3 Subtle Traits That Separate A Novice From An Expert

If you aren't willing to look like a foolish beginner, you'll never become a graceful master.

man in a boxing ring Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Mastering the boring basics is how you become an expert. In every field, there are notable differences between an expert and a novice.

I've been doing part-time boxing coaching lately and saw some things that made me think. Overlaying these observations with my chess development gives me an interesting lens to take notes on development.

Right now, my chess.com rating hovers between 1750 and 1850, making me a "Very strong club player" as my chess coach calls it, or as the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) calls me, a "Class A" player. Still a short way away from "Expert" (2000+ rating).


Given my hours, accomplishments, and understanding of boxing, no one would hesitate to call me a boxing expert. In chess, I'm a very strong intermediate player.

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What follows are three main differences I've taken note of between expert and novice ability and execution — illustrated through chess and boxing examples, but applicable to everything in life.


3 Traits That Separate The Experts From The Novices

1. An expert makes fewer mistakes.

For the sake of this discussion, let's call those mistakes "Deviations from the optimal path." In boxing, an expert has sound footwork, defense, body mechanics, and athleticism. They won't necessarily be A+ in anything, but they won't be C- in anything either. A novice or intermediary will be all over the map. They may have great defense, terrible power, okay footwork, and barely any knowledge of the sport.

In chess, I'm not an expert-level player, but when I play anyone below 1600, it's generally a walk. But 1850 and higher give me fits. My highest-rated victory was over someone rated 1910, and that was only once.

Their game is overall very tight, with few weaknesses I'm skilled enough to spot. On the other hand, they picked mine apart.

2. Experts are more efficient.

Experts get more done with less because they make fewer deviations from the optimal path.


Experts waste less time recovering from mistakes because they make fewer mistakes.

This allows them to be ahead in both time and position. If that's too abstract, they are faster and stronger while moving slower and exerting less energy.

In chess, this is known as "piece coordination." Every move you make is the shortest path to your goal, so your pieces coordinate well. This means your position is both easier to defend and better able to attack from.

The surest sign of a beginner boxer is their discomfort in defense. With defense, the idea is to make the opponent miss by as little as possible, so you remain in proximity to attack. This is extremely efficient, requiring less energy to evade (because the evasive movement displaces your body position by a smaller amount) and less time to attack (because you remain near the opponent).


Beginners exaggerate how far they need to slip, how wide they need to weave, and how deep they need to bob. They may not get hit, but they can't hit back without using a lot of energy and taking a lot of time to cover the extra distance they've unnecessarily covered.

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3. Experts evaluate threats better.

Feints are a beautiful device in boxing. These are deceptive moves that look like a punch but aren't. They're the "Fake outs." These absolutely destroy even upper-intermediate-level boxers. It's hard not to flinch because it could be an actual punch.


But reacting to a threat that isn't there leaves you open for one that's really coming.

And as the old saying goes, it's the punch you don't see that knocks you out.

In chess, I call this "seeing ghosts." A player, because of weak calculation skills or unfamiliarity with a complex position, sees a threat where there isn't one. In reacting to this threat, they leave themselves open for a far more devastating move.

difference between expert and novicePhoto: Ed Latimore


I put my queen on C7, thinking that I didn’t have enough defenders for the c6 knight from the white bishop and queen.

Skilled players will see how this cost me a piece. I saw ghosts.

While good players force moves, there is a difference between abandoning a strong position because you have to meet a real threat and leaving because you thought a knock at the door was a full-blown home invasion.


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Ed Latimore is a retired American professional boxer, influencer, and best-selling author. His work focuses on self-improvement and a practical approach to stoic philosophy.