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Planning abilities and chess: A comparison of chess and non-chess players on the Tower of London task


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr J. M. Unterrainer, Neuropsychology, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, Engelbergerstraße 41, D-79085 Freiburg i. Br., Germany (e-mail:


Playing chess requires problem-solving capacities in order to search through the chess problem space in an effective manner. Chess should thus require planning abilities for calculating many moves ahead. Therefore, we asked whether chess players are better problem solvers than non-chess players in a complex planning task. We compared planning performance between chess (N=25) and non-chess players (N=25) using a standard psychometric planning task, the Tower of London (ToL) test. We also assessed fluid intelligence (Raven Test), as well as verbal and visuospatial working memory. As expected, chess players showed better planning performance than non-chess players, an effect most strongly expressed in difficult problems. On the other hand, they showed longer planning and movement execution times, especially for incorrectly solved trials. No differences in fluid intelligence and verbal/visuospatial working memory were found between both groups. These findings indicate that better performance in chess players is associated with disproportionally longer solution times, although it remains to be investigated whether motivational or strategic differences account for this result.