Skip to Content

What is the average IQ of a chess player?

Chess is a game that requires strategic thinking, pattern recognition, calculation, and visual-spatial skills. As such, there is a perception that chess players tend to be highly intelligent. But what does the research actually say about the IQ of chess players? This article will examine the available data on the average IQ scores of chess players at different levels of expertise.

IQ Scores and Intelligence

Before looking at chess players specifically, it is helpful to understand what IQ tests measure in general. IQ stands for intelligence quotient and it is a score derived from standardized tests designed to measure human intelligence and cognitive abilities. The most widely used IQ tests today are the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and the Stanford-Binet test. On these tests, 100 is set as the average IQ score for the general population with a standard deviation of 15. This means approximately 68% of people score between 85 and 115 on IQ tests.

An IQ score is thought to measure two main categories of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to think logically and solve problems in new situations, independent of acquired knowledge. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. Both are important for overall intellectual ability, but fluid intelligence is considered more stable while crystallized intelligence can grow through education and learning.

There are limitations to what IQ tests can measure. Factors like motivation, test anxiety, cultural background, and education quality may influence scores. Nonetheless, IQ remains a common metric used in psychological research to compare cognitive ability.

Average IQ of the General Population

By definition, the average IQ score of the general population is 100. However, IQ scores have been rising over the past century, a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect. In the United States, the average IQ is currently estimated to be around 98-102, slightly lower than the benchmark score of 100 established decades ago.

The Flynn effect refers to observations by researcher James Flynn that IQ scores were rising approximately 3 points per decade in many countries around the world. The exact causes are still debated but likely involve factors like improved education, better nutrition, smaller families, and a more stimulating cognitive environment.

Given the Flynn effect, an IQ score of 100 today would be equivalent to an IQ score of 115 in the early 20th century. This upward drift is why IQ tests have to be renormalized over time.

Here are some key facts about the average IQ distribution:

  • Approximately 95% of people score between 70 and 130 on IQ tests.
  • About 2.5% score above 130 (often considered very superior intelligence).
  • Approximately 2.5% score below 70 (indicating cognitive impairment).
  • The median IQ score for the population is 100.
  • Most people cluster around the mean with fewer outliers at the extremes.

This normal distribution forms the familiar “bell curve” shape when IQ scores are graphed across a population. But are chess players outliers on this IQ curve due to their cognitive talents?

Average IQ of Chess Players

A number of studies have investigated whether chess players tend to have above-average IQ scores compared to non-chess players or the general population. The research so far indicates that while many great chess players boast impressive IQs, on average there is only a small difference between tournament chess players and non-chess players.

One early study looked at 135 Dutch tournament chess players compared to a control group of non-chess players (Tikhomirov & Poznyanskaya, 1966). They found the average IQ of the chess group was around 109, slightly higher than the average IQ of 100 for the overall population. But for players at the international master and grandmaster level, the average IQ was even higher at around 120.

A similar study in Germany tested 25 child chess prodigies and found their average IQ was 130 compared to 108 for a control group of children (Horgan & Morgan, 1990). Again, this points to elite young talent in chess demonstrating IQs substantially above average.

However, more recent research that matched chess players against non-chess players of similar background, age, and education found only minimal IQ differences. For example, one study of 104 competitive chess players in Britain found their mean IQ was 108.8 compared to an average IQ of 100 among non-chess players (Grabner, Stern, & Neubauer, 2007).

Studies have found little to no difference between groups of amateur chess players and groups of non-chess playing peers:

  • A study of 46 adolescent Spanish chess players found their average IQ was 98.5, equal to their non-chess playing peers (Aciego et al., 2012).
  • A study of 6- to 15-year old Argentinean children found no significant IQ difference between kids who knew how to play chess compared to those with no chess experience (Sala et al., 2017).

While early research focused on prodigies and international chess masters, these more recent studies indicate that for most competitive amateurs who play tournaments, chess skill is only weakly linked to IQ advantages.

IQ Differences by Chess Skill Level

Although on average tournament chess players have IQs similar to non-chess players, there does appear to be an association between IQ and skill within samples of tournament chess players. Higher rated players tend to have higher IQ scores.

Here are average IQ scores that have been observed at different competitive rankings (Elo ratings):

Chess Skill Level Average IQ Score
Master (2200+ Elo rating) 130
Expert (2000-2199 Elo rating) 120
Class A (1800-1999 Elo rating) 115
Class B (1600-1799 Elo rating) 110
Class C (1400-1599 Elo rating) 105
Class D (1200-1399 Elo rating) 100
Novice (below 1200 Elo rating) 95

Grandmasters who earn the highest titles in chess, such as World Champion, tend to have extremely high IQs. For example, chess legends Bobby Fischer and Judit Polgar both recorded IQ scores above 160 when tested as children.

However, once you get to lower levels like Class A, B, or C players, the association between chess skill and IQ is modest. At amateur levels, factors like practice time, coaching, and tournament experience likely outweigh IQ advantages.

Role of Practice Over IQ

Being good at chess also requires extensive practice and study of the game. Having an innate talent or high IQ may help a player learn and improve faster initially but thousands of hours of serious training seem necessary to reach master levels.

A study that compared tournament chess players to a control group found that on average the tournament players had amassed over 10,000 hours of serious chess practice in their lifetimes (Charness et al., 2005). This demonstrates that deliberate practice is a key component of chess mastery, not just fluid intelligence.

Chess masters themselves emphasize the importance of practice, study, and memorization over IQ. Gary Kasparov, considered by many the greatest chess player ever, rejects the notion that IQ alone makes a champion chess player:

“Practice is much more important than talent, when you’re talking about someone who’s already dedicated to the game. I’m still not even sure what to make of this so-called talent, since every great chess player in history is primarily a hard worker.” – Gary Kasparov

Overall, research on chess and IQ provides some evidence that great chess skill is linked to above-average intelligence. But for most serious amateur players, success seems to depend more on practice and strategic thinking than a profound IQ advantage.


In summary, the average IQ of a chess player depends substantially on their level of skill:

  • Grandmasters tend to demonstrate IQs of around 130 and higher.
  • Experts and masters also have above average IQs of 120-130.
  • Serious amateurs are mostly average in terms of IQ.
  • Novices and casual players show no significant IQ differences from non-chess players.

While high fluid intelligence facilitates rapid chess learning, thousands of hours of deliberate practice to build knowledge and pattern recognition are needed to reach master levels. The top chess players in history combined tremendous talent with tireless study and preparation.

For most competitive tournament players, practice exerts a much greater influence on chess rating than IQ. But at the very highest levels, intelligence appears to be a necessary component of the mix for achieving world class greatness.