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Does Chess Mastery Foretell Bridge Knack?


As noted elsewhere at Bridge Winners, some people seem to be gifted at both chess and bridge.

Unsurprisingly, the skill sets needed to excel at these pursuits have considerable overlap:

  • The ability to visualize and accurately assess the position that would result from a contemplated series of plays.
  • The ability to foresee and assess an ending, before the player has yet considered how it might be realized.
  • Long-term memory, for retaining the player's "repertoire" (a tree of chess opening positions or the player's partnership agreement).
  • Short-term memory, for recalling the player's chess calculations or the other players' actions during a bridge deal.

A major difference is that the current state of a chess game is known to all. Chess lacks an analog to the bridge player's task of figuring out the layout. A person who has become a chess master is not necessarily adept at discerning the possible intents behind a bridge action, let alone gauging which of those intents seems most likely.

This applied to me during my youth. I excelled at what might be called "tightly defined settings" (such as solving mathematical equations) but not at "loosely defined" ones (such as those that called for "common sense"). This imbalance was part of my motivation in my mid-20s to take up serious bridge.

If a school in the United States had to choose between teaching chess and teaching bridge, I believe that bridge would be the more valuable because it helps balance formal education's emphasis on tightly defined settings (which I would imagine has become even more pronounced than when I was a youngster).

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