Greengard's ChessNinja.com

GMs of the Future

| Permalink | 70 comments

My report on Kasparov's master classes with the top juniors in the USA is now up here at ChessBase.com. The Kasparov Chess Foundation has an intriguing initiative afoot, focusing on the standouts to create world-class players.

The massive number of scholastic players in the US hasn't produced another Fischer. It hasn't even produced a GM. Of course that wasn't the main point and teaching chess to kids is very good for its own sake. But many thought it would lead to a GM boom. With few avenues for chess professionals, smart American kids usually have to choose between chess or university, and they have all chosen university. The exceptions are the super-talents like Kamsky and Nakamura, for whom it was obvious very early that they could make a living at the game and reach world class.

The KCF program doesn't solve that, but creating very strong players is a good way to promote the game and open up other possibilities. Americans (like everyone else) like winners. Consistent success at the international level is the best way to popularize a sport here, as a sport. (Again, scholastic chess has its own agenda.) Obviously Fischer was the best example of this. A 2010 US Olympiad team with an average age of 20 is not impossible, considering the ages of the current top players. There is really no middle generation between the 35-45 crowd and the teenagers the KCF is working with.


I find your statement that "The massive number of scholastic players in the US hasn't produced another Fischer. It hasn't even produced a GM" very perplexing. What about players like Nakamura, Seirawan, Benjamin, Wolff, Shaked, etc.?

I think Tal Shaked is a good example of the problem Mig is talking about. He made GM at 19, then retired from chess in '99. He was working on his PhD in CS at Stanford and now works for Google. He probably leads a much more comfortable life working there than if he had continued with chess.

Oops, mistake on my part. He was doing his PhD work at the University of Washington.


I fail to see how Shaked's situation highlights any problem. The man has earned a PhD, and THIS represents a problem?! It is time that we, as chessplayers, come to terms with the fact that it is NOT a tragedy for people to fulfill potential in other areas besides chess. I find it silly for people to mourn when a chess talent decides to go for a law degree (Kamsky) or a PhD in computer science. By all means, mourn if said talent forgoes a chess career and subsequently becomes a used car salesman, but stop this thing about viewing a career in chess as the greatest thing that one can do with one's life.



Nobody is mourning the fact that these talented people went on to do things diferent than chess. They made the right choice. Besides, I am not sure Benjamin and the others mentioned belong to the in-between generation and also Seraiwan or Kamsky are not domestic talent. Anyway, the point is that, given the amount of young people interested in chess in the age groups from Christiansen to Nakamura, more of them could have reached international class, even allowing for those shifting careers.

"It is time that we, as chessplayers, come to terms with the fact that it is NOT a tragedy for people to fulfill potential in other areas besides chess."

I don't think anyone used the word 'tragedy', did they?

"I find your statement that "The massive number of scholastic players in the US hasn't produced another Fischer. It hasn't even produced a GM" very perplexing. What about players like Nakamura, Seirawan, Benjamin, Wolff, Shaked, etc.?"

I think Mig was referring to the present younger generation, and he made an exception for "super-talents like...Nakamura, for whom it was obvious very early that they could make a living at the game and reach world class."

In his post, Mig states "Consistent sucess at the international level is the best way to popularize a sport here, as a sport. (Again, scholastic chess has its own agenda)"

Here's my question: what is the agenda of scholastic chess ....and who decides....? I know Mig might be traveling or otherwise offline so perhaps some of you who know Mig's thinking, or have your own view, can enlighten.

Hello from Paris, en route to St. Petersburg!

Regarding scholastic chess, I mean that its purpose is not necessarily to popularize chess as a professional sport. But many thought it would. Not that it has, or has to have, an organized agenda, only that the creation of a successful professional chessplayer class isn't really part of it, or hasn't been.

None of the players Marc lists are products of scholastic chess as such, at least not of the much-ballyhooed boom it has enjoyed in the US in the past decade plus. Shaked perhaps somewhat, although his career rather proves my point. It's not really whether or not someone got the norms before leaving the game, I'm talking about chess professionals, those who play for a living.

Of course it's a tragedy when a talented player leaves chess for anything else. A tragedy for chess. This is a chess blog. I don't care if it's a victory for law, psychoanalysis, or medicine!

I put these stats up on a thread in May, but I think they're worth repeating here.


The United States has a population of around 280 million, and has produced 1 native born grandmaster (Patrick Wolff) in the last 20 years.

The Netherlands has a population of 15 million, and has produced 10 native born grandmasters in the same time period (van Wely, Piket, van den Doel, Nijboer, Stellwagen, Smeets, Reinderman, van der Weide, de Vreugt, Jonkman).

The Netherlands offers all of the same competing opportunities as the US in terms of higher education, pressures to go into business, etc. The same number of previous world champions (one, from an era even earlier than the one from the US).

Admittedly it's easier to make GM norms when you are in driving distance of multiple other countries, but based on population alone, the US should have produced 180 GMs to the Netherlands' 10. So even if we say it's ten times harder because of the international travel issue, we should have a dozen or so US-born GMs in that time.

But we don't.


I don't know what aspiring IMs live on in the Netherlands. However, I do know that in the US the model for other individual sports (tennis, golf, diving, surfing, biking) is commercial sponsorship, which often involves early syndication. But that only works because sponsors know how to reach potential sponsorees, primarily because the national federations serve as funnels to direct potential sponsors to players.

We've already talked about the excellent LPGA site at http://www.lpga.com So let's look at a more obscure sport: cycling. http://www.uscycling.org

Nowhere near as fancy as the LPGA site, it still meets all the minimums (including player bios and contact info for potential endorsers).


Never heard of riders like Adam Craig or Dotsie Cowden? That's OK: Verizon, Healthnet, Michelin, Colavita and Vertec have--they all help sponsor them. Dotsie now has a full-time sponsor: T Mobile.


And take a look at her bio: she overcame drug use and eating disorders before finding success with cycling.


The point is: no excuses. As a sport, we don't provide enough opportunities for US players to turn pro because we don't manage sponsorship opportunities in an effective manner.


Oops! That should have been http://www.usacycling.org (with the a in usa)

My apologies,

I can comment authoritatively on the career of Tal Shaked. I directed his very first tournament; I played him many times; I watched his meteoric rise. We have a huge scholastic chess program here in Tucson. Tal began playing chess at his school's chess program because his mother wanted to arrange a carpool arrangement with another mother, whose son was in the chess club.

That is the sum total of the positive contributions of the Tucson scholastic program to Tal's career. That program is utterly worthless. Every year about 500 kids go through that program and almost none of them grow up to be adult players of ANY strength. I've been in Tucson since 1978; the program has run since 1973, long before the rest of the country jumped on the scholastic chess bandwagon. The total number of kids who have gone through that program runs to about 15,000. I can count the number of adult players from that program on the fingers of one hand.

Tal made it to grandmaster for two reasons: one, he had great talent and great coaching; two, Arizona had then a very active and strong adult program that allowed him strong competition right from the beginning. There used to be 12 open tournaments in Arizona, plus a state championship cycle plus a junior championship title. Arizona now has two open tournaments in Tucson, the U.S. Amaeteur West in Tucson, no state cycles for adults or juniors, and nothing but action chess in Phoenix. If Tal were here now he would have gone into computer science at a much earlier age.

Ed Yetman, III

Just one quick additional comment: if the careers of the other grandmasters is anything like Tal's, they succeeded in spite of the junior programs, not because of them.

Ed Yetman, III

Maliq I am not saying it is bad that he moved on to something else, especially something he enjoys and is more profitable. I am saying that is the problem that chess faces in the USA. Why would a kid push himself to be a GM and play professional chess when:

1. Chess is something most Americans know little
and care even less about.
2. The WC situation has been a mess for over a
3. There are far more lucrative careers awaiting
smart, driven, talented kids in the USA.

There are far more lucrative careers awaiting smart, driven, talented kids everywhere. Yet this does not stop the Dutch from producing GM's.

Indeed, if a country as big as the USA cannot produce but one native born chess GM in 20 years, contrary to numerous 5-million inhabitant countries that have produced several in a much shorter time period, there must be a reason other than the university system or chess teaching. Besides, the USA has many GM's who were *born outside* the USA but moved there as a child and became GM's there, such as Seirawan, Nakamura and Ashley.

How does being born in the USA give a chess player a bad karma? Being raised there is no problem for becoming a GM.

Would anyone agree with me when I suggest the outrageous idea that perhaps it is the extremely unhealthy modern American diet pregnant mothers follow that prevents American-born kids ever becoming strong chess players? Theoretically speaking, feeding the unborn child the customary American trans-fat filled food is very damaging. Unlike e.g. the Japanese diet, which is supposed to be excellent for the developing brain.

Mind you, in Fischer's time the American diet was much healthier than nowadays and consequently you have lots of GM's born in the USA in the 40's and 50's.

Interesting question. Have any studies ever been done to see the connection between the mother's diet and the child's intelligence? My mom always used to say that she thinks I am smart because she ate fish when she was pregnant.

I don't think prenatal diet would explain it. Doesn't Great Britain have a similar diet to the US?

Population of Great Britain is around 58 million. Number of native born GMs in the last 20 years: 14 (Adams, Conquest, Emms, Howell, McDonald, McShane, Norwood, Parker, Pert, Sadler, Summerscale, Turner, Ward, and Wells).

(I have been told GM Dharshan Kumaran is an immigrant, although I know he played junior chess in England--if not, they have 15. GM Harold Plaskett was born in Cyprus. GM Nigel Short became a GM 21 years ago.)


I didn't see in the Chessbase.com story a lsit of who the players were. Has anyone found that anywhere?


Oh, a common agenda for scholastic activities of any kind is to promote particpation by children at all levels of accomplishment.

That's in contrast to what is often called "junior" play, which seeks to create future champions.

The point is that a scholastic event (whether chess or something else) is usually considered a success if a lot of kids come and have fun. Where a junior program may be more successful if it excludes all but the very best, and then drives them hard.

You find this split in almost all kids' competitive activities, whether it's tennis camp or math club.

One type of program aims to involve as many kids as possible.

The other aims to find and support the elite few.

Both are valid and valuable "agendas," but they do have very different goals.


Opportunity costs in the USA are much higher than in the Netherlands, this is the reason there are less GMs in the USA. Most young chess players in the US realize sooner or later they can make more money if they put their brains to work in something outside chess. Chess is also much more popular in the Netherlands than it is in the USA so I think there is much more prestige associated with being a GM in the Netherlands than in the USA. So the question is why is chess more popular in the Netherlands?

Many people follow a career based on something other than what will objectively make the most money. After all, most golf pros and tennis pros could make more as investment bankers or real estate agents. Not to mention those in "minor" activities like rowing, cycling, musicians and writers of all sorts, chefs, and for that matter kindergarten teachers and many scientists.

I honestly don't think it's about "making more money" but rather simply "making enough to follow the dream."

At least in the US, the difference between an activity that can support pros and those that can't isn't the size of the lost opportunity cost, but the simple fact of enough sponsorship to keep the person going. Beyond that it's a matter of passion, drive, and talent.

Pamela Kerrigan has made only $3,000 as an LPGA pro this year. It took her six attempts to even qualify for the Tour. Yet she still has two sponsors, DSW and Fiskars.

After a strong career as a junior, Jan Stephenson has made only $4,000 so far this year. A severe hand injury a few years ago has greatly affected her career. Yet she keeps playing--and has four sponsors behind her.

Clarissa Childs has made about $7,000. Her sponsors include a golf course, Precept Golf, and Hootie and the Blowfish (really).

Again, I don't know the economics of pro sports in other countries. But in the US, golfers turn pro when they have sponsors, not income. And even niche sports can produce a pro class when sponsorship is promoted effectively.


Duif I think you mean England. It has a population of about 48 million. In addition to the people you named Gormally and Williams have qualified for the title. Quite a few more talents who could do soon too.

Duif I think you mean England. It has a population of about 48 million. In addition to the people you named Gormally and Williams have qualified for the title. Quite a few more talents who could do soon too.

The reason is probably a complex mix of culture and economics. America's culture is largely anti-intellectual. Chess players are regarded as geeks, whereas in other places the stigma is much less severe.

This anti-intellectual culture in turn influences economics, because companies are much less likely to sponsor young players if their sport is deemed unattractive to the public.

Culture probably exerts other influences, such as a subtle but powerful social pressure on chess players NOT to become professionals.

I used Great Britain because I wasn't sure if any of the players had been born in Wales. I used the same source for all population numbers (encyclopedia.com) so that even though that's probably off by a few years, they'd be consistent. Hence 58 million for Great Britain.

However, then I forgot to include the Scottish GMs, who are listed separately by FIDE. So I should have included Motwani, Rowson and McNab as well as Gormally (who I just missed).

The FIDE list still has Williams as an IM, though.

Anyway, that brings Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) up to 18 or 19 or 20 out of a population of 58 million. (Depending on Karmaran and Williams.)

Thanks for the correction.



About the image of chess in the US...I've worked in one form of media/communications or another for several decades. During that time I've done several advertising surveys.

Chess is one of the most popular symbols in US business advertising, and it is consistently a positive symbol, used to imply cool intelligence under pressure ("make the right move" is a common tagline).

It is used by banks, insurance companies, the US Marines, car dealers, and more.

Here are a few current examples. It is also significant that ads with chess are usually aimed at an upscale audience (although not always).









Chess is used in advertising much more often than tennis, by the way.


Yet one of the big differences is that tennis ads usually include an actual tennis pro, while chess ads are almost always generic. Which means no GM gets a penny from an ad that uses chess as a symbol.

I discussed the reasons why I think this is so in "The Dark Secret to Promoting Chess" at Chessbase.com about a month ago. http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=2364



I find this argument about the US producing native-born GMs absolutely ridiculous. It is semantics and nothing more. Hikaru was born in Japan, but he is very much an American player. Seirawan was not born here, but he experienced the entirety of his chess advancement as an American from the time that he was a child. Ashley was born in Jamaica, but clearly his accomplishments cannot be attributed to Jamaica, either. It is foolish to claim that the US falls short simply because players who have developed their chess talents here happen not to have been born here. A player like Akobian is an example of an immigrant success, as is Kamsky, but do not be so ridiculous as to include Seirawan, Ashley and Nakamura in the number of immigrant GMs. We all should be able to see that this is merely a matter of technicality.




As a sociologist, and specifically one who is working toward a PhD focusing in sociology of education, I must challenge the assertion that American culture is anti-intellectual. This is a myth of the highest order and takes many forms within the realm of general perception. The fact is that companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review are thriving because our public is overly concerned with preparing for examinations which help to get students into the "best" schools. I grew up in what is clearly a ghetto in New York City, an area also purported to be a haven for this anti-intellectual culture. I still get the questions from everybody on the block about why I chose Ohio State University over Duke University and Columbia University specifically because the prestige of the latter two institutions is both recognized and valued. Intelligence is very much respected in the American culture, which is why people are so concerned with getting into Ivy League schools and things of the like. Look elsewhere for an explanation for why professional chess does not flourish here.



This distinction between American born and American raised is maybe interesting but more than likely just trivial. I guess it is conceivable that there is a cultural difference between children of immigrants and children of second generation or higher. In any case, Mig, did Kasparov say anything about the pupils? Does he plan to do something like this regularly(like annually). I noticed there were some notable players who were missing like Josh Friedel and Igor Schneider. Seemed like it was mostly a younger crowd except for Lev Milman.

Perhaps the generous social safety net of much of western Europe, including the Netherlands play a role? Perhaps it's easier for weaker GMs to make a comfortable living than the same GMs in the US? Perhaps there's also the different mindset between Americans and Europeans. Maybe Europeans are more satisfied in making just a comfortable living while Americans are more likely to not be satisfied unless we are making as much money as we can, hence strong juniors in the US are then more likely to go and pursue big salaries in investment banking/law/medicine than to be satisfied in making a more modest living playing chess?

Also, what is this about Simon Williams becoming a GM? I did not read about it in any of the obituaries right after his tragic death although he was a terribly strong IM.


Off the top of my head, players I feel can make GM are Milman (already a strong IM with one norm and a recent near-miss in Minnesota as well as a great kid), Lenderman (visible holes in his game, but strong results nevertheless), and, of course, Friedel. Of the pre-teen lot, Robert Hess impresses me most, but I also know that he has great interest in sports. (He was in a great hurry to hit the basketball courts after a round at the most recent New York State Championship, and his parents told me that he is obsessed with becoming a professional basketball player now.) In short, there are still players on the horizon who might become GMs in the future.



Since we are talking about opportunity cost do you guys have any idea how much money per year a GM can make in the US by giving chess lessons only? My guesstimate is US$50,000.00/year based on $50.00/hour x 4 hours/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks/year = $50,000.00/year. Is this reasonable?!

It may interest the posters that Tal Shaked was born in Israel and emigrated with his parents at the age of five.

Also, I would assert that U.S. culture is absolutely anti-intellectual. It has been since the days of the Puritans. Americans have always valued work and financial success over intellectual achievement. Thus American children learn at a young age (no one needs to teach them) that success in our society is measured in dollars, nothing else.

One point about Britain, the Netherlands, and other European countries producing an outsized number of grandmasters. This is partly a structural artifact created by FIDE rules. The rules require that a FIDE tournament that grants norms must have a) at least one-third or four players who are titled and b) at least one-third or four who come from at least two other federations. Thus an event of 10 players must have four titled players and players from three separate federations. This can be done easily and at little expense in Europe; it cannot be done with similar ease in America. This is one reason that Britian, with the Four Nations Chess League (Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales) produces so many grandmasters. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia we can expect a similar engine to emerge in the East.

Ed Yetman, III


I'd be happy to change the discussion to "players beginning their chess education in the US," but it's very difficult to get that data for other countries.

I certainly agree that Browne, Seirawan, and Nakamura are all examples of American-educated juniors who went on to become grandmasters. (I don't know what country GM Ashley was living in when he first learned to play.)

But even including all the foreign born GMs, the US has the following stats:

280 million people
37 active GMs (21 inactive)
3 active GMs under 30 years old (Akobian, Kreiman, Nakamura)

England has

48 million people
26 active GMs (7 inactive)
4 active GMs under 30 years old (Gormally, McShane, Parker, Pert)

the Netherlands have

15 million people
16 active GMs (1 inactive)
4 active GMs under 30 years old (de Vreugt, Smeets, Stellwagen, van den Doel)

So the proportions are about the same even if we include all GMs for each federation. In fact, these stats may underscore Mig's original point more clearly, because only the US has inactive GMs under 30 years old (Schwartzman and Shaked).

My real point is that the Netherlands and Great Britain are proof that highly westernized countries can support chess professionals.

I agree that the safety net may be an issue.


But again I'd point out that there are literally dozens of niche sports in the US that manage to support a pro class. The majority of pros are still pretty much in the "starving artist" category, but their sponsors do provide enough support that they can continue to pursue their passion.


The process is simple. It follows four steps:

1. The national organization offers sponsorships at various levels for events and programs.

2. It publishes biographies of players in its top 25% (and sometimes more).

3. It has a formal organized system for passing along inquiries from sponsors and endorsrs to individual players.

4. It allows individual players to list their sponsors in official bios and usually to display logos during events, and usually provides special player sponsor privileges (e.g., VIP rooms) at national events.

This structure allows those individuals that are interested in pursuing a professional career to find enough support to give it a try, without requiring each player to do all their own fundraising.

It works for both "amateur" sports like Olympic rowing and pro niche sports like surfing and bowling.

I believe the US Olympics delegation is the only one not supported by its government. But it's also one of the largest every time.

The corporate sponsorship model undoubtedly has many flaws, but it also works in America.


I suspect that one of the main reasons US chessplayers don't turn pro is because our national organizations do not see this type of promotion as part of their mission. They do seek sponsors for their own national events, but they don't generally publish player bios, they discourage player displays of sponsor logos, and they don't funnel sponsor requests to individuals.

So it is my belief that the barrier is higher for American chessplayers than for American cyclists or American surfers or American ping pong players.

I don't think Americans have an emotional need for more money than Europeans, because we can see plenty of "barely making it" American pros in other sports. People who play for the love of the game and are grateful for the opportunity their sponsors provide.

I just think it's hard enough to try to make the breakthrough from promising amateur to first level professional without also trying to put together a sponsorship model from scratch.

Take a look at how cycling does it:


The point is that "athlete development" includes helping them over the transition from amateur to professional. In the US model, that means putting players in touch with prospective sponsors, and making support of sponsors part of the culture of the sport.

When we organized US chess on a scholastic model, we had wonderful success in the number of students, number of schools, and number of events throughout the country.

I honestly think that if any certifying organization ever gets around to organizing the pro part of it on the typical US sports model, we'll see a lot of the same success.



I'm happy to drop all comparison with European countries--I really just toss that in to open discussion of possibilities.

I agree the European economic model is different than the old Soviet model as well as the US model.

I do think there are lots of niche activities where people can turn pro in the US. Organized chess just doesn't manage sponsors very well.

And I want to add that for many, "turning pro" means keeping a day job, living with your parents, cutting back on all expenses, pouring heart and soul into the sport, and starting out with sponsors that help with a few things. But you find a way to keep pursuing the activity. Eventually you find sponsors to help pay travel expenses. And that may be as far as it ever gets.

And even finding that much isn't easy or automatic. But in the US it should be a natural part of the sport, that promising amateurs transition into pros with the support of sponsors.

But right now our community seems to find it astonishing that a 2400 player would have a sponsor of any kind. And until that changes, it's going to be hard to get them to GM.


Hello Duif,
By all means, let's NOT drop the comparision to Europe. We should learn from their example!

Right now there are a handful of federations within hailing distance of the U.S.: Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the various Caribbean nations. I think we should look into forming a similar league here. It can't hurt to look at it. Even if we ran a massive title-worthy Swiss that alone would do a lot.

Bill Goichberg gets my respect. He is the only U.S. organizer who gives players a real shot at getting a title in the U.S. My only beef with him (and other megaorganizers) is that there are too few rounds in his events. In a 9 round event a player may not get enough titled players to earn a norm. If he ran some 11 round Swiss events the opportunities would be greater.

The U.S. Championship could be given a similar overhaul. The East Germans and the Czechoslovaks used to run their national champions as "International" events in alternate years. They would invite titled players from foreign countries to boost the chances of their national masters earning international titles. By simply inviting in a dozen foreign masters to the U.S. Championships every even-numbered year would do a lot, not only for U.S. Chess but Pan-American Chess as well.

Ed Yetman, III

All the people talking about how it's great when talented chess players go on to more lucrative/socially responsible fields are merely spitting at the face of civilization. The point of civilization is not to become a successful lawyer, scientist or a doctor, the point of all those things is merely to support the civilization itself. Those are the worker ants of our society.

The point of civilization itself is to create room for pure achievement/creation/enlightenment. Chess is just such a thing. Chess players are artists, or even if today most of them aren't, they should be. This is why i think Kasparov's departure from the arena of chess is a terrible thing. He has stopped being one who practices civilization and become merely one who supports it.

And as for american culture being anti-intellectual, if you can't see it from looking at study-results, statistics and theories, then just open your eyes and look around. But then, america is hardly alone in this this (and NO, politics, science or social awareness are not things that indicate intellectuality). (Incidentally, just yesterday i told someone that america is the country where truth/reality is in the hands of journalists and engineers).
As for sociology in general, the problem with it is that it studies the society from within the framework of the society itself, and thus its results, methods and researchers can hardly be trusted as they are in the end just serving the construction they are supposed to be studying.
Oh well.

Anyway, as for the report itself, i think it's nice that Kasparov is promoting chess for children.

I am not unappreciative of Maliq's credentials, but a lot of academic research in the social sciences is designed or interpreted in a way that confirms the particular academic trends and fashions of the time.

I have lived in five western countries, and the USA is easily the most anti-intellectual of the lot.

However, to say that the US is monolithically anti-intellectual is of course a gross over-simplification. Americans appreciate intellectual credentials (such as hailing from an Ivy League university), especially when such are tied to material success. And there is, of course, an elite that does not shy away from things intellectual. But the average American shows the most suspicion towards intellectual things that I have seen of any other place I've lived in.

I think you might have a different view of civilization from most other people, unless I missed your point and you're being ironic. There is room to be creative and imaginative in many professions, not just "artistic" ones like chess.


This statement about what the average American values is quite troublesome, indeed. Having grown up in New York City, I thought that we represented what it meant to be an American until I started travelling for chess tournaments (either coaching or playing) and discovered that the rest of the country differs from New York in several ways. Each part has its own unique characteristics, and contrary to the impressions of many New Yorkers, they are NOT simply hoping to become like us. Thus, the great difficulty one has in forwarding such a statement is that Americans are not necessarily of uniform persuasions about the country. It is better, therefore, to limit conclusions based on observation to the immediate environment in which the observation was made. Also, studies have indicated that Americans do NOT live in a society which devalues education. If this were so, then children who do well in school would be much less popular amongst peers than those who do not, and while this is the perception that many people seem to have, it has in fact not conformed to the findings of studies on student popularity. It is true that perception can have a great effect on policy, but then it is the effect of perception that we should be lamenting rather than the presumed anti-intellectual culture, which is clearly a myth. (Otherwise, the transcripts of presidential candidates when they were in college would be non-issues.)



I think we are being too pessimistic about the chess environment in the USA. Open your Chess Life magazine and take a look at the number of open tournaments being organized every weekend! It is impressive. If you add up the prize funds of each tournament being organized in America I am sure you get a couple of million dollars every year. I don't think any other country comes even close. Sure the US does not have as many GMs but as somebody else pointed out this is most likely due to the rules imposed by FIDE which are biased against open tournmanents. Chess survives only as a niche market no matter where, perhaps even in Russia. In the US is is no different.

About the twin issues of civilization and intellectual proclivity, I would like to mention a few points: first, there is a special brand of Americal intellectuality that is at the same time very pragmatic and optimistic and has more of a passion for creativity and newness in a way that somehow it does not click with traditional European great art or human studies in the same way there is a click in Europe, which is only natural; second, chess involves creativity but it cannot claim to have the same status in this regard as other traditional arts; third, even in its limited role as art/game, chess has been tied to the European and Asian traditions for centuries and now it has become an arena for international competition in a nation-crowded Europe which has a particular reverence for things traditional, a fact that at least partially explains the current chess boom over there but also a dimension which is not present in this part of the world. Last, there is a parallel between chess and soccer, which is very popular in Europe and Asia but in the USA it has failed in two or three attempts to establish a successful professional league even while its popularity on the amateur level is on the rise. I would suggest that the success of a professional league is connected to some form of official acceptance of these sports by the general community.

The question could be one of teaching and popularizing systems. Popularizing methods, I honestly don't know enough about. But as I meet these players, I guess I can say something(maybe totally false) about how they play. Many young talents don't start working with GM's until they are 23-2400 and their patterns of play are already well defined. Josh Friedel is amazing in tactics, but I am not sure he is positionally up to the mark( I say this based upon a game I had with him where I totally out played him positionally and he totally outplayed me tactically and it ended in a draw) Lev Milman is also the man in openings and calculation, but in other areas I am not sure. This could limit how far he can go. I think one of the most amazing experiences I ever had in chess was when I was invited to a mini camp by Gregory Kaidanov for at least decently promising players. It was only two days and many years ago, but I still constantly go back to what he told me there! I feel like it could be really valuable to do things like this or the meeting with Kasparov on bigger scale and more often, much like they did in the Soviet Union which I think we can all agree was even better than the Netherlands or the UK! Trust me, as a former junior player who never got anywhere, I really think this would help. Finally, editing. Among promising players should be Dimitry Schneider(a very complete player) and Vinay Bhat(perhaps the greatest talent of all, save Hikaru) Also in American born/educated GM Gabriel Schwartzman(sp?) was not listed.

Its a sponsorship issue here in US. Whereas in Europe and Asia, the Chess players have better sponsorship deals with the companies that give regular monthly pay with benefits. For example, Anand and Topolav both have sponsors. Even, the promising players get sponsorship in that part of the world.


Of course, Dima Schneider should have been mentioned. He is also a very cool guy, and I talk to his brother Igor often enough that it is inexcusable that I forgot Dima. My apologies to him. Schwartzman was excluded likely because he slips so many people's minds, including my own. I was a young teenager when Schwartzman was playing, and I admit to having forgotten him due to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind scenario.

I recall Lev blitzing off a N+B vs. K endgame against Greg Shahade a few years back, so I think he at least has a good understanding of such endings. He also has executed some more difficult technical endings, so I am convinced that he is the real deal. (Of course, I have the greatest respect for his tactical ability. While I might take the Smith-Morra pawn against Lenderman, I will NEVER take it against Lev!)

On a final note, I do not know about Bhat being the most talented of all the younger players. I think that Lev is clearly a stronger IM than Vinay in current form. In a recent conversation about the other young talents on the chess scene, Hikaru mentioned Lev and Daniel Ludwig as players whose games he thought were really coming along, and I concur with his assessment.



Americans absolutely devalue education; what Americans love is certification. One never hears, anywhere in the U.S., any popular argument that education should be pursued because it is inherently good for a person. "Education" to most Americans means the acquisition of some piece of paper that will result in a better paying job. Watch any news report on any television channel. They never discuss education as providing any benefit other than better pay. Never.

Walk down any street in any country in the world and you will find people who speak English, oftentimes better than Americans. You cannot find Americans who were born and raised in this country who, as a matter of course, speak a foreign language. Every semester I show the film "Amistad" to my students. The more curious ones ask, "Who is John Quincy Adams?" I reply that he was President of the U.S. and son of John Adams. "Who was John Adams?" they then ask. He was a friend and political rival of Thomas Jefferson. "Who was Thomas Jefferson?" And so on.

It is amazing, though not surprising, how ignorant the average American is. This is a direct consequence of Americans' disdain for the intellectual life.

Then again, look who Americans have elected president. That ought to be Exhibit A in the American Anti-Intellectual Museum. President Bush has many fine qualities, but intellectual acumen is not one of them. The majority of Americans think that is just fine.

Ed Yetman, III


I am not asking a question. I am stating, as a matter of verifiable fact, that education is NOT devalued in America on a whole. Yes, credentials are often connected with better earning potential, which only illustrates that we have a structure that is willing to pay you for excelling academically. How, then, is this conflicting with the claim of education being valued in the United States? Incidentally, education for the sole purpose of acquiring knowledge is useless. There are two motivations for attaining education: increase of earning potential and increase of influence. If you wish to address intellectual pursuits such as reading poetry for one's enjoyment, etc., then this is a different argument and one on which you might meet a different rebuttal. However, with regard to formal education, it is clear that it makes no sense at the highest levels unless one is aiming to increase either earning potential or influence, and that the elementary and secondary levels are, among other things, preparation for this critical stage of one's life.

What you attempt to verify via casual observation has already been countered many times over by actual scientific study, so please refrain from this "but this is what I saw" argument. This perception, as I have stated previously, is not rooted in fact but rather in perception.




My last statement made no sense. It should read "The perception, as I have stated previously, is not rooted in fact but rather in stereotype-based misrepresentation." On another note, people tend not to vote based on intellect of candidates, but rather on policy. Bush was re-elected because people preferred his policies and, for better or for worse, considered themselves better off with the known entity than with the unknown. Many people voted for Bush despite disliking things about him because they felt that he could keep the country safer than Kerry could, for example. Do not misrepresent a vote as a ringing endorsement of all a candidate stands for, and certainly do not take it as evidence of lack of value on education. (If education was not an issue, Bush would not so loudly proclaim what he perceives to be the success of his No Child Left Behind educational initiative; they only discuss issues they feel will swing voters in their directions.)



I agree Lev is a GM level player and stronger than Vinay but that does not take into account that Vinay hasn't played chess seriously in 4 years. Then again Lev is much younger. My point is that the way Lev plays chess strikes me as really professional whereas Vinay seemed more like raw talent. This, of course, is a simple impression. The Smith Morra thing was(as far as I know Lev stopped playing this way) mostly home analysis I guess, alot of which was actually borrowed from Harvard's Marc Esserman.

Mr. Soter, what are these studies you refer to? Who wrote them? Where are they published? What methodology was applied?

Ed Yetman, III


Ed, give me a little time. I have to get all of the stuff from a professor I work with at Ohio State, while I am in New York City right now. One of the studies, I recall, focused on peer assessment to determine popularity of intelligent students. It was assumed that the higher the GPA, the less popular the student would be, but this, in fact, was found to be a falacy. (The study was testing the "Acting White Hypothesis" which asserted that education is devalued in inner cities and attributed this to the perception that intelligent blacks were becoming more "white".) What WAS found was that students who were intelligent actually maintained high levels of popularity amongst peers (students were asked to list their top ten friends, and popularity was determined by how many people listed one's name), and that those who did not often had other issues, such as socialization considerations, which led to their situation. Other data suggests that students who do well in school may experience more mistreatment from peers, but this is due more to frequency of mistreatment by a small number of students rather than mistreatment by a large group of students. It is actually fairly well accepted in sociological circles, but I will get the information for you nevertheless.



Hello Mr. Soter,
There is no hurry. It's not like we're curing cancer here. If you can please post it as a internet link so that other people can access it from this board. Even better, if you wanted to, you could open a thread on the message boards. I think Mig would prefer that since we are bit off-topic.

Ed Yetman, III

Dear Maliq, Dear Ed,

I have followed your interesting discussion from afar (literally, since I live in Germany), and it seems to me that you mean different things when you talk about "education".

Maybe it helps to separate two related aspects of education, training and learning. Training is the process of acquiring certain skills in order to excel at a profession and earn some reward, such as money or power. Learning on the other hand might be thought of as acquiring skills and knowledge for no particular purpose, except for the pleasure that can be derived from such a pursuit and, when it comes to things like studying history, a better understanding of the world we live in.

Excellent training will be highly regarded in any society. Learning will also be esteemed, but it will also always be a little suspicious since it's seemingly useless for earning a living. The degree to which such pure learning is considered suspect will vary between societies. Chess is a good example for an apparently purposeless, scholarly activity that falls into the category of learning, and I guess the general esteem for learning could be a factor in a society's ability to produce world-class chess players.


Hello Sebastian,
I was aware that Mr. Soter and I were talking at crosspurposes. You are pretty much on the mark, but that only shows how poorly I am expressing myself.

My position is that America is an anti-intellectual society. I could point out countless examples in the common culture. Unlike Mr. Soter, I do not think you can accept what people say, nor can you even judge their true beliefs by what they do; I think you can find the truth by examining what they buy.

In America we buy things that reek of anti-intellectualism. Our television shows regularly mock intellectuals and the intellectual life, while shows that promote all manner of thoughtlessness flourish. My point about President Bush had nothing to do with policy criticism; I was pointing out that Americans had many other choices besides Bush (John McCain, for one) and yet the Republicans chose the least intelligent man to run for office twice! This choice was endorsed by general public at least once. Americans do not care if they president is dumb. That's not an issue for Americans. If he's engaged in hanky-panky with an intern--WHOA!That's a different story!

I've been up all night so I'll try to post again later. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Sebastian.

Ed Yetman, III

Just in the last few weeks, I've seen both the Spelling Bee and Mathcounts (a mathematics competition) being broadcasted on TV, and as we found out just last week, Bush actually got better grades in college than Kerry (and McCain graduated near the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy). So perhaps the U.S. isn't so anti-intellectual after all?

There are two facets to what is going on here. One is the training point that I mentioned earlier. The Russians had and to a large extent still do have a manufacturing system for top level players. An interesting statistic in this sense might be percentage of population that plays chess. I am sure this is much lower than Russia as well but probably not as significant as the difference in number of grandmasters. The second facet is this intellectual discussion. From my perspective, this debate is not really nuanced enough. Americans have always been intellectual, but in a practical way. Thinking in terms of the sciences(social and natural(mostly in the applied sense)) America leads the way. But when we consider philosophy or the arts, we have to bow to our friends accross the Atlantic. Chess to me fits into the latter category, interesting and enriching, but certainly not practical in any way. Perhaps this is of interest in explaining the discussed phenomenon.

Hello everyone,
I find this assumption that chess is intellectual and even artistic pasttime/carreer contradicts the discussion a few weeks ago where almost every male who posted confessed they played chess competitively to win.
Learning, not just training, should always find an application, or something to extrapolate to everyday life, otherwise it IS completely purposeless. Some intellectual pursuits have a more tangible application than others, that's all, so they seem more worthwhile.
I think that generally society, including American society, accepts intellectuals as individuals. In popular culture, the stereotypical intellectual misfit is mocked, though I think more for their perceived social ineptitude than for anything else. Unfortunately, I think this highlights ruthless intolerance and meanness towards outsiders.

I have no ability to speculate on America's overall approach to intellectuals, and I certainly can't dispute Maliq's studies, but I do have a view from another angle. I've spent the last 15-20 years with executives in American corporations, primarily in Silicon Valley, which some would argue attracts the best and the brightest.
My observation from this is that once you've gotten past the first job, whatever grades you made in university no longer matter. The school you came from does. So, for example, you'll be more successful as an executive with a barely-passing average from Harvard or Yale, than you will with perfect scores from some good but not prestigious school. It's the name that counts in promotions and hiring within the executive ranks, not the ability.

When is Duif going to work for the USCF? Man, if she isn't convincing! You go girl!

I do think chess has one impediment to sponsorship that someone riding a bicycle or hitting a golf shot does not: that in the way that most spectators watch the live event (internet for chess) what is being viewed is not the person themself (and therefore possibly their sponsor logo shirt) but a representation of their moves. The only way I can see around this is if the players played for corporate teams and the teams could be assured that their logos appeared on the netcast.

Hello all,
I haven't seen Mr. Soter's studies yet, but I doubt that studies conducted on children will tell us much about the attitudes of Americans in general, most of whom are adults. Likewise, putting the math and spelling bees on television could have more to do with the "isn't it cute" factor of American television than any intellectual dispostion of Americans to admire proper spelling.

As for a comparison of the college grades of Kerry, Bush, and McCain, this comparison does not really enlighten us. Kerry and McCain are articulate men, while Bush can't make his nouns and verbs agree. You can go to slate.com to see the hundreds (or even thousands) of verbal gaffes of Bush(Look for "Bushisms"). Hardly anyone knows what grades these guys got in college, but everyone knows who speaks clearly and who mangles the English language. The mangler is President.

Ed Yetman, III

The Delphic Oracle did not say, "Be Smart". It said, "Know Thyself."

Bush's gaffes are well known. As are those of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who twice flunked his bar exam. Both these men, one a Republican, one a Democrat, know themselves. They tacitly acknowledge their intellectual shortcomings, surround themselves with advisors much "smarter" than themselves, and enjoy generally excellent results in forwarding their respective agendas.

Kerry, Dean, and McCain are probably "smarter" than Bush or Daley, but are not quite as smart as they think they are. The electorate senses this and does not quite trust these men, who consequently occupy the second rank in the political order.

There's plenty of respect for intellectualism in American, which is why books like Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" become best-sellers. But there's plenty of justifiable scepticism, as well. I agree with those who would rather be governed by 500 random names out of the Boston phonebook than by the Harvard faculty. Earlier this year Harvard President Summers, in examining the reasons why male students' show superior progress in math and science, discussed various possibilities: differences in upbringing, differences in career aspirations, differences in genetic makeup...and the Harvard faculty censured him.

There's a simpler explanation for the doldrums in the American chess scene. When he retired, Kasparov noted there was no clear path to the title for him. There was no clear path for anyone else either, a terrible situation in any sport, but particularly in America which is off the beaten path of the world chess scene. When FIDE rebuilds its world championship cycle Americans will follow the careers of those with a title shot...and interest in chess will rebound.

The issue here has been interest in pursuing a career in chess and in this respect parental support has become critical if an individual wants to reach the highest levels. Very often we can see the new chess wunderkind acompannied by his/her parents, who inspire and support their children at least at the start of their careers. I guess the situation is the same in most sports or professions and perhaps it was not this way in the past. By comparison, if a young person wants to pursue a career in mathematics there is a number of institutions that would provide some help and so parental support is not as critical as it is in chess. This line of thought would include issues like the weakening of family bonds and other sociological factors but it points to the need to factor in the real interests of the older generation.


Mr. Yetman, I am enjoying this thread. Hopefully I will gain a new variable which may lead to a good study for dissertation. Anyway, regarding your comment about how a model which uses perspectives of children does not accurately reflect the views of society, it should be understood that children often are direct reflections of whatever surrounds them within their physical and psychological environment. They are not, as one might imagine, entities which exist independent of the perspectives which they have been taught. Thus, rare is the circumstance in which a child will value education more than his or her parent, at least during early years. Furthermore, trends amongst older students may be seen as an indication of the direction in which society will be moving in ten years or so; note that civil rights was a movement which succeeded in large part because the younger generation embraced the ideas just prior to taking the reigns of society. Once the younger generation embraced the idea, it was only a matter of time before it broke through. It is, therefore, true that some of the concessions inherent in conducting a study using public school students instead of adults is countered by a peak into the future. This glimpse we might also miss if we determine only the views of older Americans (many of whom complain about the state of education nowadays, anyway, showing that they at least are concerned with formal education). I have requested the information from my mentor in Columbus, BTW, so hopefully I will have it for you soon. Stay safe, stay strong, and stay brilliant.



It is still possible(likely,according to the man himself) that Hikaru will study first and then decide what to do with his life, which may mean chosing another job. The only person I am convinced will wind up as a professional player is Josh Friedel.

When once removed becomes twice removed it's time to go to another blog or to the message boards!

Well, you removed the first as I was typing the second. I wouldn't have posted again if I had spotted the deletion.

Guess I'm going for thrice deleted here.

Mr. Foster,
Well, Mig is right, we were getting out there in the field. Actually, we were kinda out in the woods. If you want to start a thread on the message board I'll reply.

Ed Yetman, III

Yes, he was right.

Didn't know there was a message board. Well, maybe I will start a thread there. Busy with the family at the moment. And I really don't know all that much anyway! Regardless, it was nice talking to you.

Yes, same here Mr. Foster. BEWARE OF THE MESSAGE BOARDS! Very addictive.

Ed Yetman, III

Twitter Updates

    Follow me on Twitter



    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 9, 2005 6:41 PM.

    For Pete's Sake was the previous entry in this blog.

    Leon's Roar is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.