Re: Chess and Go study

From: BillK (
Date: Mon Dec 16 2002 - 12:52:09 MST

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Alternatively the original study may have only involved neuroimaging,
> which failed to show as much lighting of the prefrontal cortex as the
> researchers expected, and everything else is the reporter's invention.
> It's hard to see why anyone would do a simultaneous study of Chess
> and Go involving independent tests of g-factor AND functional
> neuroimaging - offhand I'd expect it to be one or the other.

The Abstracts of these papers are available from Science Direct:

GO Abstract

GO is a board game thought to be different from chess in many aspects,
most significantly in that GO emphasizes global strategy more than local
battle, a property very difficult for computer programs to emulate. To
investigate the neural basis of GO, functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) was used to measure brain activities of subjects engaged
in playing GO. Enhanced activations were observed in many cortical
areas, such as dorsal prefrontal, parietal, occipital, posterior
temporal, and primary somatosensory and motor areas. Quantitative
analysis indicated a modest degree of stronger activation in right
parietal area than in left. This type of right hemisphere lateralization
differs from the modest left hemisphere lateralization observed during
chess playing.

Chess Abstract

Chess is a game that involves many aspects of high level cognition and
requires sophisticated problem solving skills. However, there is little
understanding of the neural basis of chess cognition. This study
employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify
cortical areas that are active during the analysis of chess positions
compared with a spatial task with matched visual stimuli. Bilateral
activation was revealed in the superior frontal lobes, the parietal
lobes, and occipital lobes. Some small areas of activation were observed
unilaterally in the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere showed more
activation than the right. Results are discussed in relation to a
similar brain imaging study on the game Go.

Michael Atherton's web site at: provides more data.

The goal of the current study is to identify the important cortical
areas in chess playing and compare their activation between novice and
advanced chess players. Chess playing is a mental process that involves
many aspects of cognitive functions. The study of chess playing at the
behavioral level has been important to our understanding of mental
operations in general problem solving and the development of expertise.
A detailed description of the cortical areas involved during chess
playing will no doubt help us to constrain theories of chess playing and
further our understanding of this unique human cognitive function.
Patterns of cortical activation of players of different levels of
sophistication were measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging
(fMRI). Subjects were presented with mid-game positions and instructed
to select the best next move within 30 seconds. Cortical activation in
this condition was contrasted with periods when subjects viewed a blank
chessboard and chessboards with randomly placed pieces. To control for
subjects' eye movements and attentional level in the random condition,
subjects were asked to search for small low-contrast marks on some of
the chess pieces. The most consistent activation during chess playing
was found in the Inferior Parietal Lobule. This may reflect the demand
on spatial orientation during chess playing. Surprisingly, there was no
or very weak differential activation in the prefrontal cortex.


So, he did do lots of MRI scans, but found nothing much in the
prefrontal cortex.

But I suspect this could vary depending on the playing style/experience
of the player. As Tomaz said rules plus experience can save you a
ferocious amount of calculation. If you are calculating the position
from first principles every time you will be mentally exhausted at the
end of a game. In competitive chess, once you have memorised the normal
openings plus standard variations, you won't be calculating much at all
until the middle game. And then experienced players will know almost
instinctively what the next move should be. If you watch a master
strolling around playing a hundred simultaneous games, he is obviously
not calculating every move. Even if you deliberately play to complicate
the positions, it won't slow him down much. And he will still win almost
all the games.
Memory plays a big part in how chess masters win games.
When you have played so much chess that almost every position gives you
the 'deja vu' feeling of familiarity, then you play the same way that
you 'feel' you did before. Just a quick scan round the board to make
sure you are not overlooking something really stupid, then play.


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