Benefits

Learning chess has an amazing amount of positives going for it. The benefits of chess are wide and varied. There is a flourishing movement to use the mind sport as a tool to aid the intellectual development of people of all ages.

There are numerous reasons why chess takes a prominent role in the hobbies of people around the world. Here are my top eight reasons:

1. Practically every game of chess is unique, so each game provides new distinct problems to solve.

2. Chess promotes skills such as self-discipline, creativity and verbal reasoning (Krogius 1972 cited in Aciego, García & Betancort 2012, p. 2). Aciego, García & Betancort (2012) themselves found that chess improves psychological toughness and problem-solving skills compared to other extracurricular activities (soccer or basketball). Chess builds these coping skills as a player will have to deal with the ups and downs of tournament play.

One of the quirks of having played chess competitively (and occasionally internationally) for a long period of time is that I have developed brief skills in many areas, some of which are related.

  • Playing against lots of international opponents has given me an appreciation of how names are pronounced and I can often give a decent guess as to what region of the world a person is from by reading their name.
  • Computers revolutionised the world and, of course, the way we play chess. I use software developed by the German company ChessBase to store and play around with the endless number of individual chess games I have saved. Searching through these collections has taught me basic database skills.
  • Analysing chess positions these days is all about ‘chess engines’ (programs that people write in order to evaluate chess positions). An interest in the development of chess engines has led me to learn a bit about programming and the basics behind how a chess computer thinks. I have also developed an appreciation for the term ‘graphical user interface’ (in describing chess software).
  • Playing chess online at the Internet Chess Club using its old BlitzIn software has taught me some brief skills related to command-line interfaces.
  • There are many links between chess and the psychology of competition. Virtually all players will develop an interest in this area of psychology since it can help them win many games! In my experience, many chess players go on to study psychology at university.

3. Chess encourages social inclusion at a low monetary cost. In fact, chess is also used in the rehabilitation of Brazilian convicts.

4. Chess is self-motivating. Each win provides satisfaction, while each loss inspires us to study harder.

5. Chess gives players a sense of achievement and self-worth.

6. Especially for those who have few other skills, chess can become a means of supporting one’s livelihood. Chess has opened up job prospects in areas such as chess coaching and journalism.

7. In many parts of the world, chess is a niche activity compared to other endeavours such as swimming, running, tennis, school work, music and business. Chess is an activity that very few people are good at in comparison to other endeavours.

8. Chess has an amazing ability to mimic life. One typical example is that, assuming there are many options in one position that appear equally good, the style of positions in which a person gravitates to is often a reflection of their personality; an outgoing person tends to attack and takes more risks, while those less naturally outgoing likely have a preference to playing defensively and conservatively, maintaining a long-term strategical view of their prospects. This quality of chess, coupled with the fact that experienced tournament chess players must be able to cope with the turbulence of competition, make it a useful tool for introspection.

On a side note, 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov wrote a book called How Life Imitates Chess, published in 2008. Kasparov, widely considered to be the greatest player of all time (along with Magnus Carlsen), retired from chess in 2005 to pursue a career in politics.

Personally, I believe chess accommodates players of all ages:

  • For youngsters, it develops skills some very useful skills in a fun way. Only considering the academic side of things, it is widely acknowledged to improve school grades (Aciego, García & Betancort 2012). I am confident that chess improved my ability to undertake mathematics in my childhood, which has since led me to develop a love for mathematics in university.
  • For seniors, it is a way to constantly test and improve mental stamina. According to American Government’s National Institute on Aging (2012), “mentally stimulating activities such as… playing games are… linked to keeping the mind sharp”.
  • For the middle-aged, chess serves as a competitive, enjoyable and challenging past-time. A typical case of a new-found passion for chess was when someone once wrote to me: “I am 34 years old and just getting into chess. It has seemed to consume me for the last little bit.”

For the majority of us who are non-professional chess players, the game serves as gratifying activity in its own right and can often be a stepping stone onto greater things.

Overall, I hope I have given you a lot to think about regarding the real-world applications of chess. Personally, the game has allowed me to shine beyond measure. Its contribution to my life has been and will be absolutely invaluable. Of course, this was made possible by the tireless efforts of my parents, especially my mother, as well as all the fantastic chess players and coaches I befriended along my journey.

Further information

While researching for this topic, I stumbled across a very helpful article by Jim Celone. The article provides a detailed overview of the benefits of chess and delves into other elements of scientific chess theory too. Among other things, Celone’s writing gives us an insight into the origins of the royal game; the parallels between chess, mathematics and music; and an exhaustive discussion of the arguments in favour of chess. Click here to see Celone’s article Why Play Chess.

References

(Last updated: September 12, 2012) ‘Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?’, National Institute on Aging, viewed 11 July 2013, http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/preventing-alzheimers-disease/search-alzheimers-prevention-strategies

Aciego R, García L and Betancort M (2012), ‘The benefits of chess for the intellectual and social-emotional enrichment in schoolchildren’, The Spanish Journal of Psychology, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 551–559.

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