Ever since chess hit the Indian brain game scene 1,500 years ago, it has been associated with brainiacs and the super-intelligent. Even today, the crowning achievement of Artificial Intelligence is the creation of a computer that can defeat a human grandmaster.

So why the longevity? There are many theories, but we like to think historical figures such as Napoleon, Dostoevsky, and Pascal knew that playing chess exercised critical parts of their brain used for accomplishing many of the feats that earned them their place in history.

So, what does chess help with anyway?

Chess Builds Problem Solving Abilities

“Chess is an exercise of infinite possibilities for the mind, one which develops mental abilities used throughout life: concentration, critical thinking, abstract reasoning, problem solving, pattern recognition, strategic planning, creativity, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, to name a few.” –Edutech Chess

What is chess but competitive problem solving? Both you and your opponent have the same goal in mind, place the opponent’s King in check, and the same resources to do so.

Chess Improves Children’s Cognition

Countless studies have been done on the effect of playing chess on children’s development. The results?

Regarding research involving a group of 10 year olds receiving structured chess instruction, “. . . we have scientific support for what we have known all along–chess makes kids smarter!”

Chess Improves Verbal Skills

Yes, verbal skills. Dr. Albert Frank studied children receiving chess instruction for two hours a week. A game that is largely language-independent can improve verbal skills by exercising functions of the brain related to language, such as logic.

Chess Improves Critical Thinking Skills

This one seems almost obvious, but the results of a study by Dr. Robert Ferguson has shown that 7th to 9th graders who begin playing chess received a 17% improvement in results related to good judgement and critical thinking as compared to non-chess playing peers.

Chess Preserves Mental Acuity

So are all the benefits for children with developing minds? Not at all! Chess has been shown to bolster the cognitive reserve of elderly players, which helps prevent cognitive symptoms of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Chess Improves Emotional Intelligence

Many think of chess as a game of cold calculation, but it is important to understand the game is inherently for two players. Chess has been shown to improve emotional intelligence as well as psycho-social skills according to Dr. Rose Marie Stutts of the Freedom Chess Academy.

Chess Improves Mathematical Skills

Math is often seen as a solve for X problem and nothing more, but that isn’t the case. Math is about pattern-recognition, logic, and the ability to play around with variable in your head, all of which chess is known to improve.

Chess Teaches Logic and Efficiency

Chess teaches logic because you have the constraints of the board and pieces, and efficiency because you’re playing competitively against an opponent with the same goal. This fosters thinking directly about the problem at hand and using the simplest solution to solve a complex problem.

Chess Challenges Gifted Underachievers, Teaches Goal Setting

Underachievers often lose motivation due to lack of challenge, and chess is a game of infinite challenge and reward. After all, even the greatest of chess grandmasters will always have opponents that can challenge them, and even if they’re the best human player, there’s always Watson to think about (when he’s not on Jeopardy.)

Chess Teaches The Importance of Planning (And Consequences)

Every move in chess should lead to your goal, but it is rare that your goal will be reached without planning ahead and heeding the consequences of each action.

Why did chess players score higher on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking as well as the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal?

Briefly, there appear to be at least seven significant factors:

  1. Chess accommodates all modality strengths.
  2. Chess provides a far greater quantity of problems for practice.
  3. Chess offers immediate punishments and rewards for problem solving.
  4. Chess creates a pattern or thinking system that, when used faithfully, breeds success. The chessplaying students had become accustomed to looking for more and different alternatives, which resulted in higher scores in fluency and originality.
  5. Competition. Competition fosters interest, promotes mental alertness, challenges all students, and elicits the highest levels of achievement (Stephan, 1988).
  6. A learning environment organized around games has a positive effect on students’ attitudes toward learning. This affective dimension acts as a facilitator of cognitive achievement (Allen & Main, 1976). Instructional gaming is one of the most motivational tools in the good teacher’s repertoire. Children love games. Chess motivates them to become willing problem solvers and spend hours quietly immersed in logical thinking. These same young people often cannot sit still for fifteen minutes in the traditional classroom.
  7. Chess supplies a variety and quality of problems. As Langen (1992) states: “The problems that arise in the 70-90 positions of the average chess game are, moreover, new. Contexts are familiar, themes repeat, but game positions never do. This makes chess good grist for the problem-solving mill.”

11 thoughts on “10 Ways Chess Builds Your Brain

  1. Wow, some of these are really surprising benefits of chess! Of course I knew it can help your critical thinking, and mental acuity. But it’s astonishing that it can help develop emotional intelligence and language skills. Thanks so much for writing, this is really interesting!

  2. Concentration is important part of Chess, as for a second if someone loses his concentration in the game that might result in defeat. As during a game, one’s main concentration is how check mate and win the game.

  3. I taught chess to students with Special Needs for over 20 years and I agree with all of the above.
    Just one correction in the use of the word “affect” – it should be ” effect” – in this phrase “… positive affect on students’ attitudes toward learning”.

    I just don’t want anyone to dismiss your worthwhile statements because there was a grammatical error.


  4. My wife and I are always looking for activities that will benefit our son. He is quite smart, and we want to find something that can challenge his thinking processes. I didn’t realize that chess can help further improve cognition in children by forcing them to use their critical thinking skills. That’s something my son could definitely benefit from.

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