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"Strategic" and "tactical" chess differentiate in their hippocampal and precuneus requirements in expert chess players

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterResearch

  • Section for Anthropology and Ethnography
  • Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience
  • The Center for Semiotics

Expert chess players have been a popular population for research in acquired expertise. The putative cognitive underpinnings of chess-expertise (eg. IQ and memory) have been sought for with mixed results. We suggest that this may be partly due to a lack of detail in the analysis of the game itself.

We investigated whether different types of chess positions, known as "tactical" and "strategic", activates different neurocognitive structures. In a tactical position the choice of move determines the game, whereas strategic moves are based on long term considerations and do not imply an immediate determination. We therefore hypothesised that tactical considerations rely more on working memory (WM) brain structures, such as the precuneus , while strategic rely on long term memory (LTM), i.e. hippocampus.


22 chess-players participated, 9 during fMRI scanning in a 3T scanner while performing a binary forced choice task on tactical and strategic chess pos. shown for 8 sec. fMRI data underwent a RFX analysis in SPM5 using chess ranking and accuracy difference as explanatory variables.


Accuracy (P=0.23) and RT (P=0.69) was matched across conditions. Accuracy and chess ranking correlated significantly (r=0.87, P=0.002), suggesting ecological validity of our design.

The neural activity was significantly explained by our model (P<0.05, FDR-corrected) in precuneus and hippocampus.

Across subjects tactical pos. yielded a higher response in precuneus, strategic pos. gave a higher response in hippocampus.

Higher ranking subjects had greater activity in both regions during the tactical tasks compared to lower ranking, and subjects generally had higher responses in both regions during tasks which they performed worst at.


It does make a difference for studies of chess expertise if a detailed account of the game is considered. Our study shows that tactical chess profiles WM regions whereas strategic chess profiles LTM structures. But we also find that other performance mediating factors interact with this general finding in interesting ways.

Original languageEnglish
Publication year2007
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventSociety for Neuroscience - San Diego, United States
Duration: 3 Nov 20077 Nov 2007


ConferenceSociety for Neuroscience
CountryUnited States
CitySan Diego

    Research areas

  • memory, hippocampus, precuneus, expertise, chess

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