For decades, chess has been known to be a game of intelligence and high cognitive abilities. We always get mind-blown watching chess grandmasters effortlessly making moves in a split second and planning their moves steps ahead of their opponents.
So, are they really that smart? Do chess players have high IQ?
Well, not necessarily. Some chess grandmasters have above-average IQ scores; others have below-average scores and don’t even consider themselves smart.
Does that mean you can become a chess grandmaster without having a high IQ score? Yes, you can. In this post, we’ll closely examine the relationship between chess and IQ. So let’s dive in.
The Importance of IQ in Chess
IQ tests measure one’s reasoning ability and how one can use input, information, and logic to solve problems or answer questions. Though, there are different types of IQ tests that measure specific skills.
For example, job applicants might take different IQ tests depending on their job description and educational background.
However, there are some common factors that most IQ tests measure, such as fluid thinking, non-verbal skills, working memory, visual processing, and quantitative reasoning.
That being said, there’s a direct link between IQ and chess skills. That’s because being good at chess requires a lot of high IQ-related skills, such as:
- Pattern recognition
- Creative thinking
- Decision making
- Abstract reasoning
- Strategic thinking
- Short-term memory
Now it should be clear that having a high IQ score makes you a good chess player, right? Well, it’s only up to a certain point.
Chess demands a lot more than just intelligence; it’s a sport that needs practice, discipline, and experience to become good at.
So, generally, if you’re gifted and have a high IQ score, you might be able to learn chess much faster than the average person. But that doesn’t mean you can still lose to a player with a lower IQ score.
Does Having a High IQ Make You a Better Chess Player?
If you haven’t played chess before, you might think that you need to be extremely intelligent to become a good player. That’s partly true.
A meta-analysis of 19 studies has shown that chess skills are significantly related to one’s cognitive abilities. That includes fluid reasoning, short-term memory, processing speed, and comprehension knowledge.
So it’s true that being intelligent might give you the upper hand as a chess player, but that’s only when you complement your intelligence with practice and experience.
Does that mean chess players have high IQs? Let’s see.
High-IQ Chess Players
To further understand how IQ impacts chess skills, let’s take a closer look at the IQ scores of some of the best chess players in the world.
Bear in mind that the average IQ score ranges from 85 to 115, but this score may vary according to the location, region, and geographical location.
Magnus Carlsen (190)
Speaking about the greatest chess player of all time, we can’t help but mention Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian chess grandmaster is arguably the greatest chess player in recent history and one of the best of all time.
He reached the highest ELO rating ever (2847) and held the world champion title from 2013 until 2023. While Carlsen didn’t mention his IQ score, experts think he has an IQ of around 190. This is an exceptionally high IQ score, considering the average IQ score is around 100.
Garry Kasparov (190)
Garry Kasparov is another chess prodigy who’s considered the greatest chess player of all time by many.
Kasparov has proved his intelligence and exceptional chess skills for decades as he challenged the world’s best chess players and held the world’s number one title for nearly two decades.
So what about his IQ? Reportedly, Garry Kasparov had an IQ of 190. He’s also considered among the top 20 smartest people who ever lived, according to Bigthink.
Growing up, Kasparov didn’t have access to modern resources and chess computers. However, he managed to defeat IBM’s supercomputer, Deep Blue, by a score of 4-2.
Bobby Fischer (181)
Bobby Fischer is another chess legend with an outstanding IQ score of 181. Many chess enthusiasts agree that Fischer is the greatest chess player of all time.
He’s well-known for his exceptional, innovative tactics and unexpected moves that always caught his opponents off-guard. He became the youngest international chess grandmaster at the age of 15 and defeated Boris Spassky to win the World Chess Championship in 1972.
What’s special about Bobby Fischer is that he had zero access to modern technologies and computers, which massively helped chess players improve. All he had was his brain and a bunch of chess books, and he conquered the chess world until he retired in 1972.
Even though he spent many years away from competitive chess tournaments, Fischer returned once to face Spassky in 1992, and once again, Fischer won.
Lowest Chess IQ Chess Players
While many studies show a significant correlation between high IQ scores and remarkable chess skills, many chess grandmasters don’t have genius-level IQs.
So, how did they become grandmasters?
You see, other factors affect one’s ability to become a great chess player. For example, deliberate practice, studying, experience, patience, and staying calm under pressure are all crucial factors that can make or break a chess player.
Let’s take a closer look at some chess grandmasters who don’t have high IQ scores.
Hikaru Nakamura (102)
If you’re new to chess, you probably know Hikaru Nakamura, the American chess grandmaster. He’s known for his outstanding chess skills, especially in blitz and rapid chess.
He has established a wide audience with his online presence on YouTube, Twitch, and other social media platforms, where he shares his expertise and knowledge to inspire his fans.
On top of being active on social media, Nakamura is currently the second highest-rated chess player, according to Chess.com.
Hikaru Nakamura has been one of the best chess players in the world for over a decade, but guess what? His IQ score isn’t quite high. In an interview, Nakamura mentioned that he scored only 102 on an IQ test he had taken before.
Nakamura doesn’t seem close when comparing his IQ score to other chess prodigies like Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov. However, he has been competing at the highest levels for years and has many accomplishments to his name.
Nigel Short (110)
Nigel Short is arguably the greatest British chess grandmaster of all time. He’s well-known for his qualification to face Garry Kasparov for the World Championship title in 1993.
Although Short lost to Kasparov, his journey to the top established him as one of the greatest European chess players.
After retiring from competitive chess, Short remained involved in the game as a coach, columnist, and commentator. He also wrote for multiple British newspapers such as Telegraph, Times, Guardian, and Spectator.
Despite reaching a peak career rating of 2860 in 2010, Nigel Short’s IQ score is only 110, which is quite low compared to other chess grandmasters.
Does Playing Chess Improve Your IQ Score?
It’s evident that many chess grandmasters excel in several key areas, like visualization, pattern recognition, concentration, and problem-solving.
They are also notorious for their ability to plan their moves many times ahead of their opponents and imagine hundreds of movements and scenarios in their minds.
However, does this work the other way around? In other words, does playing chess help you acquire those skills and eventually score better on IQ tests?
In 1973, Dr.Albert Frank conducted a study on the correlation between playing chess and IQ scores. He introduced a group of teenagers to chess classes instead of mathematics.
The results showed that teenagers introduced to chess showed significant improvements in the following abilities:
- Spatial abilities
- Numerical skills
- Verbal aptitudes
- Administrative-directional abilities
Similarly, there are multiple studies that showed similar results. Every time children were introduced to chess, they showed improvement in their cognitive abilities compared to those who weren’t introduced to chess.
Chess is a complex game that demands a high level of intelligence, concentration, problem-solving skills, and a great deal of memory.
When you play chess, you’re basically exercising your brain and developing your mental abilities. Thus, you’ll likely score better in IQ exams if you practice chess for a long time.
To Wrap Up
So, do chess players have high IQ?
Many chess grandmasters have exceptionally high IQ scores, such as Magnus Carlsen, Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, Judit Polgar, and Robert Byrne.
However, many chess prodigies reached the highest level without having high IQ scores, including Hikaru Nakamura, Nigel Short, Vladimir Kramnik, Vasyl Ivanchuk, and Peter Leko.
There’s no denying that chess requires much intelligence, but it isn’t the only factor that makes a good chess player.
Grandmasters didn’t become grandmasters because they only have high IQs. They spend years training, studying, and improving their cognitive skills to compete at the highest level.