arithmetic beyond 3+3=6. His memory is good but not photographic or exceptionally good. If he has an unusual trait, it's that he's been able to focus on a single activity for long stretches of time since he was young which makes him suitable for a strategy game like chess.

The reason I bring these things up is that I think that parents shouldn't assume that their children must have an IQ of 180 to play chess at the age of 4. All they really need to do is introduce the game in a way that will make their kids like it, and from there learning takes care of itself.

Having said these things, I do believe that Richie is going to be strong for his age as long as he maintains interest. That's really a result of having played more games and seen more chess situations than most of his competition. At his current rate, I'd be surprised if that didn't remain true for the foreseeable future. To give an idea of how much playing he does, I estimate that he currently plays 3-5 games a day during the week and probably 10-15 games on the weekend. Most of his games are with me, or with kids in chess club/class but he's also started playing more with the computer. He also enjoys solving chess puzzles.

I did some research online and found a few cases of kids that were playing competitive chess by age 4. One case in India was actually a 3 year old girl. I also looked at the tournament records of some well known scholastic chess players who are recognized as top talents in the game as well as some of the national tournament winners in K and 1st grade and just about all of them had unremarkable starts to their chess careers but they all played many tournaments and showed fairly fast progress. Chess talent develops through interest and experience. Kids don't just spring from the womb knowing the main line of the Ruy Lopez or how to take advantage of a weak dark square complex. I suppose chess ability is rather more like language ability which at this age can be acquired subconsciously and at a much faster rate then an adult might even though an adult has the advantage of more developed powers of reasoning.

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