Monday, June 20, 2011

Chess and Expert Perception

Sanjoy Mahajan's "What Chess Tells Us about the Value of Perception" at the ever-interesting Freakonomics blog discusses how GM chess intuition offers insight into the way truly gifted performers are able to grasp their subjects.  His main reference is a study of Kasparov's ability in simultaneous play, where researchers discovered surprisingly little loss of playing strength even at the high speeds of simul play: 

At 20 seconds per move, Kasparov mostly used his perception and judgment of chess positions rather than his ability to calculate chess variations (the “I take, he takes, I take, etc.” kind of thinking). Thus, simultaneous chess is a real-life laboratory for measuring the value of perception. How well did Kasparov play, in comparison to his normal strength when playing at the usual tournament rate of 3 minutes per move? His normal strength at the time was 2750 on the Elo scale of chess skill. (To give a feel for the Elo scale, a beginner would be rated about 1000, an average tournament player is rated about 1600, a master is rated at 2200 or above, and a grandmaster is usually above 2400.)
The amazing result: At the rapid “simul” pace, Kasparov performed at a rating of 2650: higher than all but half a dozen players in the world! In other words, most of his world-class expertise comes from how he sees and looks at the chess board, not from his calculation ability.
In many ways this explains the decision-making power of all experts and managers, who have a broad range of intuitive knowledge to draw upon to help them quickly analyze a situation and decide. 

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