The IQ Tracking of Chess Grandmasters: Magnus Carlsen & Bobby Fischer

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Magnus Carlsen is a Norwegian chess grandmaster and the current World Chess Champion. He achieved the highest rating of 2882, as well as becoming the youngest person to hold that title. Magnus became a chess prodigy at an early age, first being taught by his father aged 5 or 6 years old but finding himself disinterested he didn’t take it up again until age 8.

But what about Magnus Carlsens’ IQ compared with other Grandmasters like Bobby Fischer and how much truth is there in claims both have an IQ score of around 190?

Magnus Carlsen has explained he has no interest in taking an IQ test, and indeed if he has, he is no rush to reveal what it might be, so reports of an IQ score of 190 would seem to be nothing more than wishful speculation and an attempt to pretend to know something the man himself doesn’t even possess the knowledge of.

All of which was backed up in a 2010 interview when the then 19-year-old stated he didn’t want to know for fear of being too clever.

So let’s take a closer look at a lot of questions surrounding IQ scores and chess playing

Carlsen: I have no idea. I wouldn’t want to know it anyway. It might turn out to be a nasty surprise.

Magnus Carlsen

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Average IQ Score

Before we self indulgently delve into arming ourselves with useless information and speculation of chess players IQ and the correlation between IQ ability and chess playing skills, let us remind ourselves of the average Intelligence Quotients test results score in the US

The average American Adult IQ test score result is between 85-115, that is to say the majority of grown Americans, that is 68% are within one standard deviation of the mean result.

So what does that mean on the entire scale? I shall use the neutrally termed Stanford–Binet Fifth Edition (SB5) classification, to give this discussion page some context

IQ Range (“deviation IQ”)IQ Classification
144+Very Gifted or Highly Advanced
130-144Gifted or Very Advanced
120-129Superior
110-119High Average
90-109Average
80-89Low Average
70-79Borderline impaired or delayed
55-69Mildly impaired or delayed
Source: Wikipedia IQ Classification

So with all that in mind, let’s get back to the matter in hand, Magnus Carlsen’s IQ, that of his chess grandmasters, past and present, and whether a chess career, in general, can benefit from above-average IQ

1. Magnus Carlsen IQ Score – Unknown

We do not know Magnus Carlsen’s IQ score. Indeed Magnus doesn’t know it himself as he has stated he has never taken a test, and never intends to take a test, rather preferring ignorance whilst knowing he likes to do normal things and take a break from being the greatest chess player in the world.

We can speculate that Magnus has a high IQ and that plays out in his chess games, but we cannot be sure of it or give an exact estimate based on his chess-playing ability alone.

We would need to know more information about Magnus in order to have a better understanding of what he might have achieved or may still yet achieve should he be tested specifically for his IQ score.

He would certainly have gained some skills from Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest chess player in history and a chess icon forevermore.

2. Bobby Fischer IQ Score – 123-180

Bobby Fischer was one of the greatest players in chess history on the chess board. He was also one of the most controversial and enigmatic figures of the game.

Whilst he once said his IQ was 123, there is good, if not compelling evidence he scored as high as 180 whilst still at school, from Frank Brady.

Brady wrote Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall – from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness, which I thoroughly recommend listening to on Audible on a free trial as a fascinating insight into one of the greatest and most complicated chess players ever.

From the book:

In previous writings, I have cited Fischer’s I.Q. as in the range of 180, a very high genius. My source of information is impeccable: a highly regarded political scientist who coincidentally happened to be working in the grade adviser’s office at Erasmus Hall – Bobby Fischer’s high school in Brooklyn – at the time Fischer was a student there. He had the opportunity to study Fischer’s personal records and there is no reason to believe his figure is inaccurate. Some critics have claimed that other teachers at Erasmus Hall at that time remember the figure to be much lower; but who the teachers are and what figures they remember have never been made clear.

Frank Brady's Endgame on Bobby Fischer on Audible

3. What’s the IQ of Grandmasters & Correlation with Chess Playing Skills

It could be accepted that perhaps the majority of chess grandmasters’ IQ might be pushing beyond the high average score of 119 and into the ‘Superior’ 120+ deviation, but there are simply too few confirmed figures anyone could go on to provide a definitive study.

Nigel Short was none too shabby playing chess but claims to have a score in the 120-130 region. pretty damn high, but paling into insignificance to some claims out there.

An IQ test measures a person’s reasoning ability by testing how quickly and accurately short- and long-term memory can be accessed and how well they can solve puzzles and problems presented in the test. Scientific American delves a little deeper into the subject.

It doesn’t, sadly, involve a game of chess.

Chess matches do draw on all of these skills, so it could be claimed either way that a good chess player may have a better IQ score than a weaker player if tested, or indeed, a person with a high IQ would be more adept at learning and becoming more skilled at chess than a person achieving a lower IQ test score.

It’s all irrelevant anyway as the intelligent people we refer to know, of course, tournament games are not won on IQ scores.

Garry Kasparov Chess Masterclass

4. The Chess Grandmaster With the highest confirmed IQ is Judit Polgár (170)

It remains supremely difficult to provide any answer with 100% satisfaction that the information is correct, but it is with some confidence we can assume this information is accurate.

Judit Polgár has an IQ score of 170, placing her significantly above the 144+ top level of ‘Very Gifted and Highly Advanced’ in the Stanford–Binet Fifth Edition (SB5) classification and at #5 in a list of the smartest people on the planet.

Very few female chess players have reached the World Chess Federations’ Top 100 but this Hungarian hero has. Judit was apparently trained to be a genius, her father claims, but in any case, she became a grandmaster at just 11 years-of-age as a child prodigy.

Summary

Whilst we might assume that a high IQ results in an ability to be a good chess player, there is no conclusive proof, as those with supreme scores will be as many outliers should a complete study be undertaken as would those at the other end of the spectrum and it would be reasonable to also assume that those in the higher percentile of FIDE ratings as grandmaster would possibly be in the similar range of ‘High Average IQ’ and not necessarily all geniuses.

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My Favorite Stuff

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Chess Set

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  • Wooden 21 Inch Beech & Birch Board With Felt Base
  • Carved Hornbeam & Sycamore Wood Chess Pieces
  • Compartment Inside The Board To Store Each Piece

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