Learn to Play Chess — At What Age is It Better to Start?

Learn to Play Chess — At What Age is It Better to Start?

At what age is it better to learn to play chess? Maybe at 5 years old maybe at 10.
Basically the earlier kid starts to play chess the better, since young mind is more flexible and learns things faster.
However, I believe that it’s mostly matters not when you start playing chess, but how much time and effort you dedicated to that game. If you start playing at 6 you may become a grandmaster by 16 with right training and talent. If you started at 30 maybe you’ll be able to become a grandmaster by 40.

Adults however have a lot less time to play chess since they have work, family, children and lots of problems they have to think about besides chess.

Here is the list of when famous players have learned to play chess:

  • Alekhine learned at the age of 7 from his older brother. His mother also played chess and he learned chess from his relatives.
  • Anand learned the game of chess at age 6, taught by his mother.
  • Adolf Anderssen learned at the age of 9 from his father.
  • Blackburne was 19 years old before he learned chess. He learned the game from a chess book he had purchased.
  • Humphrey Bogart learned chess at 13 and was later a chess hustler.
  • Boleslavsky learned at age 9 at the House of Pioneers in the USSR.
  • Botvinnik learned at the age of 12, probably from his family.
  • de la Bourdonnais learned at 19 while in college.
  • Walter Browne learned the game at age 8 somewhere in Brooklyn.
  • Capablanca claimed he learned chess at the age of 4 by watching his father play chess against friends.
  • Ray Charles learned at age 35 in a hospital to fight drug addiction.
  • Irving Chernev learned at the age of 12 from his father.
  • Mikhail Chigorin learned at the age of 16 from a school teacher in Russia.
  • Arnold Denker learned at the age of 12 from his oldest brother.
  • Jan Donner learned at the age of 14, taught by his friends.
  • Max Euwe learned at the age of 9 from his parents.
  • Larry Evans learned at age 12 from his brothers and his father.
  • Reuben Fine learned chess at the age of 8 from his cousin.
  • Bobby Fischer learned at the age of 6 from his older sister.
  • Nona Gaprindashvili learned at the age of 5 from her 5 older brothers.
  • Gligoric learned about age 12 from a boarder in his parents home.
  • Heubner learned at the age of 5 from his father.
  • Igor Ivanov learned at age 5 from his mother.
  • John Jarecki learned at the age of 6 from his father (a medical doctor).
  • Mona Karff learned at age 9 from her father.
  • Karpov learned chess at the age of 4 at the Pioneers Palace.
  • Kasparov learned at age 5 from his father, who later died in a car crash.
  • Paul Keres learned at the age of 4, probably from his parents.
  • George Koltanoski learned chess at the age of 14 from his father, a diamond cutter.
  • Bent Larsen learned at age 6, probably from his family.
  • Edward Lasker learned at age 6 from his father.
  • Emanuel Lasker learned at age 11 from his older brother.
  • Bill Lombardy learned at age 9 from a neighbor.
  • Frank Marshall learned chess at age 10 from his father.
  • Mecking learned at age 6, probably from his family.
  • Vera Menchik learned at age 9 from her father.
  • Paul Morphy learned at age 8 from his father.
  • Nakamura learned how to play chess at the age of 7.
  • Nimzovich learned chess at the age of 8.
  • Victor Palciuskas learned at age 5 from his uncle.
  • Louis Paulsen learned at age 5 from his father.
  • Petrosian learned chess from his parent at age 8. His parents died a few years later during World War II.
  • Philidor learned at age 10 from his musician friends.
  • Pillsbury learned at age 15.
  • Susan Polgar learned chess at the age of 4 from her parents.
  • Stuart Rachels learned at age 8 from an older brother.
  • Reshevesky was playing chess at 4 and giving simuls at age 5.
  • Rossolimo learned chess at age 7 from his mother.
  • Diane Savereide learned chess at age 17 from her brother. A few years later she was the top woman chess player in the U.S.
  • Gabriel Schwartzman says he learned chess at the age of 2.
  • Seirawan learned chess in Seattle at the age of 12.
  • Smyslov learned chess at the age of 6 from his father and from the chess books in his father’s library.
  • Soltis learned chess at age 9.
  • Spassky learned chess at the age of 5.
  • Steinitz learned chess at the age of 12 from friends.
  • Sultan Khan learned modern chess at age 21. Prior to that, he learned Indian chess at a much younger age.
  • Mikhail Tal learned at the age of 8 by watching patients play chess at the hospital his father worked at.
  • Tarrasch learned chess at the age of 15 from a chess book.
  • George Thomas learned chess at the age of 13 from his mother, a top British Ladies’ Champion.
  • Topalov learned at age 9.
  • Norman Whitaker learned at age 14 from his father.
  • Michael Wilder learned at the age of 6 from his father.

List of youngest Grandmasters ever:

Year Player Country Age
1950 David Bronstein Soviet Union 26 years
1952 Tigran Petrosian Soviet Union 23 years
1955 Boris Spassky Soviet Union 18 years
1958 Bobby Fischer United States 15 years, 6 months, 1 day
1991 Judit Polgár Hungary 15 years, 4 months, 28 days
1994 Péter Lékó Hungary 14 years, 4 months, 22 days
1997 Etienne Bacrot France 14 years, 2 months, 0 days
1997 Ruslan Ponomariov Ukraine 14 years, 0 months, 17 days
1999 Bu Xiangzhi China 13 years, 10 months, 13 days
2002 Sergey Karjakin Ukraine 12 years, 7 months, 0 days

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Updated 01.06.2024


Hello Scionescire and thanks for your detailed comment. Yes, you cannot conclude how successful the chess player will be solely from the age when he starts playing chess. But there are a few things that can be noted from that 'data':1. Most very successful chess players started playing chess at early age (5-6 y.o.)2. GM title holders become younger due to the computer technology 26 y.o. in 1950 vs. 12 y.o. in 2002. The chess ability can be trained if started early enough. Of course, some kids are more predisposed for chess than the others. It's not easy, but with a right coaching and attitude can be done. People who are stuck at 1300 level all their life either do not want to improve or do not take necessary actions to increase their ELO. With a right coaching, time, motivation and resources most people with an average IQ can be trained to 2000-2200.
mightyJUNJUN, [b]Carlsen [/b]learned chess from his father at the age of 5, he recently wrote about it on facebook.[b]Aronian [/b]learned to play chess from his sister at age 9, according to Wikipedia.[b]Wesley [/b]So learned chess rules at age of 6, according to Wiki. Rick, thanks for the correction, you're right :-)
And No 3, then I'm done: Oh, and to my opinion, the number of training hours (5 digits it has) before someone becomes GM is only a necessary, not a sufficient condition for success. The main trait successful players show (and which is absent in th ebrains of less susccessful players) seems to be an extraordinary ability to recall patterns of positions (like the Bc4 that takes on f7, or the Bd3 that attacks on h7, or the doubling of rooks on a file so as to occupy the 7th rank) and, what is more, the ability to recall actual positions (and complete games). Unfortunately you can't practice this ability. Either you have it or not (I don't). If not, then you will stick in the ELO 1300 or 1700 area (where chess can be fun anyway!), and another 10.000 hours of practice will not bring your towards the IM title. So the optimistic saying "you can reach everything if you practice hard enough" is unfortunately not true for the less talented ;-)
It would more interesting to evaluate why some of these kids lose interest, some play decently, and only a few break through the ceiling - but this is not explained by the age at which they fist learned the game. Such a study would require to compare different cohorts, e.g., kids that have learned the game at 5-6, at 7-8, at 9-11, at 11-14, abover 14, and then compare among these cohorts the frequency of players which became highly successful (e.g. ELO >2100, or Grand Masters) during the next 30 years. But again, the fact that slmost all successful players have learned the game at the same age as almost everyone else tells little (there might be more hypotheses like the age thing: successful players breathe air, a mix containing oxygene....or go to the bathroom occasionally...or drink potable water...all this might as well explain their success, or not?)
The question: "at what age did successful chess players learn chess" is pretty irrelevant from a scientific point of view, if you want to uncover factors of success, in particular: does the age at which chess is learned play a role for the later success? The reason is simple: almost everyone "learns" chess at the age of 5-7. Of course, there are exceptions, but many kids do (better: their parents develop the urge of having to explain chess to them). Hence, there is really no surprise that many successful chessplayers also did learn the game at that age. If it is true that, say, 80% of all people (in Europe, North America...) encounter chess at the age of 5-7, then the observation that can be derived from the list above (that 80% of all successful chessplayers have learned the gam at that age) seems to have little significance.
Bobby Fischer learned at the age of [b]6[/b] in 1949 (not 8)...
How's about Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, and Wesley Soo? When did they start learned Chess?
Robert Hyland:
You have all left out the most important factor in the age decision. The child will be ready to start chess instruction [b][i]when the child first expresses an interest in the game.[/i][/b] My visualization is when the child stands at grandpa's elbow during a game and asks questions, like "why does that piece move differently than the other one. At that point he is hooked and you have a common bond. Both my sons started after their interest peaked, and now beat me about half the time.
kishor k madhu:
i think 5-6 is good to learn the basicthen practice make then perfect
5 is a good age i have been teaching summer lessons chess to kids from that rank of age to older, it does not matter if they are quiet or hiperactive, teach them the move of 2 pieces per day around half-hour, playing like 10 games with each piece, and later be more familiar with the set, trowing it, or just playing with pieces, will took you a week but it worth it.
Well, I don't know. I think maybe 5-6 year olds already do that (at least some). Good luck with the school. You can use my website as a reference ;-)
Very useful... I am thinking in starting an chess school but dont know from what age.At what age children enjoy more competition and the feeling of "I am stronger than you"