Chess is not merely a game. Neither is it only an art or a science. Chess is a mix of all three elements. It is a great stimulation to creativity and imagination; as a result, it contributes to the development of memory, the capability of concentration and the speed of logical thinking (Ferguson). Chess could be considered a pedagogic activity that offers to practitioners the opportunity to develop and face many situations that can contribute to the formation of their individuality. Hence, many people believe that chess is a subject that should be implemented in schools.
Chess is practiced by people of different ages, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It transcends culture and trends, and is known and studied worldwide. In fact, more books have been written about chess than any other sport ( Los Angeles magazine, 50). People can begin playing chess as children and continue as they get older. And, the best part is that the game does not require a lot of equipment to practice.
As an educator and a chess master (I am a Women’s International Master, a title earned in 1997), I have always been interested in the positive effect of chess study and play on our children’s education. Therefore, I wrote this essay to show the possible benefits that chess practitioners could get in a school environment.
Chess is considered to be one of the world’s oldest games. Its origin, however, is a controversial subject, since it has not been possible to prove when or where the game was created. Many scholars have suggested that chess probably had its beginnings in 6th century India in the form of a game called chaturanga. The name comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “having four limbs or parts,” and refers to the four divisions of an ancient Indian army—the elephantry, cavalry, infantry, and chariotry. The four divisions were represented by playing pieces resembling those of modern chess—bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns (Bird 48).
The game’s beginnings as a game of war connect it to man’s attempts to deal with complex issues of strategy and social relationships. Countless researchers have shown that chess is a beneficial tool of socialization among people; it teaches people to deal with loss and victory, how to plan, and, perhaps most important, how to think.
The practice of chess promotes many benefits that are evident in research: There is evidence that chess-playing students get better results in school grades and have fewer disciplinary problems ( Ferguson ). Due to the fact that chess accepts and values the differences between two people, it teaches that there will always be opposing ideas and opinions on most subjects and most areas of life; which can prove to be a positive aspect to mental and emotional development.
Research has shown that scholastic chess stimulates personal motivation, self-confidence, imagination and logical thinking, and aides rule acquisition and socialization ( Ferguson ). Therefore, chess can be a tool to improve children’s sense of responsibility, sportsmanship, discipline, tolerance and humility, and help them to learn to accept rules and how to lose and win.
Now, schools around the United States are using chess in their curriculum, since it is a very inexpensive pedagogical tool that helps kids to grow mentally. The United States Chess Federation states that, “Throughout the US, chess is being taught in both formal in-classroom and after-school and in park and recreation programs, as well as in less formal setting. Numerous colleges and independent funds offer scholarships for both chess prowess and academic excellence, and cultural exchange programs and chess camps give players opportunities to meet opponents and make friends from all over the world” (United States Chess Federation).
A study made by Robert C. Ferguson compared the development of two groups of children of different ages: one group of children played chess, the other did not. Ferguson found that chess stimulates intellectual activity and critical thinking. The children who played chess showed a significant improvement in thinking skills compared to the group that did not play chess. The data is striking: Ferguson tested students from 7th to 9th grades during the years 1979 to 1983 as part of the ESEA Title IV-C Explorerogram. He found that non-chess students increased their critical thinking skills an average of 4.6 percent annually, while students who were members of a chess club improved their analytical skills an average of 17.3 percent annually. Three separate tests to determine how chess affects creative thinking were also done as part of the same study. It concluded that, on average, different aspects of creative thinking had improved at a rate 2 to 3 times faster for chess-playing students, as opposed to their non-chess playing counterparts (Ferguson). Furthermore, according to Ferguson , there are two specific subject areas that benefit the most from chess: reading and math. In general, students who play chess have shown a clear superiority in terms of having strong will, good memory and concentration, and tenacity. Chess teaches children to consider the consequences of their actions; it can help children to be more responsible and prudent.
Meanwhile, in New York in 1991, Dr. Stuart Magulies decided to study the effects that chess may have on a student’s literacy skills. The research was done at Roberto Clemente Elementary, a public school in Bronx , N.Y. Magulies compared the reading skills of 53 students who were in the chess program to those of a control group of 1,118 who did not participate in the program. The result surprised even the researcher: The chess players had significant gains in their reading skills compared to the control group (Ashley 61).
In addition to improving academic and logical skills, chess can help to bring about positive changes in children’s personalities. Bonnie Waitzkin is the mother of Joshua Waitzkin, a chess child prodigy who was the subject of the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. She has been introducing chess into the curriculum of elementary schools in New York and New Jersey for more than 25 years, training many children to play and teachers to teach the game. In a personal interview, she discussed the changes in her son’s life, and her own, that were brought about by chess. She says, “Chess teaches logic, creativity, and many problem solving techniques. Children learn best if we catch them at the moment when they are developmentally ready, sometime between 5 and 7. Learning chess develops a ‘can do’ attitude that helps in all academics. Chess has been demonstrated in controlled studies to improve performance at reading and math. And, chess is exciting for the children who discover their mental muscle over the board.” Also, Ms. Waitzkin believes that chess develops social skills in autistic children, and sometimes opens the door to reading even to dyslectic children (Waitzkin).
She witnessed a dramatic change in behavior in Joshua that she attributes to his study of chess: “Josh was an unruly, teacher’s nightmare kind of kid. When he started playing, all that energy went into the board. He wanted to win every game and he worked so hard at the board that steam came out of his ears. I think the chess event that changed him the most was losing to David Arnett in the last round of his first national championship. Little 8-year-old Josh was devastated. He went home and brushed the pieces off the desk and started studying with a blank board. He studied for a year and won the nationals the next time around. He calls this “embracing loss.” In his book he talks about this. He believes in hard work and sweat.”
In conclusion, countless researchers have shown that chess is an indispensable activity in a scholastic curriculum, since it can help to stimulate logical thinking. Gottfried Leibnitz remarked, “I strongly commend the practice of chess and other games of reason, not for themselves, but because they help perfect the art of thinking.” Therefore, chess is an activity that can contribute to a child’s emotional stability and help develop their personalities in a healthy way. Chess is capable of teaching discipline and consequently teaches the habit of reflecting before ones act. Moreover, chess teaches how to deal with one’s own actions responsibly.