October 2, 2006


The Expert Mind Studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in other fields as well. (Phillip E Ross, 24 July 2006, The Scientific American)

A man walks along the inside of a circle of chess tables, glancing at each for two or three seconds before making his move. On the outer rim, dozens of amateurs sit pondering their replies until he completes the circuit. The year is 1909, the man is José Raúl Capablanca of Cuba, and the result is a whitewash: 28 wins in as many games. The exhibition was part of a tour in which Capablanca won 168 games in a row.
How did he play so well, so quickly? And how far ahead could he calculate under such constraints? "I see only one move ahead," Capablanca is said to have answered, "but it is always the correct one."...
Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot, himself a chess master, confirmed this notion in 1938, when he took advantage of the staging of a great international tournament in Holland to compare average and strong players with the world's leading grandmasters. One way he did so was to ask the players to describe their thoughts as they examined a position taken from a tournament game. He found that although experts--the class just below master--did analyze considerably more possibilities than the very weak players, there was little further increase in analysis as playing strength rose to the master and grandmaster levels. The better players did not examine more possibilities, only better ones--just as Capablanca had claimed.
One needs only a cursory understanding of history to see that conflating genius with expertise is the most deadly sin. Only someone who believed in directed genius could have come up with "The Five Year Plan" or a "Year Zero".

Posted by Pepys at October 2, 2006 3:15 PM
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