Chess Expertise

Chess master's eye movements
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Check Mate!

There is no domain more studied in expertise than Chess. Why is a game involving a checkered board and black and white miniature figurines (almost mimicking a medieval battle of sorts) so pivotal to the study of expertise? Usually, when you think of “expert” you probably conjure up an image of a rocket scientist or a surgeon (maybe even Alex Trebek) but not a chess player…unless you happen to be one. If that is the case, then you can understand that although chess rules are simple enough for a child to learn, playing it skillfully can actually take up to a decade to learn! (Chase & Simon, 1973)

What makes Chess so special?

Chess has been called the Drosophila of cognitive psychology (Charness, 1989) elucidating and providing a way into the mental processes of the a person regardless of skill level. So what makes chess just so special? According to Gobet (1998), the following reasons accurately sums up the nature of chess:

  • Strong external validity: Theories for chess expertise or garnered from chess as an experimental paradigm has been shown to extend beyond any one domain.
  • Strong ecological validity: Chess carries into the real world, elucidating processes that aren’t merely abstract but that occur in everyday life.
  • Complex task involving years of practice to reach expertise: As stated previous, chess isn’t just any ordinary game. Advancing to master level takes years of practice as the number of strategies and possible configurations and many
  • Rich database of games played by competitors of different skill levels: Many games have been recorded which makes running mathematical analysis (or statistical studies) possible. Such objective form of verification is extremely useful
  • relatively "clean" domain that is easily formalizable mathematically or with computer languages: Because of the nature of the game (how it can be modeled and the basis of how it is played) a large component of the game is mathematically reproducible using probabilities. Furthermore, its ability to be modeled by computer programs gives another dimension of validity, and provides a way for theories evolved from chess paradigms to be actualized.
  • Permits the study of cognitive processes both at a low level (e.g. RT to detect presence of pieces on the board) and at a high level (e.g. choice of a move after several minutes of deliberation) so as to study basic processes and high-level aspects of expertise
  • Offers a precise scale quantifying players' expertise (ELO rating): And perhaps most important to the domain of expertise, the ELO rating can provide cognitive psychologists with a pretty accurate estimate of a players ability. Independent verification of expert level ensures that differences between novices and experts is really due to differing skill level. The ELO is starts at a theoretical zero and can increase infinitely. Although the current highest ELO rating is between 2700-2800 designating a grandmaster.
But what path did chess expertise research take in order to get where it is now?

A brief History of Chess...(Next)

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