In chess—like in many sports—there’s a big debate about how past players measure up to their contemporary counterparts. Who was the greatest of all time? Who would win in a match?
It’s widely recognized that the overall level of play is higher today than 100 years ago. Players also develop more quickly; pre-teens can now become grandmasters.
Human beings haven’t changed that much, but the world we inhabit has. We’re not born smarter, but we’re born with certain advantages. For instance: abundant chess literature and theory, computers, more players and coaches, ease of travel.
Here’s a thought experiment to consider. Take the most genetically awesome baby ever and place her in an average environment. Average public school, average busy parents, etc.
Now compare this to a genetically average baby placed in the most supportive environment ever. There’s a little magic wizard sitting on her shoulder who gives just the right doses of fun, encouragement, character-building hardship, and constant learning.
Who ends up with the higher IQ, better earning potential, more happiness, or superior life outcome? However we slice and dice it, I’m putting my money on the average baby.
Who is more likely to learn the value of kindness and hard work? Who can play to their strengths and work around their deficiencies more effectively? Who gets introduced to the right friends, mentors, connections at the right time? Who develops good habits and an even keel, mental/physical well-being and stamina?
Of course, this is all amplified if we go back 100 years. The supported baby gets rich and the smart baby ends up working for the rich one.
A nice thing about our modern, connected world: unwitting isolation is broken more rapidly. Obviously, things aren’t perfect, and I’m not saying that genetically superior babies deserve anything at all.
But the wizard of the internet is here.