I mean, given that GMs or other strong players (I choose strong players because their peak rating vs low has "more data" than that of weaker players but it probably relates to weaker players also) decline in strength, can anything about that decline be predicted by their ascension?

For example, would the rate of Elo decline have anything to do with rate of the increase? (assuming no rating floor as with USCF ratings)

Or would the computer measurement of accuracy decline as it had increased?

I suspect there is no such simple relationship -- it is not symmetrical. But I wonder if neuroscientists or cognitive psychologists could use chess as a way of predicting general cognitive decline or even helping mitigate it -- maybe show individuals what to expect and ways to compensate for it by preparing for it with specific exercises.

I am by the way guessing increase is much sharper curve than decrease -- perhaps even the sharper the increase (indicating more native talent or whatever) the smoother and slower the decline.

I think chess and probably other skill games where computers display far-above-human ability are uniquely suited for getting a general picture of cognitive ability whereas IQ tests can simply be taken so many times that they become useless for genuine assessment.

However, other types of objective mental tests like short-term memory and reaction time would be interesting to juxtapose with this kind of chess testing.

Edit: It does not have to be a positive correlation; it could be the faster the ascension the slower the decline. I recall reading the earlier one took up chess the longer skills were retained which sounds reasonable. Reshevsky played good chess well into his 70s and he of course was a famous prodigy. Capablanca also was one but he died relatively young. Morphy same situation. Karpov learned from just watching at also a young age (I think learning without being taught the moves as a toddler is always a good sign and all these guys did it while the rest of us don't have a firm grasp on en passant even after it is explained) and remains a grandmaster-strength player.

EDIT: I meant to ask mainly about the way the brain works as it ages and whether chess can help predict how the brain will work in other areas. This is not meant to be a question about why people get into chess or why they leave it. It is about players who continue to play for potentially years beyond their peak and what happens to the rating of an active player as measured by computer as well as ELO -- when a player starts losing ELO, what aspects of his game suffer, what remain stable and maybe even improve as they age and how rating increase patterns might predict decline. Note that even if a sharp increase tends to be followed by a slow decline, this is a kind of relationship between the two patterns: I do not think a sharp increase growing up predicts and equally sharp decline, quite the opposite. In languages, the earlier the language is learned the better it is retained and I think that I read chess works the same way: former child prodigies play better chess in old age than players who started in their teens, even if at some point both the former prodigy and the "late bloomer" were equals: I think the latter will find that he starts to lose understanding of concepts that are intuitive to the ex-prodigy. And if it does not work that way, that is really interesting although profoundly unlikely that somehow starting late somehow is better for chess long-term -- I suspect zero evidence for that although each player is his own special case.

Here is a story that is tangentially related. An aged physicist had stopped being able to communicate but when another physicist visited her, instead of talking in English to her (which was her adopted second language) he spoke to her in her first language, German and she was able to converse well. One might have thought, Well, she learned and spoke English more recently, so this should be her best current language, but not so at all. This is also like an old person saying, I can't remember what I had for lunch but I recall my childhood like it was yesterday.

So again, learning chess at 3 or 4 is probably a huge advantage. We note also that the best Polgar sister was the youngest and I can think of other cases where the younger of two siblings far outstrips the older in chess. Or fathers who make master but their sons make GM. It is having the advantage that the father did not have, a master player to learn from.

I also have noticed in the case of siblings that the older sibling finds the difference in strength to be a very touchy subject.

  • I haven't done any research into this myself, but I've never heard of a correlation between these two. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't like to believe that these have any correlation. Ascension to a GM title is quite sharp, but the person typically has to have started quite young and had great and unrelenting passion for the game.

Take Magnus Carlsen, for example. He was born in 1990, and his dad taught him how to play at age five. We played in his first tournament at age 8 and came in second at a 12U chess tournament when he was 12 in 2002. He became a grandmaster at age 13 after excelling in a tournament then, and became world champion in 2013 at age 22, and has held the title since, with no signs of slowing down. He will probably maintain a rating of 2500+ for most of the rest of his life (currently at 2859 standard time control).

I'm sure his rating will eventually decline, but probably at an extremely slow pace. And because of this, I don't see any correlation between the rise and fall of grandmasters.


This is a very interesting question and would be worthwhile studying if it was easier to isolate just the influence of chess on peoples lives.

There are many things that could lead to a player fast incline or decline in rating, we cannot forget that all players are humans after all. Some players go on to chase academic success or have a decline in strength which is related to them starting a family.

I would suspect that, even when just looking into chess there are many factors that could lead to players fast decline such as the number of matches played, the number of fast-paced tournaments, the number of most stressful championship matches the player participated in. There have also been some studies showing that blindfold simuls can cause very negative long term mental effects so that part also has to be taken into account.

That being said I would say it's hard to make the correlation between players raw incline and decline in strength, without taking into account the mentioned factors.


You made a very interesting question. I have seen that in general a big percentage of strong players retire sooner than "normal" players. Why? Many of those players start with exceptional results. Somehow, they never learned to fail on a big scale. No matter how good you are at chess, eventually you will have a big fall. A big percentage of those chess players never play again, at least in chess tournaments. It seems that their attraction to chess was to win, not to play. As they cannot continue with those results, they retire. Of course, the official explanations is different. It is very difficult to say that is hard to lose. In the other side, "normal" players learn that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. They even find difficult moments in their chess "careers." For that reason, they retire with a smaller percentage. That is what I have seen. However, this reasoning would be an "anecdotal" experience. This works for any strong player. The most difficult and valuable lesson in chess is to learn to lose and learn from your defeats. Chess has several similarities with life, and in life we have good and bad moments. When we have a bad moment, we need to learn from it, and move on.


The OP asked me what my answer has to do with his question. The idea that I am trying to communicate is that grand masters of chess or strong players who quit chess or keep playing but a lower chess rating do not do it for their increase of age. The reason for that behavior is either they cannot live with big defeats in the chess arena, or they have lost their passion for chess, or they do not want to train hard, or they are sick. When you are sick it is difficult to do anything. In general, people retire when they are sick. Also, when you are sick you usually take medications that are well known to have side effects, among them the brain could be affected. Throughout history, many tribes have had a council of the elders. It is worth to note that the many of the U.S. presidents have had more than 70 years old. There are also other reasons, for example I have a friend, who is a chess grand master, got married, got a daughter, and now his wife and daughter are his new priority. On the other side, Vassili Smyslov, who won the world chess championship in 1957, when he was 36 years old, played all his life. When he was 63, Smyslov played the final of the candidates. He lost a match against the future world chess champion Kasparov who was 21 at that time, but Smyslov was the official number 3 in the world. At 80, Smyslov was still playing with superior results. He retired with 2494 FIDE rating. Smyslov only retired when he became sick. Among other health problems, he became blind. Even there, he wrote several books that are considered chess masterpieces.

  • 1
    if u are a pro then maybe u quit to make money whereas if u had a non-chess career u can keep playing irrespective of your results. chess, at least when i was somewhat familiar with its financials, was not a way for all but the very top to make an okay living.
    – releseabe
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 5:15
  • @releseabe That is the common explanation because it sounds better. However, we all know that people play chess not for financial reasons. Chess is a passion, not a profession. If you are smart enough to be a GM, you know that you can make more money becoming a doctor.
    – Beginner
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 5:46
  • 1
    The question is about cognitive psychology I think would be accurate, I am not asking about sociology or whatever. All things being equal, how chess strength declines and the reasons for this that have to do with how the brain ages. At least I meant the question to be about that.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 10:29
  • @releseabe Thank you for your feedback! I updated my answer.
    – Beginner
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 19:38

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