The top FIDE rated players (2700 chess) are all under 50 years old. Most of them seem to be around the 23-32 age range. Why is this the case? I don't really know if this has always been the case or if it this is just something apparent in the current generation.

I'm guessing this is the case for a number of reasons that may include:

  • Leaving chess
  • Lacking needed attention
  • Lacking stamina
  • Impaired memory of positions and theory
  • 5
    You have answered it yourself
    – Jimmy360
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 21:40
  • From Kramnik: chess-news.ru/en/node/19491 "In fact, chess is a game for the young. If only because after 30 years of age, a person starts suffering falling levels of testosterone - the hormone that including responsible and ability to concentrate." Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 21:54
  • Most advances in mathematics come from men in the same age range. You just don't have the same ability when older. That is just how it is. Death cometh for every man.
    – thb
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 22:04
  • I have the impression that this observation does not apply to Japanese chess. They do seem to have a very tight organisation and large fan base though.
    – hkBst
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 5:53
  • @thb While you're correct that in the past most of the better advances in the mathematics occurred from those that are young, I don't see age as an important factor anymore ideally, assuming health and well being. Is it important in practice? Perhaps, but so was (and probably is still currently, unfortunately) sex. You wouldn't say that men are better mathematicians would you? Why say age limits ability? Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 1:55

8 Answers 8


Well, all you mentioned are probably the reasons for some players.

I would also add 'lack of time' as one of the reasons. When you get older you may need to go to a college/university (chess don't bring much money, unless you are at the top), then family life/kids (chess players have to travel regularly a lot) makes travel harder... So, many people 'switch' to teaching and playing only in local tournaments.


It may be possible for an older man to "maintain" a certain level of play, but people's ability to improve and learn new things peak in their early 30s.

Chess is a dynamic and changing game. Someone who had trouble keeping up with the latest developments would fall behind, even with the same level of raw ability. That describes most people after, as opposed to before, age 30.

This phenomenon has become more pronounced with the current generation because chess is changing faster than it used to. Ditto for Go.


All the reasons you (and others) mentioned are very valid, however they don't explain the trend that top players become increasingly younger.

I do believe that this has a lot to do with how chess is learned. In the past this was much harder: You had to find a coach, analyze openings by hand and gradually gain experience through many games. All of this took time.

Nowadays, in the time of databases and chess engines, all the information is only a click away and accessible to everyone. Experience gained from playing chess is not all that important anymore.


In addition to the plausible answers already given, I'd venture another psychological aspect that resonates well with Leo Skhrnkv's point about family life and other 'distractions':

Lack of single-mindedness. Generally, when people get older, they also get (to the extent applicable to them) wiser. Outside of competitive sport this is a good thing, but in fields like chess it means that not winning a game is not quite the same disaster for one's self esteem that it used to be, other fields of interest start to seem more important, etc. Younger people feel a stronger need to prove themselves and tend to feel that they can afford to put everything but their chosen field into second place.

Compare to this that Magnus Carlsen famously said in an interview that the only reason in his opinion that John Nunn never became world champion is that Nunn is 'too smart', i.e. too good at and too interested in too many other fields.


Note that all the exciting, major World Chess Championships occurred about 20-30 years ago (Kasparov, Karpov, Anand, Kramnik).
Hence, young people (people who are now in their 30s) got interested in chess.
This occurred especially in Europe and somewhat in US's major cities like NYC.
So, more than mental capacity, it is the history and motivation 20-30 years ago that accounts for large volume of GMs in 30s.

  • 1
    I wasn't even born then, but I still find Fischer vs Spassky the most exciting World Championship match ever.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 17:51
  • Why downvote; answers seems reasonable?
    – HighEnergy
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 17:59
  • The math is off, the people who would follow the matches then and start playing wouldn't have been 0 years old. Carlsen was only born in 1990, and many top players are younger than he is. Besides, Fischer's effect was much much larger than Anand's or Kramnik's, if your answer would be the explanation then the list would be dominated by GMs who started playing in the early 70s. But we actually see that that generation has declined, and your answer doesn't explain why. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 9:04

For chess at tournament level, good physical condition is an absolute must. And it is well known that physical condition decreases after an age of about 30 years. Chess players can remain top-level somewhat longer than professional football players (maybe because of a lesser frequency of physical injuries, and because stamina lasts longer than sprinter qualities), but nevertheless they are affected by age. The effect was clearly visible in the World Championship match between Carlsen and Anand: Carlsen played out his superior physical condition against Anand (e.g., by playing out drawn looking endgames and making games longer).


Chess is dominated by young players because other than your brain no part of the body is really involved. True, you need to have a healthy and fit body to concentrate on the game hard, but technically your brain is the only part that is involved.

During your childhood, your memory and intelligence are sharper compared to your youth years. Your learning capability is much more, and your intake for remembering patterns is higher. One more plus as a child is that your focus is not deterred by other factors. Your parents make sure you get more learning, and other responsibilities are taken care by them. You even get more time to learn but when you are in your 20s, then there are various factors which does not allow you to concentrate entirely on chess which makes you sometimes learn more slowly.


To all the factors already listed, I would also add fatigue and, to some extent, boredom.

If you start playing chess at the highest level when you are still in your mid-late teens, by the time you're 40 you've been around for more than 20 years, and that is 20 plus years of being around, traveling for the good part of the year and studying chess many hours every day.

It is very natural that when your intellectual abilities and your capacity of recovering from stress starts fading you may be willing to slow down your pace and that itself has an impact on your playing strength.

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