History and Benefits of Chess in Education

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Chess offers a unique approach to learning which has shown the ability to break down barriers of all kinds. Once a game only of the wealthiest classes, today chess is available to be taught to all peoples. In education, chess has shown to have amazing potential for nurturing and increasing the most essential elements of learning, such as critical thinking, creativity, and the self-confidence which comes from believing in one’s capacity. As more young people learn chess and the rules of engagement through which they playfully compete, the board of life’s interactions grows richer and more varied. 


Throughout history chess has flourished through transmission of the games’ rules and strategy from teacher to student. No matter if the student was enrolled in a traditional school, being home schooled, or was bereft of many learning opportunities, chess would offer the chance to cultivate one’s mind and skills in many ways which enhance all learning. This is because, 

Chess is a classic game of strategy, invented more than 1500 years ago in India. Legend has it that the ruler of India asked his wise men to devise a way to teach the children of the royal family to become better thinkers and better generals on the battlefield. Chess was the result. In the centuries since its invention, chess has spread to every country in the world. While countless other games have died out, chess lives on. In the United States, it has received endorsements by many educators, ranging from Benjamin Franklin to former U.S. Secretary of Education, Terrell Bell. In Western Pennsylvania, more than 70 schools and a dozen libraries offer chess programs, reaching several thousand students each year. (McDonald)

Those students who excelled in chess often went on to expand its influence through establishing clubs, competitions, and new ways to educate others about the benefits of learning the game. Many of these initial gatherings of enthusiasts led to the more formal and structured chess organizations of today. For instance: In 1998 Rishi Seth, a fourth-grader who has just won a national chess tournament, asks Dr. Cindy Kalogeropolous if he can start a chess club at the Grove Avenue School where she is Principal.  The Grove Avenue Chess club is born, beginning a chess newsletter as well as playing chess and volunteering to teach chess.

Rishi observed that his fellow club members enjoyed learning about the history and geography of chess and so he introduced Grandmaster Presentations every week for each student. Soon students began relishing the leadership through public speaking. (Shulman Chess)

In this way the passion for the game inspired community cultivation and growth which spreads learning like wildfire. Research has shown that the most effective and long-lasting learning is done in the spirit of play, and in this way cultivating chess is playing with learning on many levels. In the case of this fourth grader, Rishi realized that the adult parents and grandparent helpers loved learning chess. So soon he asked the Nursing Home Director ( Richard Rimkus) across the street from his school if his chess club could come and teach chess after school. A relationship is established and 50 youth volunteers teach and interact with residents at the Nursing Home. Students raise $500 for chess sets for Grove. (Shulman Chess)

So far the love and practice of chess has taken root around the world more than in the United States, but this is a trend which is now sweeping through the U.S. as well: Since 2000, America's Foundation for Chess (AF4C) has been working with 2nd and students and their teachers to promote the use of chess as an educational tool. The goal of the First Move™ curriculum is to use the game of chess as a tool, to increase higher level thinking skills, math reading skills, and build self-confidence. Research shows, there is a strong correlation between learning to play chess and academic achievement. In 2000, a landmark study found that students who received chess instruction scored significantly higher on all measures of academic achievement, including math, spatial analysis, and non-verbal reasoning ability. (Fischer)

Chess has been called one of the best learning tools for many reasons, and its inclusion grows in education throughout history as this is realized. In the past learning chess was often only done by the wealthier classes of students, as the separation of the classes and opportunities for education helped reinforce class status; something the E-Rate program is trying to curb.. However, the more people learned chess and shared their excitement the more this skillful game grew beyond the bounds of traditional educational structure. In today’s globalized and diversified education structure, “Chess levels the playing field as it crosses all socio-economic boundaries. It is a universal game, with worldwide rule consistency. Age, gender, ethnic background, religious affiliation, size, shape, color, and language don't matter when playing chess” (Fischer). Thus, chess is a great way to teach children from diverse backgrounds how to relate and compete in a non-polarized way.

Benefits of Chess in Education

In many ways the practice of chess benefits education as well as the applications of education in culture as a whole. The personal skills cultivated through the game are strengthened and compounded through the empathy needed to outsmart other players. This type of gentle competition offers a springboard for equity in relations between races and classes that may have found themselves at odds before. The brilliance and quickness which young people pick up chess reinforces the power of young minds, and the capacity for exponential learning in the spirit of play.

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Raises in creativity support many aspects of development which show fruits throughout all aspects of learning. Such as:

Raise intelligence quotient (IQ) scores

Strengthen problem solving skills, teaching how to make difficult and abstract decisions independently

Enhance reading, memory, lenguage and mathematical abilities

Foster critical, creative and originality thinking

Provide practice at making accurate and fast decisions under time pressure, a skill that can help improve exam scores at school

Teach how to thing logically and efficiently, learning to select the "best" choice from a large number of options

Challenge gifted children while potentially helping underachieving gifted students learn how to study and strive for excellence

Demonstrate the importance of flexible planning, concentration and the consequences of decisions

Reach boys and girls regardless of their natural abilities or socio-economic backgrounds. (Chess Tutors)

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Extensive research has been done as to why and how chess has the capacity to radically increase intelligence and the potential for learning. As one researcher put it, chess supplies a variety and quality of problems…The problems that arise in the 70-90 positions of the average chess game are, moreover, new. Contexts are familiar, themes repeat, but game positions never do. This makes chess good grist for the problem-solving mill. (McDonald)

Thus the practice of chess helps young people feel more prepared and capable as they face changes and challenges in other areas of education as well as their everyday lives. Considering that these challenges are growing in ferocity and frequency emphasizes the need for more young people to begin looking a life as a game to be played. 


The game of life need not be as brutal as it has been. The refined game of chess has a way of expanding awareness and intelligent skills which can nurture the environment for peaceful resolution which may foster mutual respect. Chess’s role in education is that of a wise sage leading future generations into more enlightened paths of discourse and collaboration which will provide more proactive relations in the future.


1: Chart Retrieved from: http://chesstutors.org/chess---achievement.html

2: Chart Retrieved from: http://chesstutors.org/chess---achievement.html

Works Cited

Chess Tutors. “Chess and Achievement.” Chesstututors.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://chesstutors.org/chess---achievement.html

Fischer, Wendi. “Educational Value of Chess.” Johns Hopkins School of Education, 2016. Retrieved from: http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/thinking-skills/chess/

McDonald, Patrick S. (ed). “The Benefits of Chess in Education.” Psmcd.net, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.psmcd.net/otherfiles/BenefitsOfChessInEdScreen2.pdf

Shulman Chess. “History of Chess in the Barrington Area.” Shulmanchess.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://shulmanchess.com/history-of-chess-in-barrington/