Chess knowledge predicts chess memory even after controlling for chess experience: Evidence for the role of high-level processes

Mem Cognit. 2018 Apr;46(3):337-348. doi: 10.3758/s13421-017-0768-2.


The expertise effect in memory for chess positions is one of the most robust effects in cognitive psychology. One explanation of this effect is that chess recall is based on the recognition of familiar patterns and that experts have learned more and larger patterns. Template theory and its instantiation as a computational model are based on this explanation. An alternative explanation is that the expertise effect is due, in part, to stronger players having better and more conceptual knowledge, with this knowledge facilitating memory performance. Our literature review supports the latter view. In our experiment, a sample of 79 chess players were given a test of memory for chess positions, a test of declarative chess knowledge, a test of fluid intelligence, and a questionnaire concerning the amount of time they had played nontournament chess and the amount of time they had studied chess. We determined the numbers of tournament games the players had played from chess databases. Chess knowledge correlated .67 with chess memory and accounted for 16% of the variance after controlling for chess experience. Fluid intelligence accounted for an additional 13% of the variance. These results support the conclusion that both high-level conceptual processing and low-level recognition of familiar patterns play important roles in memory for chess positions.

Keywords: CHREST; Chess; Expertise; Knowledge; Memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knowledge
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Professional Competence
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Young Adult