Friday, 6 April 2007

Do chess players from China have an 'unfair' advantage?

kids playing chess or expert pattern recognisers in action?
Do chess players from China have an 'unfair' advantage? (aka. should we just dump the roman alphabet?)

From about 1940 onwards, psychologists have been experimenting on chess players, trying to discover how we think and what differentiates the chess master from the keen amateur. The consensus seems to be that whilst we differ slightly in deep search, the main diffentiator is pattern recognition; the better your pattern recognition the better your play.

So, why do Chinese players have an 'unfair' advantage in chess? Well, there is significant evidence to suggest that people whose first language is pictorial (e.g. Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, Cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphs) have better pattern matching capabilities than those who speak a phonetic language. Given that the Sumerians and Ancient Egyptians disappeared several thousand years ago, that only leaves the Chinese to dominate chess.

Is there any evidence to back this up? Well, chess (as we know it) has not been very popular in China until recently, they have their own versions of strategy games instead. However, in the short space of time that it has been popular, a Chinese woman, Xie Jun, has become World Champion and the country has produced 7 players rated over 2600.

So, in the quest for chess self improvement (better known as any excuse to watch Ziyi Zhang again in "House of Flying Daggers"), I'm off to put a DVD on.

If you want to know more about chess and the famous pattern recognition experiments, check out Chessbase's article on Dutch chess psychologist, Adriaan de Groot.

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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.