I hope that some stronger players have some insight or that their are some quotations from notable chess players that relate to the question.

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    Maybe you want to read up on the Polgar sisters. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:54
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    Question is hard to answer because no 6 year old is in a position to devote their life to chess. They have parents who would want to raise a normal child that goes to school, etc. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 20:19
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    @BlindKungFuMaster: only two of the three Polgars made it to GM Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 20:21
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    @RemcoGerlich Zsofia quit chess because she decided to do other things with her life, so that doesn't mean much, and it's certain that she had the ability - in one tournament (Rome 1989) scoring 8.5/9 against a field of grandmasters.
    – DTR
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 0:53
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    There is a bit of a cause and effect paradox here. You might be able to say anyone can become a GM if they devote their life from the age of 6, because those who are not cut out for that life choose not to devote their life to it somewhere along the way.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 2:06

8 Answers 8


If you look only at the number of people that are obviously intelligent and put a lot of effort into their chess, and then look at the tiny fraction that achieve the level of national master or Candidate master (never mind the higher levels of FIDE masgter, International Master and Grandmaster) then it would seem that the answer is no, not everyone can become a Grandmaster.

But this begs the question. We do not know what made the difference. Was some of that effort and intensity wasted in the wrong sorts of study? Is some mental skill present in those that succeed that could have been developed in anyone if we only knew how? Does luck play a part? [Being in the right place, finding the right coach, stumbling on the right books, scoring highly your first tournament]. Or was it genetic?

The Pólgar experiment tells us nothing. It does not disentangle genetics from environment. László Polgár would have done well to learn something about designing experiments before he started. Then he might have adopted a child or two and compared their chess development to the biological children so as to exclude the genetic influence. Even then the results would not have been conclusive: a handful of subjects do not produce a statistically significant result.

Achieving excellence in chess is no different than achieving excellence in anything. There might be a genetic component. Where you live and are raised makes a difference to your opportunities and the quality of your training. Hard work is mandatory (even if some prodigies would prefer you to believe that it all came to them easily without ever having to work hard - because that is a myth).

What is the answer to your question? It is simple. It is the answer to many questions. It is not one that is popular. It is the reason for interminable debates and arguments, for cherry picking and for much opinion dressed as fact.



I knew a guy from high school, whom I would characterize as a "genius," who is (now in his 50s), barely a master, that is, about 2200. He was a "teen prodigy" that won our league in our city in those days, for his age bracket. He was also a chess "hobbyist," who devoted most of his non-study/non-professional time to chess.

Mark could probably have become a grandmaster if he had devoted his life to it. But most less-gifted people cannot do this, even if they "try."

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    +1 Tom, I saw the downvote against you, which I have just countervoted up. That downvote was the Volunteer Auxiliary Thought Police in action, who cannot tolerate questioning of the blank-slate theory of human nature. The Polgar family was mentioned in another comment, but I do not credit Laszlo Polgar's blank-slate theory any more than you do. It was not the blank slate that made his daughters great. They had the talent.
    – thb
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 21:27
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    I did not downvote; but there are two problems with this answer. 1) it is just an anecdote; 2) if you look closely this answer uses circular logic. The question is basically how many people could play at grandmaster level with extensive training from childhood, i.e. whether a gift or high intelligence is required. The answer is then no, because I know a highly intelligent guy who did not make it, so less smart people would not even have made it as far. But this presumes that high intelligence is required, which was the original question.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 7:26
  • @Erik: Mark was not just a"genius" in the usual sense of the word, he was a TEEN chess prodigy. That is, he beat a trajectory that goes something like "1500 rating by age 15, 2000 rating by age 20." Such a person would have a "fighting chance" of reaching a 2500-2700 rating by age 30. But Mark failed to do this, despite his early promise.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 5, 2019 at 23:43

Well, that's a rather tough question. My answer is probably no, not everyone can become a grandmaster. Devoting yourself to chess to that extent requires tremendous amounts of time and money, which most don't have. If you really aim that high you'd have to neglect education and finally you would never be so sure you'll become a grandmaster. I think only those with true love and devotion for chess can go that far, because people aren't robots, you can't just make everyone love chess and force them to go as far as becoming grandmasters, I believe it depends on the person. However, if you have the 3 factors, deep love for chess, money and time, I do believe that such people can and will reach grandmaster level if they try hard enough. :)

  • Or some people don't want to become grandmasters. Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 3:29
  • In it is not 3 factors, but 4 including luck Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 11:33

There are a number of factors that would impact this, not the least of which is a strong desire to excel. A good memory is very important nowadays with the mass of opening variations and computer analysis having solved all the various types of endgames which you'd have to learn. The willingness to fight and nerves of steel are also important as well as a mortal fear of losing. And even with desire, talent is still significant. I know that some people will say that it is mainly hard work that will get you to the top. I worked all my life at chess but could never even get to Expert, peaking at a rating of 1891 over a decade ago. There are obviously some people with greater aptitude for the game who will excel at it, all other things being equal. How else do you account for prodigies like Morphy and Capablanca? Chess was their "native tongue". Not everyone can be an Einstein no matter how hard he works. How about Fischer's supposed reincarnation, Josh Waitzkin? He never made it even with all his advantages. The short answer is that hardly anyone can become a Grandmaster no matter how hard he works without inherent ability, a photographic memory, the willingness to spend a large proportion of his waking hours studying and practicing chess, plus a fanatical desire to win. And even those are no guarantee.


There is really no definite answer on this.

To check this hypothesis, we would need to get a sufficient number of random children aged six and force them (against their own will and that of their parents if necessary) to devote themselves to chess under the same conditions (e.g. trainers, books). This would be clearly unethical. With the Polgar family you have obvious selection bias.

Another practical problem is that if you pick too many children, you made it harder for each individual one of them to become a grandmaster (as you have to be successful in competition).

I suspect that a high percentage (but not all) of the children sufficiently pressured would make it, considering how easily children learn new languages at that time. But that is a personal feeling.

Personally, I find the Polgars still instructive. I regard them as weak evidence that the male/female differential is mostly cultural, which may indicate that the same could be true other strength differentials in chess.

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    Learning a language does not mean that you can become a famous author
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 22:10
  • @PhilipRoe I do not think most grandmasters are comparable to famous authors. And I think it is at conceivable (but again, almost impossible to test) that any kid being exclusively trained to be a good writer would make it.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 7:33
  • What is the parallel you are trying to draw? Perhaps that everyone can learn a language and everyone can learn to play chess? OK but that that says nothing about how many will come to do either superbly well.
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 19:43
  • Even if you "forced" them, they wouldn't all have the same degree of dedication
    – David
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 13:38
  • @Erik I think becoming a grand master is comparable to becoming a famous author. Statistically speaking there are about 2000 grand masters, there are about 600 Pulitzer prize author winners about 120 Nobel prizes in literature, about 5000 NY best seller writers. Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 23:19

What I have seen mostly is that people with 2400+ ratings had a very good genetics i.e. atleast one of their parents played Chess before or intelligent in their field. This absolutely boosts their children's Chess skills.

It is also dependent on your memorizing skills and having a clear mind. That's why Chess players indulge in physical activities boosting their body which ultimately leads to healthy mind. Vishwanath Anand likes to go to Gym in between Chess rounds. They cannot just devote their life for Chess and succeed.


No, the higher you go the bigger the role of innate intelligence becomes a factor. Less than 1% of Fide rated chess players are grandmasters (about 1500 people around the world). If you consider the number of grandmasters as portion of all people who play chess, that percentage is much smaller.


It depends on what do you mean by "almost anyone". I think that any intelligent, focused, and with no other faults, individual, could make it if "they devoted their whole life to chess from age 6", especially if they could afford the best trainers and so on and on. GM is just a title, it means that you are a very strong player. That doesn't mean you are going to beat Carlsen or become US champion.

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