If you’re in your thirties or older, you might be wondering whether you might be able to tackle the arduous challenge of learning chess. We hear stories of prodigies beating grandmasters, teenagers becoming grandmasters, kids playing blindfolded, and on and on. What about us who come to the game later in life?
Can you learn chess at 30 and older? Yes! You can certainly learn chess at 30 or older. It’s never too late to learn, study, enjoy, and play chess. Unlike physical sports there is no particular barrier to entry with chess as you grow older. It takes a focused approach and a sharp brain, which is possible at any age.
There are even a few players who made the grade as grandmasters later in life, so there is proof that it can be done. If you’re starting at a later age, you also need to understand the challenges that you might face and be prepared to overcome them. Here’s what you need to know.
Can You Learn Chess At 30?
Chess isn’t a very complicated game to learn. It might look like it’s a hard game to learn when you’re watching other people play but in reality there are only 6 different pieces on a chess board (though they are each duplicated a different number of times) and each of them has a fixed way to move.
In addition, there are a few simple rules about how the game is won and conducted to learn. You can’t pick up chess in 5 minutes but you could certainly learn how several pieces move in this time and by the end of a day (or at the most two) of trying to learn, you’d be capable of playing chess.
So, the question can you learn chess at 30, isn’t that interesting, the question ought to be “can you learn to be good at chess at 30?” and the answer to that is also “yes” but only if you are capable of overcoming the barriers to adults becoming good at chess.
The Barriers To Learning Chess At 30
- You’re not motivated. We get it, you have a job, a family, friends, hobbies, etc. and chess isn’t that important in that context. We even agree with you but the truth is nobody gets better at something they’re not motivated to get better at. So, you may need to give things up if you want to succeed in chess.
- You don’t have good memory. You can make your memory better, but it takes work and if you’re already struggling to work on chess, where do you get the time to work on your memory? Good chess players tend to memorize openings, tactics, strategies, etc. you’ll struggle if you can’t.
- You can’t think ahead. You have to learn to visualize a chess board in your head and then work through potential variations based on each move you can make. You can learn this by playing chess blindfolded for a while but it’s hard.
- You haven’t planned to succeed. You need to study hard to become a better chess player. That means developing a plan for your studies and executing it. Most adult chess players don’t know they need to do this and thus, they never start planning.
- You don’t have decent self-esteem. When you first start playing chess you will be thrashed by small children, because they’ve been playing for longer than you. This doesn’t matter but for some people the ego-dent they get from this can be fatal to their ability to play. You need self-esteem to withstand the knocks that most of your opponents will have been through when they were still at school.
- You lack mental stamina. Chess games can last for hours. If you haven’t got a job that’s mentally demanding, you may never have focused on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s a tough thing to do to develop an attention span and mental stamina but it is absolutely essential to becoming a better chess player.
- You can’t cope with being wrong. Chess is a game. People make mistakes in games, that’s how they are won and lost. Sometimes, your opponent makes mistakes. Sometimes, you do. Even Magnus Carlsen makes mistakes (check out these grandmaster blunders here) but some people can’t handle this. Be honest with yourself, if you can’t take being wrong – chess is not for you.
- You don’t like to compete. You can’t be great at a game unless you take winning and losing seriously. Shrugging your shoulders and saying “it’s just a game” is something for hobbyists not those seeking greatness. You won’t strive to be the best, unless you want to be the best.
- You hate being under pressure. Some people thrive under pressure while others collapse when being pressured. Chess is a metaphor for war. You’re meant to be under pressure and to levy pressure on your opponent, that’s the core of the game. So, if you can’t cope, you’re not going to find your chess improving very much.
- You can’t manage your time. You need to fit in time to play, time to study and time to compete if you want to be a better chess player at 30. Most adults struggle to manage their time effectively to accommodate a practice schedule. You won’t get better if you have no time.
Could I Become A Grandmaster If I Started Playing Chess At 30?
Yes. Though we’re going to stress that we think it highly unlikely that most players starting at this time in their lives will become grandmasters.
Learning to be a grandmaster is a full-time job. Most players getting to this level will practice for 30+ hours a week, they will play in tournaments regularly, they may even have a job related to chess that helps them get more learning done (such as chess coaching).
This is going to be almost impossible if you have a young family, a career already in place, a partner to care for and so on… it’s not impossible to do this but it isn’t likely, is it?
In fact, many grandmasters have gained the title later in life, Enrico Paoli became a grandmaster at the tender age of umm… 88! He was an Italian GM and holds the record for the oldest player to attain the rank of grandmaster.
Can You Learn Chess At 50?
Absolutely for much the same reasons as you can learn chess at 30 or, indeed, you can learn chess at 70 for that matter. In fact, in some ways it might be easier for an older player to pick up the game than a 30-year-old.
By this time in life, your kids have probably grown up, your job is managerial and involves less rushing about and doing things, your partner has a few interests of their own and you have more spare time to throw at your hobby of chess.
We would note that it would, of course, be less likely that you would become a grandmaster starting this late in the day (though it’s not impossible and you certainly aren’t prevented from becoming one if you’re good enough due to age). It’s just going to take even more work and most people aren’t going to dedicate that much of themselves to a game in later life.
Can you learn chess at 30? Chess is actually a very easy game to learn to play. There are many other games out there that require a much deeper understand of the rules before you can get started than chess. We’d estimate that anyone (assuming that they are not suffering from a specific mental condition which prevents learning) could learn chess in a day or two at the most.
So, the real question is “can you learn to be good at chess at a certain age?” and the answer there is not as clear cut. Becoming a grandmaster requires a huge amount of dedication and time, time that is much easier to find when you’re young and your parents are meeting all your basic needs than as an adult with a job and/or a family. It’s not impossible but it will be a challenge.