It is often taken that chess players are among the most intelligent lot. Patriotic Indian media is seen to cite the name of Anand when we talk about "thought gurus" of the modern era. But, well, do chess players really need to be thought of as super-intelligent. Of course, they could well be; but, the question is whether the fact that they are extremely good at chess necessarily entails that they are super-intelligent.
Many years back, I remember seeing a small video of Anand making his way through a hallway with chess boards all over, each at various game configurations, and Anand looking at each one, making a move and then moving forward. How could any person do that - the only common sense reasoning seems to be that a very "well-oiled" chess player would have memorized various patterns (and corresponding moves to be taken upon spotting such a pattern) in a chess board, and has mastered the "art" of identifying patterns at a glance on a chess board.
These patterns could be pre-built, using very clever reasoning, but, the user need not be necessarily aware of the reasoning that has gone into building these patterns. For example, let us consider the example of an activity that we do (pretty much?) everyday - that of brushing teeth. Most of us are not aware of the ingredients of the toothpaste and how it helps to "fight tooth decay" - we just do it, since we are using a product that is packaged in clever way using probably heavyweight reasoning - however, the user need not be intelligent as such.
Anand, a writer in the South-Indian language of Malayalam, says in a recent article that technology takes off the necessity to "wonder"; we never wonder the complex processes that occur in the background to help things moving while we harvest the benefits using "simple actions". Thus, a chess player who is amazingly good at memorizing and recollecting similar <configuration,action> pairs upon seeing a particular chessboard configuration need not be really aware of the (or wonder about) reasoning that went into the creation of such pairs.
Then, the question is, what could be the manifestation of intelligence that is identifiable externally? What is it that could make us say "hey, thats the spark of a genius". Maybe, it is something at a higher level than just indexing, retrieving and using memorized patterns. Maybe, it is about correlating memorized patterns with those that are being seen in completely unexpected problems - being able to identify quickly, the seemingly latent connections (latent to a regular observer) - seeing things in a different perspective on demand. Maybe, identifying and memorizing patterns at a meta-level and instantiating them to the current problem swiftly. If a chess player did indeed do the meta-level pattern thing, the he/she should be similarly good at various board games that involve a similar two-player vying-for-each-others-res
ources pattern; thus, he/she should be, upon hearing the description of a new board game, be able to play that very well (though of course, may not be as swift in recollecting patterns, due to not having enough time for indexing - but, given more time for each move, he/she should play as cleverly as he/she plays chess).
Is it just about meta-level patterns and doing the "reasoning to instantiate" quickly? At an even higher level, it could be about knowing reasoning processes that could be used to build such <configuration,action> tuples quickly, given a new situation. The notion of "high-level patterns" reminds me of Feynman's narration of betting with an ordinary person about doing the 4th root of some number till the 5th decimal place without a pen and paper - he talks about some really high level pattern where he knows that finding the value of the nth decimal place for any "such problem" is much more harder than finding the value of the (n-1)th, and this holds for any value of n - and how he instantiates that pattern to the problem at hand, and beats his opponent who was still toiling with the pen and paper. Of course, Feynman's high-level pattern enabled him to challenge the ordinary guy correctly; i.e., if he had taken up the challenge for up to the 3rd decimal place, he may have lost since his mind-based reasoning isnt as easy as pen and paper, and up to the 3rd decimal place may not be "hard enough" for the ordinary. But, well, the point is, correctly instantiating the high-level pattern for a new problem is the key; that is the skill one needs to build if one needs to be smart at anything that can be done. Looking at the pattern in an appropriate perspective upon a new problem, and harnessing it from that perspective seems to be the key; that is probably one of the things that could be called "the mark of a genius" (?).