How come children have an easier time learning chess compared to adults?

Mar 10, 2016
  arunjchess
StaffCoach 2170

We've all been there; Face to face with a ten-year-old armed with her giggles and ponytails, being mercilessly beaten, with our pieces butchered and King dragged out in the open. Perhaps a lot of people reading this are lucky this didn't happen to them, but not me!

This made me wonder why it's very difficult to make progress in Chess as an adult while it seems children are making steady effortless progress.

A little googling, and I felt that I wasn't the only one with this question. The question has invaded internet forums and also people's mind in many ways. Maybe people don't like losing to ten-year-olds, but this question gives rise to an important discussion in brain science - why is it difficult to learn something new as an adult?

Adults obviously have to face a lot of problems, but they do have some advantage of being a grown up! Let me list some of my observations below:

1. Commitment: Most adults work in a 9 to 5 job, and they have a family to take care of. Between all this, it would be unimaginable to steal a few productive hours for chess. On the other hand, kids don't seem to have as many responsibilities as adults, which makes it easy for them to progress in Chess.

Alright, let's acknowledge it. One point to the kids. They beat us in this one. Here's a good quote to illustrate my point.

Chess is like body-building. If you train every day, you stay in top shape. It is the same with your brain – chess is a matter of daily training. ~ Vladimir Kramnik.

 

2. Learning and unlearning:

Old habits are hard to change. Adults have the extra burden of unlearning previously learned "flawed" patterns, which may be a hurdle in their way of getting better at the game. This also includes chess habits, that have to be unlearned. One of which is blindly memorizing moves without understanding them. I had this problem when I was developing without the supervision of a coach. I later learned that it was a bad idea to memorize something without properly understanding it.

Other chess habits that needs to be rewired are:

- The way an adult player thinks and makes decisions on the chess board. Some might have an attachment to any specific piece like the bishop, or the knight, reflecting in their decision making. Or they might love a particular type of position too much, thereby missing better moves. Some might not have developed a structured way of analyzing a chess position. All such old bad habits have to be unlearned if an adult player aims high in the chess ladder.

We're on the disadvantage again! Two points to team kids.

3. The adult brain: 

Neuroplasticity is one of those new findings in brain science, where it was discovered that the brain is not hard-wired as previously thought, but that it is soft-wired by experience. Which means, you are not the brain you were born with. It gets shaped by experience.

Scientists have also discovered the process of neurogenesis, which means that new neurons can be generated by the brain, especially the hippocampus part of the brain, which is responsible for long-term memory.

The human brain is capable of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis at any age, but compared to the brains of kids, well, let's admit it - We need to make some extra effort.

On the other hand, we have the advantage of a mature brain. Complex concepts can be easily understood by an adult brain, especially because the person already has the neural connections to relate to this new piece of information, and the experience to break down its complexity into smaller chunks!

So, hurray! We score our first point! It's 2 to 1 in the favor of kids now.

4. The power of the green bills $$$

Adult players are more independent and make their own decisions. They don't have to ask their parents if they want to buy a subscription to a chess website, or hire a coach. Most adults make their own living, and don't depend on parents for money or permission.

This is not the case for kids, who rely largely on parents and sponsors to help them in their chess career.

Now the score is level with two points for each team! :D

5. A dent in the ego:

A loss to a player several times tinier than you leave a big dent in your ego. I know how it hurts, but I got used to it.

I've also noticed this in the events we organize at our chess club. We noticed a few adult players leave the tournament after a few defeats in the hands of younger players. They come with pretty clever excuses. They quickly make a phone call in our presence and pretend that they have a very important meeting, or somebody becomes sick at home.


Now, you know what this leaves us with. Three points to kids and two points for us.

Ouch, that hurts, doesn't it?


It does, but then it leaves us with a realization. 

You can go like... " Well, well, so, this is the secret to making progress in Chess as an adult then!"

To become a kid once more! To see chess with a new pair of eyes; to make mistakes valiantly and learn from it wisely. To prepare fearlessly, and play happily! 

Or, as Susan Polgar summarizes it: "Win with grace and lose with dignity "


Make every moment a learning opportunity, and keep growing consistently. Best wishes for your journey!

 


 Bonus:


If you like stories, here's a short one:

A little girl and the king.

India has a lot of folk tales, and here's one that I remember from my childhood.

There once lived an illiterate king in India, and he was very tired of not being able to read and write. So, one day he decided that he must be educated, and summoned the greatest teachers in his country to appear before his court.

One highly educated scholar was picked and the King gave him orders.

"In a week, you'll make me read and write. If not, you'll head will be chopped"

The guy was worried, nd went back home with a sad face.

He had a wife and a little child. The little girl noticed the sadness in her father's face and inquired about what happened.

After listening to his story, the little girl made a plan and asked her father to bring the King to the river side the next day.

The scholar was happy that the girl had some plan, but was confused about what it might be.

The next day when the king visited the little girl, the girl took no notice and was busy throwing stones into the river.

The angry king asked the girl what she was doing. The girl said "oh dear king, I'm building a bridge here so that people can cross the river easily"

"How foolish! How can you build a bridge by throwing stones in it. You must first build the foundation and then gradually build the bridge stage by stage from there" he said.

" You see, dear king, this is also true with learning. You cannot learn in a single day or week.
You must first build a foundation for your learning from the very basics.  "

This enlightened the king and made him realize his foolishness. He later apologized to the scholar and praised the wit of the little girl.

~ The End ~

 

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4 Comments

AoxomoxoA 02:28 - 12 Mar 2016
Performance is a matter of KSA
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge,_Skills,_and_Abilities

Knowlede are things you can read in a book, abilitys are for example your ability to play special endgames "perfect" like say KBBvk.
Skill is: to solve a mate in 3 in 2 minutes instead of 30 min.

Knowledge and Abilitys are seemingly no big poblem for adult learners but the (motor) skills are.
We adult can learn the words of a new language maybe even better than a kid..but our pronounciation , the flow will not get as good. It will take us longer to find the word to create the sentence.
Chess is mainly a game of skills. The young players dont know about their opening that much, they might not know that many games, they dont know as much about pawnstructures and they did not read as much as we did about endgames.. they just play better, they calculate better, they can make their "bad" moves work.
Nigel Davies said somewhere that adult improvers often reach a ceiling in tactics very soon and .. that they should learn things like pawnbreaks instead. But with bad tactical skills we will never improve to a certain degree
arunjchess 10:17 - 12 Mar 2016
Thanks for your comment, AoxomoxoA :)
cukaba 19:38 - 28 Apr 2016
If you practice at an early age, you will have a better chance of getting a good rating. Chessity gives better chances to young players to achieve success. However, you need to play lots of games to put your knowledge to the test. If you play too many games people will start beating you, so leave a gap after every game. This is why juniors are able to play so well.
cukaba 21:51 - 28 Apr 2016
If you practice at an early age, you will have a better chance of getting a good rating. Chessity gives better chances to young players to achieve success. However, you need to play lots of games to put your knowledge to the test. If you play too many games people will start beating you, so leave a gap after every game. This is why juniors are able to play so well.

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