Sunday, May 13, 2012

Benefits of Playing Chess for Kids and Adults

13 May 2012, Kuala Lumpur – Here is an article extolling the benefits of chess written by Martin Gerschenfeld (USCF 2054, FIDE 1900).

The benefits of chess is a topic that has been debated by both parents and scholars alike for quite a few years now. As education becomes more competitive parents are always looking for any edge they can find to sharpen their children’s’ minds. It’s this exact pressure that has led people to many incorrect conclusions that we’re later proven false. One good example was the crazy in the 90′s and early 2000′s of playing classical music to your babies or children to make them smarter which was later proven false. Unlike many of these fads, there is no doubt about the benefits of chess. The evidence is clear that playing chess benefits the mind in both young and old alike.

The Benefits of Playing Chess for Kids – Does Chess Belong in The Classroom?

I really enjoyed an article that recently came out on the BBC Website asking whether every child should be made to play chess. The article debates the important question: Should chess be taught in school curriculum?

Chess is a very addictive process, a positive drug for children – Grandmaster Raymond Keene

It is very clear that playing chess has its benefits, there is no doubt here. However where there is doubt is whether these advantages can be used outside of the world of chess. The results on the benefits of chess in the real world show mixed, but encouraging results.

Children who start playing chess at a young age will gain increased:

  • Focus
  • Self-confidence
  • Patience
  • Logical thinking skills
  • Imagination
  • Problem solving skills
  • Memory (especially spatial memory)
  • Mental agility
  • Mental resistance

Does Chess Belong in the classroom? - Image courtesy of Susan Polgar

Does Chess Belong in the classroom? - Image courtesy of Susan Polgar

But let’s not forget the most important benefit of chess for both kids and adults is that its a tremendous amount of fun! After all, the brain is like a muscle and chess is like a gym. Evidently playing chess is great for the mind and its benefits are interconnected. You start learning chess, you win a few games, your self esteem goes up, you get more into the game and you start thinking more logically, you improve your imagination. To play chess you must remember positions and distinguish patterns which force you to use your memory, after you improve your calculations you can apply this skill in math and start multiplying numbers fast. Last of all, after enduring a chess game for 4 hours, everything else seems easy. How do these benefits transfer into other aspects of life?

Advantages and Benefits of Chess For Adults

Chess can benefit adults as well though the benefits of playing are more debated

Chess can benefit adults as well though the benefits of chess for adults is more debated

With so many articles written about the benefits of chess for young children, there doesn’t seem to be many studies about the benefits of chess for adults. With adults it becomes a little trickier to study the benefits of chess. The correlation is hard to distinguish. A good place to start would be the study of the successes of grandmasters outside of the chess board. What I can confirm is that expert chess players tend to be experts in other aspects. After all Ruben Fine was not only a strong American Player and but one of the top psychologists of the world at the time. Soviet Union Grandmasters were experts in their area of university study; Mikhail Tal was a specialist in literature, besides his chess skills Victor Korchnoi was also a world renowned geographer. The most recent example is that of Kenneth Rogoff, an American grandmaster who also has a Ph. D in Economics teaching in Harvard. But correlation doesn’t always mean causation. Maybe chess makes people more intelligent, or maybe intelligent people are just more attracted to chess!

My Own Personal Benefits of Teaching Chess

Parents of our students frequently say they see improvement in their children both on and off the chess board.

Parents of our students frequently say they see improvement both on and off the chess board.

I’ve been playing chess since I was 8, and I can tell you my personal experience, after I started understanding chess I realized everything in School was easier, I got very bored during classes keeping an A average. I don’t want to go so far as to say that chess has made me “smarter” but I’ve clearly benefited from it in that I understand difficult concepts more clearly. In all my classes I could keep focus, understand the concepts, memorize them and save myself from studying. The area which I saw the best advantage was mathematics. I struggled with math as a young child but the more I got into chess, the better I got at math. Unsurprisingly, chess and math have the highest positive correlation of all subjects. It’s no surprise that many chess grandmasters are Mathematicians, John NunnMaxime Vachier Lagrave and Emmanuel Lasker being two instant examples that come to mind.

So, Should Chess Be Taught At Schools?

As you can see it’s hard to quantify the benefits of playing chess. It is clearly a complex matter but I wish to give my humble opinion. Learning Chess is probably one of the most important pedagogical tools, whoever can take advantage of it, go ahead! The problem is when chess is forced upon kids and these kids don’t want to learn and they end up hating it. Chess is divided into different stages, an initial stage where you learn to move the pieces, watch out for basic threats, the next stage involves basic tactics, and so on. Getting from one stage to the next is hard, it might take two weeks or maybe a few months based on how fast your brain and your play can adapt to the change. My teacher says that the learning habits of a chess player is ascending spiral, you improve until you reach your point and then you lose interest because you don’t see any improvement but when you come back you are stronger. The real problem with teaching chess to small children is that chess maturity comes at around 12, during this time they start taking the game more seriously. For these reasons I think chess should be taught at chess clubs, especially at a young age. Whether I’m right or wrong on the subject has yet to be seen. However now that Armenia has made chess a compulsory subject in schools we will just have to wait to see the effect of this law on this small country. Who knows, maybe their test scores will shoot up in 2-3 years proving that the benefits of chess, are in fact, quite real.

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I put quite a bit of time into it. If you enjoyed it, please consider liking it, tweeting it, and following us on facebook. Thanks!

By Martin Gerschenfeld (USCF 2054, FIDE 1900)

To reach this article on the internet, please click here.

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