Chess is an exercise that develops mental abilities used throughout life: critical thinking, concentration, , abstract reasoning, problem solving, pattern recognition, strategic planning, creativity, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, to name a few. Chess can be used very effectively as a tool to teach problem solving and abstract reasoning. Learning how to solve a problem is more important than learning the solution to any particular problem. Through chess, we learn how to analyze a situation by focusing on important factors and by eliminating distractions. We learn to devise creative solutions and put a plan into action. Chess works because it is self-motivating. The game has fascinated humans for almost 2000 years, and the goals of attack and defense, culminating in checkmate, inspire us to dig deep into our mental reserves.
Many researches mention that chess have been invented in India around the fourth century b.c.,by a Brahman named Sissa at the court of the Indian Rajah Balhait, where it was called chaturanga, although its earliest mention in literature occurred in a Persian romance, the Karnamak, written about 600 a.d. Alexander the Great’s conquest of India brought the game west to Persia. It moved east from India along overland trade routes into the Orient and west from Persia into Arabia, where “chatranj”, as the game was later called, then spread across northern Africa and into Europe when the Moors invaded Spain.Ajedrez (as it was known by the Spanish) spread quickly through Europe and had spread even earlier north from Persia into Russia, so that before the discovery of the Americas chess had a firm and established following on three continents as a supreme fascination and test of mental ability, an aesthetic beauty enjoyed by both nobleman and peasant (or shall we say king and pawn?).
Back in history, many famous people made chess their favorite pastime. The game’s fascination was embraced by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, Churchill, Napoleon, Voltaire, and the great mathematician, Euler, to name a few.Benjamin Franklin, in his work, The Morals of Chess, regarded chess as more than just an idle amusement, ascribing several “valuable” qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, [that] are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready for all occasions. For Life is a kind of Chess…” (Franklin, 1776). Franklin enumerated these qualities as “1. Foresight… 2. Circumspection… 3. Caution… and 4. Perseverance in hope of favorable resources.” In this sense, we may credit Franklin with being one of the first to hypothesize that chess strengthens “valuable qualities of the mind” and to open the inquiry concerning whether or not chess makes one smarter.
Many parallels have been drawn between mathematics, music, and chess. Lasker (1949) states:
Mathematical thinking is generally held to be more or less closely related to the type of thinking done in chess. Mathematicians are indeed drawn to chess more than most other games. What is less widely known is that very frequently mathematicians are equally strongly attracted to music. Many musicians do not reciprocate this attraction, but I firmly believe that this is mainly due to their lack of acquaintance with mathematics, and to the widespread confusion of mathematics with “figuring.”
The New York City Schools Chess Program included more than 3,000 inner-city children in more than 100 public schools between 1986 and 1990. Based on academic and anecdotal records only, Palm (1990) states that the program has proven:
- Chess dramatically improves a child’s ability to think rationally.
- Chess increases cognitive skills.
- Chess improves children’s communication skills and aptitude in recognizing patterns, therefore:
- Chess results in higher grades, especially in English and Math studies.
- Chess builds a sense of team spirit while emphasizing the ability of the individual.
- Chess teaches the value of hard work, concentration and commitment.
- Chess instills in young players a sense of self-confidence and self-worth.
- Chess makes a child realize that he or she is responsible for his or her own actions and must accept their consequences.
- Chess teaches children to try their best to win, while accepting defeat with grace.
- Chess provides an intellectual, competitive forum through which children can assert hostility, i.e. “let off steam,” in an acceptable way.
- Chess can become a child’s most eagerly awaited school activity, dramatically improving attendance.
- Chess allows girls to compete with boys on a non-threatening, socially acceptable plane.
- Chess helps children make friends more easily because it provides an easy, safe forum for gathering and discussion.
- Chess allows students and teachers to view each other in a more sympathetic way.
- Chess, through competition, gives kids a palpable sign of their accomplishments.
- Chess provides children with a concrete, inexpensive and compelling way to rise above the deprivation and self-doubt which are so much a part of their lives (Palm, 1990, pp. 5-7).
A study by Margulies (1993) using a sub-set of the New York City Schools Chess Program produced statistically significant results concluding that chess participation enhances reading performance. A related study, conducted in two U.S. cities over two years, selected two classrooms in each of five schools. The group receiving instruction in chess and logic obtained significantly higher reading scores than the control groups, which received additional classroom instruction in basic education (reading, math or social studies) (Margulies, 1993).
Ferguson (1995) summarizes the findings from the above studies when answering the question, “Why does chess have this impact [on children]?” by listing seven significant factors:
- Chess accommodates all modality strengths.
- Chess provides a far greater quantity of problems for practice.
- Chess offers immediate punishments and rewards for problem solving.
- Chess creates a pattern or thinking system that, when used faithfully, breeds success.
- Competition. Competition fosters interest, promotes mental alertness, challenges all students, and elicits the highest levels of achievement.
- A learning environment organized around games has a positive affect on student’s attitudes toward learning. This affective dimension acts as a facilitator of cognitive achievement. 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.
- Chess supplies a variety and quality of problems (Ferguson, 1995, p. 12).
Kennedy (1998) lists 8 related reasons why chess should be included in the classroom:
- Chess removes barriers between students.
- Chess gives students at least one reason to come to school.
- Chess builds rapport between students and adults.
- Chess honors non-traditional cognitive styles.
- Chess builds life skills and critical thinking.
- Chess builds metacognition as students learn to examine their own thinking.
- Chess integrates different types of thinking.
- Chess challenges and expands our understanding of intelligence.