I want to improve at chess, like everyone does. I am trying to structure my study to get the most out of if. But this plan needed a fundamental question to be answered, what sets masters apart from hobbyists?

I have grinded tactics and read positional books, all in vain. Therefore I decided to analyze how grandmasters think.

Now I was not very successful in my analysis, but it made me wonder, is the only reason that Grandmasters are better is that they can calculate deeper? Due to how neural networks play closer to a human style than traditional engines, I was not satisfied with this answer. Is it that they can spot when a position asks for dynamic play, or when they should solidify their position? I had no answer to this.

So what does a player at a higher Elo do better than another? I am not talking about a level where simple/hard tactical mistakes or openings lose a game. How do the top level players slowly push those beneath them into a worse position?

Note my question is not about self improvement but rather contradistinction of levels of chess play.


3 Answers 3


So what does a player at a higher Elo do better than another?

The answer I got from "It's Only Me", Geoff Lawton and Mike Fox's biography of England's first OTB GM, Tony Miles, was that the stronger player loves the game more than you do to the extent that it is almost the only thing that matters in that person's life.

Here are a couple of excerpts from "It's Only Me":

From the age of 11 he played competitive chess several times a week. This was the beginning of a pattern of intense chess activity that was to last his whole career.

and this from one of his school reports:

Perhaps one day he will realise that there are more things in heaven and earth than chess. At the moment he cannot conceive of such a possibility. Thus his only creditable activity in this subject has been that he has turned up. Otherwise he has said nothing, done nothing and looked pretty bored.

At least Miles completed high school and even the first year of a maths degree at Sheffield University as some form of quality-of-life insurance before getting the GM title and dropping out. Bobby Fischer dropped out of high school at the earliest opportunity at 16.

By the way the question -

is the only reason that Grandmasters are better is that they can calculate deeper?

already has several answers here.


I found there were at least 3 factors, could be 4 or even more. I realized I did not have the 4th (last?) and gave up trying for GM.

age you start to learn. most top GMs learned very young.
not all, most.

natural ability, plus intense desire to win. not always IQ but certainly IQ factors key to chess.

quality of training. not the 4 styles of learning although it is a help to have the right one, but how the training itelf is done. some training is virtually worthless. some moves you along very fast.

unknown factor x, which I could not identify well enough to get by it. but effectively position understanding and playing positionally as much as tactically or even strategically as at a lower level.

if there are other factors then I cannot say as I did not get to GM to discover whether they exist or not.


If not yet done, you could consider to review some of the numerous research papers addressing the nature of expertise for chess players.

Try to figure out if decades of academic research on this topic of novice versus experts for chess yields solid research results.

In google scholar, enter : chess experts novices. You will have plenty of interesting studies to read adressing memory or visual cognition in chess playing. fMRI Imaging studies may provide also useful hints behind the "differences" of the expert versus novice player.

For sure visual pattern recognition on the chessboard for real chess positions will be more sophiscticated and faster for chess experts. Hence complicating the position for tactical playing in rapid chess or blitz could be a winning solution for an expert player versus a novice or an intermediate one.


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