Let’s discuss the basics and then the benefits!
Chess is a two-player strategy board game played on a chessboard, a checkered gameboard with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. Chess is played by millions of people worldwide, both amateurs and professionals.
Each player begins the game with 16 pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. Each of the six piece types moves differently. The most powerful piece is the queen and the least powerful piece is the pawn. The objective is to ‘checkmate’ the opponent’s king by placing it under an inescapable threat of capture. To this end, a player’s pieces are used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces, while supporting their own. In addition to checkmate, the game can be won by voluntary resignation by the opponent, which typically occurs when too much material is lost, or if checkmate appears unavoidable. A game may also result in a draw in several ways.
Now that we went over WHAT chess is, let’s discuss the benefits of playing!
- Promotes brain growth: Games like chess that challenge the brain actually stimulate the growth of dendrites, the bodies that send out signals from the brain’s neuron cells. With more dendrites, neural communication within the brain improves and becomes faster. Think of your brain like a computer processor. The tree-like branches of dendrites fire signals that communicate to other neurons, which makes that computer processor operate at a fast, optimal state. Interaction with people in challenging activities also fuels dendrite growth, and chess is a perfect example.
- It exercises both sides of the brain: A German study indicated that when chess players were asked to identify chess positions and geometric shapes, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain became highly active. Their reaction times to the simple shapes were the same, but the experts were using both sides of their brains to more quickly respond to the chess position questions.
- Strategic Thinking: Chess is considered to be a strategy game – this means that in order to win, you must have a better plan of action than your opponent. But no one is born with the ability to conceive great strategic moves, it must be learned by practicing. To most people, strategy is associated with war and army generals planning their attacks with strategic moves, this example is not far from chess. Just like a general commands his army, a chess player commands his or her own pieces in a battle of black and white. So playing chess greatly improves the ability to develop certain strategies and plans. And no, this benefit is not only useful to army generals and chess players – a good strategic mind is much more productive, because it creates the best plan of action for every daily task. Also, strategic thinking is a life savior in academic and work environments, because everything is planned one step ahead and there’s always a plan B.
- Raises your IQ: Do smart people play chess, or does chess make people smart? At least one scientific study has shown that playing the game can actually raise a person’s IQ. A study of 4,000 Venezuelan students produced significant rises in the IQ scores of both boys and girls after four months of chess instruction. So grab a chess board and improve your IQ!
- Helps prevent Alzheimer’s: As we age, it becomes increasingly important to give the brain a workout, just as you would every other major muscle group, in order to keep it healthy and fit. A recent study featured in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people over 75 who engage in brain-games like chess are less likely to develop dementia than their non-board-game-playing peers. The saying “use it or lose it” certainly applies here, as a sedentary brain can decrease brain power. All the more reason to play chess before you turn 75.
- Sparks your creativity: Playing chess helps unleash your originality, since it activates the right side of the brain, the side responsible for creativity. One four-year study had students from grades 7 to 9 play chess, use computers, or do other activities once a week for 32 weeks to see which activity fostered the most growth in creative thinking. The chess group scored higher in all measures of creativity, with originality being their biggest area of gain.
- Increases problem-solving skills: A chess match requires fast thinking and problem-solving on the fly because your opponent is constantly changing the parameters. A 1992 study conducted on 450 fifth-grade students in New Brunswick indicated that those who learned to play chess scored significantly higher on standardized tests compared to those who did not play chess.
- Teaches planning and foresight: One of the last parts of the brain to develop during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for judgment, planning and self-control. Because playing chess requires strategic and critical thinking, it helps promote prefrontal cortex development and helps teenagers make better decisions in all areas of life, perhaps keeping them from making an irresponsible, risky choice.
- Improves reading skills: In an oft-cited 1991 study, Dr. Stuart Margulies studied the reading performance of 53 elementary school students who participated in a chess program and evaluated them compared to non-chess-playing students in the district and around the country. He found definitive results that playing chess caused increased performance in reading. In a district where the average students tested below the national average, kids from the district who played the game tested above it.
- Optimizes memory improvement: Chess players know that playing chess improves your memory, mainly because of the complex rules you have to remember, as well as the memory recall needed when trying to avoid previous mistakes or remembering a certain opponent’s playing style. Good chess players have exceptional memory performance and recall. A study of Pennsylvania sixth-graders found that students who had never before played chess improved their memories and verbal skills after playing.
- Improves recovery from stroke or disability: Chess develops fine motor skills in individuals who have disability or have suffered a stroke or other physically debilitating accident. This form of rehabilitation requires the motion of chess pieces in different directions (forward, backward, diagonally forward motion, diagonally backward motion), which can help develop and fine tune a patient’s motor skills, while the mental effort required to play the game can improve cognitive and communication skills. Playing can also stimulate deep concentration and calm, helping to center and relax patients who are experiencing different degrees of anxiety.
- Attention Improvement: the epidemic of the 21st century is ADHD. Adults and children alike are finding it harder and harder to focus at school and work, less is being done and productivity declines rapidly. With so many distractions, it is easy to diagnose yourself with attention deficit disorder, but there are better ways of dealing with this phenomena than heading to your local drugstore. Chess DEMANDS attention, in other words, if your mind is not focused on the game – you lose, simple as that. With such an immediate punishment for lack of attention, the mind is trained to be focused and attentive. This results in better performance in schools and workplaces, less time wasted and more victories achieved.
- 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.