practice makes you…

…better (except if you’re practicing all wrong!), not perfect — unless you’ve got talent:

Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert?

Twenty years ago, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed that expert performance reflects a long period of deliberate practice rather than innate ability, or “talent”. Ericsson et al. found that elite musicians had accumulated thousands of hours more deliberate practice than less accomplished musicians, and concluded that their theoretical framework could provide “a sufficient account of the major facts about the nature and scarcity of exceptional performance” (p. 392). The deliberate practice view has since gained popularity as a theoretical account of expert performance, but here we show that deliberate practice is not sufficient to explain individual differences in performance in the two most widely studied domains in expertise research—chess and music. For researchers interested in advancing the science of expert performance, the task now is to develop and rigorously test theories that take into account as many potentially relevant explanatory constructs as possible.

don’t have access, but here are a couple of charts from the supplemental data:

how to get to carnegie hall 01

Fig. 1. Average percentage of variance in chess performance explained by deliberate practice, correcting for measurement error variance. The light gray region represents reliable variance explained by deliberate practice; the dark gray region represents reliable variance not explained by deliberate practice.

how to get to carnegie hall 02

Fig. 3. Average percentage of variance in music performance accounted for by deliberate practice, correcting for measurement error variance. The light gray region represents reliable variance explained by deliberate practice; the dark gray region represents reliable variance not explained by deliberate practice.

(note: comments do not require an email. chess talent.)


  1. 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

    An auspicious blend of talent and perseverance might lead to success.

    And of course, there is that damned “luck” detail that screws us over every single time.

    The problem with the 10,000 hour nonsense is that it doesn’t account for passion.


  2. Even if hard work accounted for 90% of success, that would hardly prove that anyone could become an expert with the right amount of practice. Conscientiousness is heritable, as are nearly all behavioral traits.


  3. This is something that I see all the time playing video games.

    Innate talent is hugely important. In the early days of MLG (major league gaming) they held massive tournaments for Halo 2. There would be people who played 12+ hours a day who couldn’t come near the skill of top tournament players who only played a few hours a week.

    But not just in tournament play, in casual play some of my friends are just “bad” at video games. No matter what the game is, they will perform below my other friends who have more innate talent.

    I suspect like many things this is tied into IQ. Actually now that I’m thinking about it, from what I’ve seen IQ correlates very well with video game skill. If I were to rank my friends by IQ and video game skill, the list rankings would look almost identical.


  4. In his book What It Takes to Become a Chess Master, Grandmaster Andrew Soltis tells a story about the much stronger grandmaster and former child prodigy, the late Sammy Reshevsky. Reshevsky had a severe weakness in his opening play; Bobby Fischer said many amateurs knew more than Reshevsky, and the evidence so indicates. Fans used to blame Reshevsky for coasting on his vast talent, not studying the openings, and frequently getting into time trouble. In his memoirs, Reshevsky’s second, Grandmaster Pal Benko, explained what had really been going on: he and Reshevsky would study to openings all day, and by evening Reshevsky wouldn’t remember anything they looked at. Once you know this, you also know why Sammy was always getting into time trouble: because he had to work out everything at the board in the early part of the game. You know why he had a narrow and “dull” range of openings: he wasn’t trying to “bore” his opponents to defeat, he simply didn’t have much option. And you can understand why Reshevsky said that the greatest feat of his life was passing his exams to become an accountant – far harder for him than forty years of feats in chess that normally smart people like other accountants could never match, no matter how long or hard they studied chess.

    So, even within a specialized field like chess, talents are specific. Some things, if you have the talent, you can do superlatively if you put any effort into them at all. You were born, and so you are great. In other areas: bad luck, you don’t have the gift. And willpower, protracted effort, grandmaster coaching, knowing how to practice, preferring effective training methods to pleasing ones and so on will not help if you don’t have the gift.

    At birth, as far as we can tell, you have a basket of potentials, like a basket of gifts left by a good fairy. If your basket is heavy and doesn’t leave out anything critical you can be great. If your basket is light, you can’t.


  5. It’s a bit of the Blank Slate (not much left of it) being killed off here. And, as misdreavus points out, Conscientiousness is heritable so even if it was true, it would still be an innate sort of talent.

    It’s also a bit hard to measure musical performance. A singer who doesn’t aim to sound distinct using various mannerism is usually not very popular even if he or she is, well, talented. Maria Fontosh, who most people outside Sweden probably haven’t heard of is a good example,


  6. Re: IQ and video games…

    Bobby Fischer considered his thoughts superior on every topic. He resented being called a “chess genius” when he was a universal genius who had merely happened to apply himself to chess.

    When you know the context as he saw it, Bobby’s rude contempt for weak chessplayers makes sense. “I don’t talk to weakies!” Why should he, when they could have nothing of value to say? If you believe there are only dummies and smarties, with Bobby being the smartest of them all, that makes sense.

    Stalin was another fan of the “universal genius” concept.

    Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik, one of the few great chess players to achieve distinction in another field also liked the idea of chess being a test of logic and intelligence, not specific talent. He was baffled because great scientists he met who were clearly smarter than him were also “chess idiots”. One asked him why he couldn’t see or do what Botvinnik could at the chessboard, but Botvinnik confessed he didn’t know.

    Military talent seems to work the same way. Some people, like Nathan Bedford Forrest, have the gift, and others don’t. 10,000 hours of formal study, with or without the benefit of a stellar IQ but without the gift will not make you the equal of a hastily self-taught amateur with fitness, will, the support of his men, and the gift.

    Being great at passing exams, including exams on military theory, does not make you a military genius. Actually, being an exam-acing Brainiac is part of a package of traits that can add up to a spectacularly incompetent general. (It seems some people are good at getting themselves over-promoted.)

    The “institutionalization of military genius” remains a chancy business at best, and there is no guarantee that some nobody from nowhere won’t turn out to be a freak talent who turns all your clever plans to wreckage.


  7. People love to talk about IQ because it’s empirically verifiable and serves as a proxy for race, which really is important. But talent, which is also heritable though chancy and apparently recessive, dominates it when push comes to shove.

    10,000 is even better, because it implies people are totally fungible. (Except for the whites, who must go. And except for people in “protected classes” who must not go.)

    But 10,000 hours, with or without a high IQ, will not turn you into Bernini or Bellini or Michelangelo.

    Italian genes seem to help, though. Is it really just a coincidence that one of the founders of that sublime explosion of English artistic talent, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was called Dante Gabriel Rossetti?

    Artistically, what are we losing when non-white mass immigration and forced integration destroys the Italian gene pool?

    A: Nothing. Anyone can do anything with 10,000 hours of practice. (But they won’t, because conscientiousness is heritable too.)

    Therefore race is of no importance and it’s not harmful to force the white race out of existence. (And race is also supremely important, which is why we have to force the white race out of existence.)

    B: A few points of IQ more or less. (With Asians representing “more” and “blacks” representing “less”.)

    Nothing else changes, just a few points up or down on standardized tests, though those points represent omni-competence. But only that – no flavor, nothing specific.

    C: Genius. Priceless, potentially eternal, irreplaceable genius, not only for the good of the Italians themselves, but for the good of other reasonably compatible peoples such as the English, who can be raised above themselves by contact with inborn Italian genius.

    I think Option C is the truth.


  8. @Daybreaker,

    We are most likely losing diversity too if genetic characteristics of certain groups correspond to specific cultural expressions, which I suspect they do. Diversity is the end of diversity.


  9. Staffan: “We are most likely losing diversity too if genetic characteristics of certain groups correspond to specific cultural expressions, which I suspect they do. Diversity is the end of diversity.”

    I think you’re right.

    I’m all about white people surviving, in a world where the dominant people are pushing white genocide. I’m what I call a “white internationalist”, for white people everywhere, and not for one white group at the expense of another. But it makes sense to me that white people in England, for example, want to remain not just white but specifically English, as opposed to say Polish. The English have their genius and their right to live on too.

    Maria Fontosh sounds fantastic to me. She has a great voice and she’s not doing anything to spoil it.

    But even voices are not quite “fungible”. I forget what Russian composer it was who did some really insane music for a male choir, and when the music director asked, “but where are we going do get men who can sing that??” just replied that he knew his people. He did. Maybe nowhere else, but there were enough rumbling-voiced Russian men who could sing as required to make the piece a success. Elsewhere in the world, the composer would have been an idiot, and that choral music would not have become part of the national culture.

    That’s petty, but I think it makes the point: Russian genetics are part of Russian culture. They cannot be entirely separated. (And the same with Ukrainians and so on.) No Russians, no Dostoyevsky, and no, talented Scotsmen would not be a perfect equivalent.

    Force-blend Russian genes out of existence, and you end Russian culture forever. Do that to whites in general, and you eliminate all white cultures forever.

    White genocide through non-white mass immigration into all white countries and forced assimilation really is genocide. Though it needn’t be violent in the initial stages, the ultimate cost is total.


  10. JEWS IN CHESS (link to jinfo) “The purpose of this website is to provide an online resource that accurately describes the Jewish contribution to the cultural, scientific, and technological evolution of civilization.”

    Jewish Chess Players
    Jewish World Chess Champions (47% of world champions)
    Jews Ranked Among the 64 Strongest Chess Players of All Time (45% of total)

    You think that Jews maybe have some talent?

    The thing to notice here is that “Jewish” is defined racially, not culturally or religiously. Smyslov was roughly as Jewish as Tchaikovsky, culturally, but apparently had Jewish blood (Jewish mother, non-Jewish father), so he’s in. Kasparov had a Jewish father but a non-Jewish mother; halachically he’s not Jewish, but here we’re taking genius in the seed of the Jewish race, so he’s in. Bobby Fischer was a Christian and a full-on loon who once pronounced himself in favor of hanging “hook-nosed Jews” at random, but he’s in because: “According to recently unsealed FBI files and other independent archival materials, Bobby Fischer’s biological father was not the German physicist Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, as previously supposed, but rather the Hungarian-Jewish engineer and fluid dynamicist Paul Nemenyi, making both of his parents Jewish.” In other words, the power is in the blood and and not in your prayers.

    This does nothing to make Jewish chess achievement less impressive. It remains awesome.

    It should, if you have any sense, destroy the idea that 10,000 hours of training will have a similar effect no matter what your genetics. Some genes are just better, and Jews have a lot of them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s