New Developments in Chess Expertise Research: An Introduction to the Special Issue of the Journal of Expertise
Guillermo Campitelli 1, Fernand Gobet 2, and Alexander P. Burgoyne 3
Volume 6, Issue 1, March 2023
Guillermo Campitelli 1, Fernand Gobet 2, and Alexander P. Burgoyne 3
Eyal M. Reingold 1 and Heather Sheridan 2
The remarkably efficient performance of chess experts reflects extensive practice with domain-related visual configurations. To study the perceptual component of chess expertise, we monitored the eye movements of expert and novice chess players during the performance of a novel double-check detection task. Chess players viewed an array of six minimized chessboards (4 x 4 squares), with each board displaying a king and 2 attackers. Players rapidly searched for the target board containing a double-check among distractor boards which either displayed a single check or displayed no check. During each fixation, chess pieces were only visible within the fixated board, while all other boards were replaced by empty boards. On half the trials, chess pieces were represented using the familiar symbol notation, while on the other half of the trials, pieces were represented using an unfamiliar letter notation. The analysis of overall response times and several fine-grained eye movement measures indicated that in trials using the familiar symbol notation, experts were much faster at identifying the double-check board, and this advantage was substantially attenuated in trials using the unfamiliar letter notation. In addition, an ex-Gaussian distributional analysis documented similar expertise by notation interactions. We discuss the implications of the present findings for theories of visual expertise in general, and skilled performance in chess, in particular.
Joost de Winter 1, Toine Koelmans 1, Maarten Kokshoorn 1, Kars van der Valk 1,
Willem Vos 1, Dimitra Dodou 1, and Yke Bauke Eisma 1
Chunking theory and previous eye-tracking studies suggest that expert chess players use peripheral vision to judge chess positions and determine the best moves to play. However, the role of peripheral vision in chess has largely been inferred rather than tested through controlled experimentation. In this study, we used a gaze-contingent paradigm in a reconstruction task, similar to the one initially used by De Groot (1946). It was hypothesized that the smaller the gaze-contingent window while memorizing a chess position, the smaller the differences in reconstruction accuracy between novice and expert players. Participants viewed 30 chess positions for 20 seconds, after which they reconstructed this position. This was done for four different window sizes as well as for full visibility of the board. The results, as measured by Cohen’s d effect sizes between experts and novices of the proportion of correctly placed pieces, supported the above hypothesis, with experts performing much better but losing much of their performance advantage for the smallest window size. A complementary find-the-best-move task and additional eye-movement analyses showed that experts had a longer median fixation duration and more spatially concentrated scan patterns than novice players. These findings suggest a key contribution of peripheral vision and are consistent with the prevailing chunking theory.
Philippe Chassy 1, Rick Lahaye 2, and Fernand Gobet 3
Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played 30 games simultaneously in 2010; with about 25 seconds per move, he managed nevertheless to win all of them. How experts can perform at such a high level has always puzzled psychologists. Decades of research have documented that such performance results primarily from long-term memory, sophisticated memory structures termed templates. Templates organize huge-amounts of domain-specific material into functional units that ultimately enable instantaneous understanding through their processing in working memory. They also were theorized to make experts less sensitive to the influence of incidental emotions. The present paper examined whether the use of templates comes at a time cost and supresses the influence of incidental emotion. Thirty club players and 30 expert chess players undertook a short-term memory scanning task after being primed by either negative, neutral, or positive emotional images. Results indicate that experts are not only more accurate but are also faster than club players in scanning the content of their memory, even when it holds more information. This apparently counterintuitive result is accounted for by the notion that templates do not form in isolation but likely modify the structures that permit their retrieval in long-term memory. The emotion variable failed to reach statistical significance, which is interpreted in the light of the limited options to induce emotions in an experimental setting. The significance of our findings for theories of expertise is discussed in depth.
Angel Blanch 1 and Carles Comas 2
Past reports attribute sex differences in chess expertise to either the differential participation of males and females in chess, or to biological and cultural factors. This study examines whether geographical factors relate with the sex gap in chess expertise evaluated with three measures: raw (R), expected (E), and discrepancy (D). These differences corresponded to the 100 top-ranked male and female chess players in 24 Eurasian countries. The main aim of the study consisted of evaluating whether these countries resembled or differed in the three measures (RED) regarding either country size or country latitude. While no differences or similarities were found regarding latitude, six countries of a similar size resembled the expected sex differences (E) in chess expertise. Five out of these six countries share geographical borders, linguistic origins, and climatic characteristics, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. The outcomes in the current study suggest that bearing in mind geographical factors is a worthy research avenue to address the prevalent sex gap in chess expertise across different countries and cultures.
Philippe Chassy 1
The last decades have witnessed a heated debate about the nature of gender differences. Chess, as the typical domain of excellence, has been used extensively to empirically test whether males demonstrate an undisputable superiority. A common finding is that average male ratings are superior to the average female ratings. While some authors have taken this superiority as evidence of males’ superior intelligence, other have argued that it stems from statistical sample biases. In the present article the Elo ratings of 140,367 active players provided by the International Chess Federation were used to investigate the profiles of male and female chess experts. The commonly found advantage in general rating for males is replicated. But, the analysis of performance as function of both gender and age reveals the counterintuitive facts that females tend to equal males in both average rating and proportion of experts when both genders reach peak performance. This fact brings into question the usual view of clear male superiority and calls for further research into the chess play of females.
Andrea Brancaccio 1 and Fernand Gobet 2
There is a considerable gender gap in chess; for example, only one female player belongs to the world’s 100 top players. The aim of this paper is to review the literature on gender differences in chess, highlighting the parallels that can be drawn with gender differences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The paper reviews all the empirical evidence obtained from experimental papers and from the analysis of chess databases. Based on this evidence, it discusses several alternative explanations that have been proposed to explain the performance gender gap in chess and STEM. These explanations include statistical justifications, explanations based on intelligence, personality and motivation, socio-cultural factors, and biological explanations. Finally, the strengths and weaknesses of this field of research are evaluated and broader implications drawn.
Uri Zak 1
The home-field advantage — a tendency to perform better at home than away from home — has been well-documented across individual and team sports. Here, I questioned the scope of the home-field advantage, namely, to which competitive settings it applies. To do so, I analyzed the outcomes of more than 100,000 chess games played in official Israeli chess leagues. I found no support for a home-field advantage (or disadvantage), regardless of players’ levels of expertise or the importance of a given game. Overall, the observed nonsignificant pattern challenges the notion that the home-field advantage is related to human territorial behavior. Apparently, location hardly matters when confounding factors such as active audiences and referees are absent. Methods for analyzing a large dataset of chess-game outcomes are discussed.
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