Chess is an easy game to learn, but a hard one to master!
As a full time coach for over 10 years (over 40 years of coaching experience), I have received countless email and messages from parents, grandparents, or family members asking for ideas to evaluate if their children have the ability to become the next Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, or Wei Yi, etc.
Being the Director of the SPICE institute and Head Coach of the Webster University chess team, winner of the last 7 consecutive National Division I Championships, it is very important for me to evaluate the talents correctly. I have to be absolutely objective with my analysis and cannot rely on personal emotion or feeling.
Here are just some of the criteria I used for my evaluation:
Passion: If the youngster does not have the love and passion for the game, he / she will never reach the top.
Discipline: No matter how talented the players are, without discipline, it will be a very challenging road ahead. This discipline could be about training habit, personal or time management, or self-control during the game, etc.
Coachability: Every player has weaknesses. It is up to the coach to spot them and help the players fix the problems. Unfortunately, not all players are willing to listen or care to make that adjustment. The best example is Wesley So. He had incredible natural talent. But he had serious flaws in his game. After spending a little over 2 years at Webster University under my personal training, he was able to fix most of his weaknesses and he soared to #2 in the world after being stuck in the mid 2600’s for 3+ years.
Nerves / Mental Toughness: At the top level, everyone is good. Therefore, every little factor can make a huge difference between success and a total waste of time. One cannot be a champion if choking under pressure is an issue.
Health: To be a champion, one must be very physically fit. I was the first woman, and one of the first players overall, to seriously incorporate fitness into chess training regimen decades ago. I do the same now as a coach. Some people laughed at this idea but most are starting to realize that fitness, stamina, and a healthy diet are very important to chess success.
And lastly, natural talent: I have seen less talented players get to the top because they compensated their deficiencies with hard work in all other areas. I have also seen some of the most talented players wasted their careers because of deficiencies in various issues.
In today’s world, players can make a fantastic living being in the top 5-10. They can make a decent living being in the top 11-25. They can make a fair living being in the top 50. Outside of this, players can make a living but much less than many professional jobs, unless they are willing to teach on the side. I have seen many good grandmasters making less than $25,000 gross a year.
The good news is more and more players are using their chess skills (analytical, decision making, evaluation, calculation, etc.) for other professional careers. There are many chess playing millionaires, billionaires, successful entrepreneurs and business owners, etc.
So my final conclusion is chess is a fantastic sport with so many benefits, especially for young people, if you learn correctly and properly apply what you learn for every day advantages, on and off the chess board. This is why I am such a big advocate for this beautiful game!