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11 Oct 2006

Benefits of Chess

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This review compiled by Aleksandr Kitsis


Chess is widely believed to increase “mental muscle”. The academic benefits of the

game appear to be extensive. There are a number of studies, which support the

contention that exposure to chess enhances memory, boosts spatial and numerical

skills, increases problem-solving capabilities, and strengthens logical thinking. [2] Many

schools all over the world encourage chess play to enhance academic performance.

[10] Studying chess systematically has also shown to raise students’ IQ and exam

scores (Dullea 1982; Palm 1990; Ferguson 2000), as well as strengthen mathematical,

language, and reading skills (Margulies 1991; Liptrap 1998; Ferguson 2000). Chess is

a fun way to teach children how to think and solve an ever-changing and diverse array

of difficult problems. [3] More and more schools around the world are recognizing the

value of chess, with instruction now becoming part of standard curriculums. [3]

Chess around the globe

A 1973 –74 study in Zaire by Dr. Albert Frank found that good teenage chess

players had strong spatial, numerical, administrative directional, and paperwork abilities.

[4] Dr. Robert Ferguson notes that “this findings tends to show that ability in chess is

not due to the presence in an individual of only one or two abilities but that a large

number of aptitudes all work together in chess.” Dr. Frank’s study found that learning

chess strengthened both numerical and verbal aptitudes. This occurred for the majority

of students (not just the strong players) who took a chess course for two hours each

week for one school year. Other studies have added that playing chess can strengthen

a child’s memory (Artise). [3]

A 1990 – 92 study in New Brunswick, Canada, further shows the value of chess for

developing problem solving skills among young children (Gaudreau 1992). Using chess

in grades 2 to 7 as part of the mathematics curriculum demonstrated that the average

problem solving score of pupils in the province increased from 62% to 81%. [9]

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Chess has shown to raise students’ overall IQ scores. Using the Wechsler

Intelligence Scale for Children a Venezuelan study of over 4000 second grade students

found a significant increase in most students’ IQ scores after only 4.5 months of

systematically studying chess. This occurred across all socio-economic groups and for

both males and females. The Venezuelan government was so impressed that all

Venezuelan schools introduced chess lessons starting in 1988/89. [3]

Chess in the USA

Chess has long been recognized throughout the world as a builder of strong

intellects, but only recently has the United States begun to recognize chess’s ability to

improve the cognitive abilities, rational thinking, and reasoning of even the least

promising children. [2]

Robert Ferguson of the Bradford, PA School District tested students from seventh to

ninth grades, (1979 – 1983), as part of the ESEA Title IV – C Explore program, and

found that after spending 60 –64 hours playing and studying chess over 32 weeks

[period] students demonstrated significant progress in critical thinking. His study

showed that A Watson-Glaser Thinking Appraisal test scores improved 17.3% for

students regularly engaged in chess classes, compared with only 4.6% for children

participating in other forms of “enrichment activities” including Future Problem Solving,

Dungeons and Dragons, Problem Solving with Computers, independent study, and

creative writing. He concluded that chess improves critical thinking skills more than the

other methods of enrichment. [13]

During a program run by Dr. Ferguson from September 1987 to May 1988 all

members of a standard six-grade class in rural Pennsylvania were required to take

chess lessons. Significantly, at the conclusion of the study tests showed a significant

increase in both memory and verbal reasoning skills. [3]

In 1993, the study conducted by Professor Stuart Margulies investigated an effect of

chess playing on reading scores. Two classrooms were selected in each of five NY and

LA schools. Students in grades three to six were given instruction in chess and

reasoning in one classroom of each school. Reading scores of chess players and

control classroom students were approximately equal at the beginning of the school

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year. Students in the chess program obtained significantly higher reading scores at the

end of the year. [10]

In Marina, CA, an experiment with chess indicated that after only 20 days of

instruction, students’ academic performance improved dramatically. George L.

Stephenson, chairman of the Marina JHS math department, reported that 55% of the

students showed significant improvement in academic performance after this brief

smattering of chess instruction. [13]

Regular (non-honor) Elementary students who participated in a school chess

programs showed twice the improvement of non-chess players in Reading and

Mathematics between third and fifth grades on the Texas Assessment of Academic

Skills. Reports concerning Special Education chess players stress increased selfesteem

and confidence, primary objectives for these students. [9]

Reports from schools

Recognizing that chess brings out latent abilities that have not been reached by

traditional education means, several school districts across the country are beginning to

incorporate chess into the standard curriculum. [2] Reports from students, teachers,

and parents not only extol the academic benefits of chess on math problem-solving

skills and reading comprehension, but also report increased self-confidence, patience,

memory, logic, critical thinking, observation, analysis, creativity, concentration,

persistence, self-control, sportsmanship, responsibility, respect for others, self esteem,

coping with frustration, and many other positive influences which are difficult to measure

but can make a great difference in student attitude, motivation, and achievement. [9]

Amori says analyzing game situations teaches children better decision-making skills

and helps to make them more aware of the consequences of their actions. It also

strengthens their ability to think about long term gains instead of just immediate

gratification. [2]

In New York, a handful of suburban schools are now making chess compulsory in

some elementary school grades. And less affluent school districts are also discovering

that chess makes an excellent low-budget contribution to learning, in that it requires little

equipment and no facilities beyond tables and chairs. [2] For example, Mott Hall school

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implemented chess as a required course just like math and English for kids in grades 4

through 6. [4]

Educators at the Roberto Clemente School (C.I.S. 166) in New York report that

chess has improved not only academic scores, but social performance as well. “The

effects have been remarkable,” says Joyce Brown, an assistant principal and the

supervisor of the special education department. “Not only have the reading and math

skills of children soared, their ability to socialize has increased substantially, too. Our

studies have shown that incidents of suspension and the outside altercations have

decreased by at least 60% since these children became interested in chess.” [13]

Connie Wingate, Principal, P.S. 123 in New York, says of a New York City school

chess program. “This is wonderful! This is marvelous! This is stupendous! It’s the

finest thing that ever happened to this school. I am most sincere. It has been an

absolute plus for the students who were directly involved as well as for the rest of the

school… [Children] are trying, through chess, to apply themselves and do something to

better themselves. And that filters into the entire school and community… More than

anything else, chess makes a difference… what it has done for these children is simply

beyond anything that I can describe. The highest scoring student in our school is a

member of the chess team. Academically, they are doing much better in class, and it’s

in no small part because of chess. Just how they feel about themselves, their selfesteem,

makes them all winners.” [13]

Jo Bruno, Principal, P.S. 189, Brooklyn, NY: “In chess tournaments the child gets

the opportunity of seeing more variety and diversity. They are all equal on the

chessboard. I believe it is connected academically and to the intellectual development

of children. I see them able to attend to something for more that an hour and a half. I

am stunned. Some of them could not attend to things for more than 20 minutes.” [13]

Jerome Fishman, Guidance Counselor, C.J.H.S. 231, Queens, NY: “I like the aspect

of socialization. You get into a friendly, competitive meeting of two minds. Aside from

being good for the cognitive development of these youngsters, chess develops their

social skills, too. It makes them feel they belong. Whenever we get a child transferred

from another school who may have maladaptive behavior, our principal (Dr. Wilton

Anderson) suggests chess as a way of helping him find his niche. It also helps kids

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learn how to be better friends. They analyze the game and talk it over afterwards. I

even had a couple of kids who never had much in common start going to each other’s

houses to play chess and swap Chess Life magazines. We’ve got kids literally lining up

in front of the school at 6:45 am to get a little chess in before classes start. [13]

Roosevelt School in Santa Ana, California, has caught ‘the chess bug” in 1998.

The school principal, Mr. Nadine Rodrigues, said that chess does enforce a lot of what

we ask of our students in schools. [19]

In 1999 El Toro School in Morgan Hill, CA started a chess program for third-grade

students. “Was chess appropriate for my third graders? Did I want them to develop

thinking and reasoning skills by playing a game they continue to learn from and grow

with their entire lives? Did they deserve a world-class education? The answer to all

three questions: ‘Yes’,” Steve Peterson, the third-grade teacher. [14]

In 1990 William Frantz Elementary School and Charles Colton Junior High School in

New Orleans, Louisiana introduced chess programs. Mr. Perez, the chess

administrator, said that he sees a difference in how his chess-playing students deal with

their environments. Pupils don’t seem as frustrated with unfamiliar concepts. The

game teaches self-restraint, which he said makes children more self-disciplined in the

classroom. [8]

“Any educator who had already used chess did not have any reservations about its

value and success… [S]chool counselors showed interest in knowing more about the

Chess for Success Program that I’m implementing in Maryland with the Montgomery

County Public Schools,” wrote Mr. Moreno, a school counselor. [11]

“Chess is perhaps the world’s best-kept secret in terms of how to improve a kid

academically and provide a lifelong pursuit,” says Aremin Hacobian, executive director

of the international Academy of Chess in Boston, MA And childhood is the time to

begin, he insists. “The capacity of kids to learn this game far exceeds that of any adult,”

he says. “It’s like learning a foreign language. A five- or six- year-old kid is open to

anything, far more willing to absorb the endless possibilities that the world affords.” [2]

The Princeton Charter School in New Jersey started a chess program in 1999. The

goal is for children to learn to think logically and sequentially, skills that can help in other

subjects. [12]

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Susan Hall, a third-grade teacher at Fort Worth Academy in Texas, wrote that in the

process of learning chess her pupils learned about mathematics, logic, and spatial

relationships. The lessons they learned about planning ahead, taking turns, and good

sportsmanship carry over into other areas of their lives. And in making new friends,

they develop interpersonal skills while their self-esteem and confidence soar. [7]

Chess popularity and recognition

Schools across the U.S. are incorporating the game into their curriculums. Chessin-

the –Schools, the largest program, teaches the game that had its 16th anniversary

celebration last month and that now encompasses 19 cities, more than 300 schools and

20,000 students in New York. In New York 118 schools participate up from 45 just

three years ago. [17] U.S. Chess Federation enjoyed an eleven fold increase in junior

membership since 1989. [4] Out of 2,200 chess clubs around the country affiliated with

the federation, more than half are school clubs. [17]

“While there were only four or five chess camps in the entire country 10 years ago,

there are now four or five in each state,” Says Beatriz Marinello, scholastic director of

the US Chess Federation in New Windsor. [2]

In June 1999 the International Olympic Committee officially recognized chess as a

sport. With such recognition hopefully even more of our children will turn to chess,

striving for sporting dreams that will leave them smarter, and ultimately able to cope

better in the real world of perpetual problems. [3]

Universities of Texas and Maryland offer full scholarships for students-chess



Funding for chess activity is available under the “Educate America Act” (goals 2000),

Public Law 103 – 227, Section 308.b.2.E: “Supporting innovative and proven methods

of enhancing a teacher’s ability to identify student learning needs and motivating

students to develop higher order thinking skills, discipline, and creative resolution

methods.” The original wording of this section included “such as chess” and passed

both houses of Congress that way. But the phrase was deleted later in Conference

Committee. [9]

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1. Artise, John “Chess and Education”

2. Coeyman, Marjorie, “Kingmakers”, Christian Science Monitor, (Aug. 10, 1999):

Vol. 91, Issue 178, p15

3. Dauvergne, Peter (Dr.), “The Case for Chess as a Tool to Develop Our Children's

Minds”, University of Sydney, www.auschess.org.au/articles/chessmind.htm, (July 2000)

4. Drummond, Tammerlin “Harlem’s Chess Kings”, Time, (Feb. 7, 2000): Vol. 155,

Issue 5, p. 8

5. Dullea, Gerald J. “Chess Makes Kids Smarter”, Chess Life, (Nov. 1982)

6. Ferguson, Robert “The Use and Impact of Chess”, in Section B, USA Junior

Chess Olympics Curriculum (2000)

7. Hall, Susan (Director of Admission at Montessori School, Northbrook, IL) “When Five

Year Olds Trounce You at Chess”, Independent School, (Fall, 1997): Vol. 57, Issue

1, p. 15

8. Krakow, David M., “Checkmate: Students master strategies for school and life”,

New Orleans CityBusiness, (March 30, 1998): Vol. 18, Issue 39, p. 10B

9. Liptrap, James M (Klein High School, Spring, Texas), “Chess and Standardized

Test Scores”, Chess Coach Newsletter, (Spring 1999): Vol. 11, No. 1


10. Margulies, Stuart (PhD), “The effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine

Chess Program Second Year Report”, The American Chess Foundation, 353 West

46th Street, NY, NY 10036

11. Moreno, Fernando “Chess Among School Counselors”, Chess Coach Newsletter,

(Spring-99): Vol. 11/1 www.uschess.org/scholastic/coachnews.html

12. Newman, Maria, “In School”, The New York Times, (May 5, 1999): p. B1

13. Palm, Christine, “Chess improves Academic Performance“, derived from New York

City Schools Chess Program, (1990)

14. Peterson, Steve “Chess: It’s your move”, Teaching PreK-8, (Jan. 2002): Vol. 32,

Issue 4, p. 64

15. Seymour and Norwood “A Game of Life”, New Scientist 139, (Sep. 4, 1993): 23-26

16. Storey, Keith “ Teaching beginning chess skills to students with disabilities”,

Preventing School Failure, (Winter 2000): Vol. 44, Issue 2, p. 45

17. Weber, Bruce, “Youthful Pawns With Dreams of Royalty”, The New York Times,

(Apr. 19, 1996): p. B7

18. Wojcio, Michael David “The importance of Chess in the classroom”, Atlantic Chess

News, (1990)

19. “Teaching logic by hook or by rook”, Curriculum Review, (Apr. 1999): Vol. 38,

Issue 8, p. 7

Aleksandr Kitsis


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