Benefits of Chess for Youth

Below are summaries of some studies, facts and stories regarding the positive effects of chess among youth, both mentally and socially.


In a Texas study, regular (non-honors) elementary students who participated in a school chess club showed twice the improvement of non-chessplayers in Reading and Mathematics between third and fifth grades on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. (P)

A New Brunswick, Canada, study, using 437 fifth graders split into three groups, experimenting with the addition of chess to the math curriculum, found increased gains in math problem-solving and comprehension proportionate to the amount of chess in the curriculum. (J)

A five year study of 7th and 8th graders showed test scores improved 17.3% for students regularly engaged in chess classes, compared with only 4.56% for children participating in other forms of enrichment activities. 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. In 1988, Joyce Brown, an assistant principal and supervisor of the school's Special Education department, and teacher Florence Mirin began studying the effect of chess on their Special Education students. When the study began, they had 15 children enrolled in chess classes; two years later they had 398. "The effects have been remarkable," Brown says. "Not only have the reading and math skills of these children soared, their ability to socialize has increased substantially, too. Our studies have shown that incidents of suspension and outside altercations have decreased by at least 60% since these children became interested in chess." (T)

In a Zaire study conducted by Dr. Albert Frank, employing 92 students, age 16-18, the chess-playing experimental group showed a significant advancement in spatial, numerical and administrative-directional abilities, along with verbal aptitudes, compared to the control group. The improvements held true regardless of the final chess skill level attained. (B)

In a Belgium study a chess-playing experimental group of fifth graders experienced a statistically significant gain in cognitive development over a control group, using Piaget's tests for cognitive development. Perhaps more noteworthy, they also did significantly better in their regular school testing, as well as in standardized testing administered by an outside agency which did not know the identity of the two groups. Quoting Dr. Adriaan de Groot: "In addition, the Belgium study appears to demonstrate that the treatment of the elementary, clearcut and playful subject matter can have a positive effect on motivation and school achievement generally..."(C)

A four-year USA study, though not deemed statistically stable due to a small (15 students) experimental group, has the chess-playing experimental group consistently outperforming the control groups engaged in other thinking development programs, using measurements from the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. (D)

The Venezuela "Learning to Think Project", which involved a sample of 4,266 second grade students, reached a general conclusion that chess, methodologically taught, is an incentive system suffficient to accelerate the increase of IQ in elementary age children of both sexes at all socio-economic levels. (B)

A study 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 five 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). (G) (R)


Chess is found as required curricula in nearly 30 countries. (E)

In Vancouver B.C. the Math and Chess Learning Center, recognizing the correlation between chess playing and math skills development, has developed a series of workbooks to assist (Canadian) students in math. (F)

The mathematics curriculum in New Brunswick, Canada, is a text series called "Challenging Mathematics" which uses chess to teach logic from grades 2 to 7. Using this curriculum, the average problem-solving score of pupils in the province increased from 62% to 81%. The Province of Quebec, where the program was first introduced, has the best math marks in Canada and Canada scores better than the U.S.A. on international mathematics exams. (P) (Q)

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell Bell encourages knowledge of chess as a way to develop a preschooler's intellect and academic readiness. (H)

The State of New Jersey passed a bill legitimizing chess as a unit of instruction within the elementary school curriculum. A quote from the bill states "In countries where chess is offered widely in schools, students exhibit excellence in the ability to recognize complex patterns and consequently excel in math and science..." (L)

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. (P)


Several articles discuss chess as a tool to assist special needs kids. Rob Roy of Connecticut: "Children with special problems can also learn chess. I taught a successful course for emotionally and educationally disadvantaged children in the Waterbury schools and used chess as a way for them to learn and practice self-control. It was like turning on switches in their heads. You see the child looking at a problem, breaking it down, then putting the whole thing back together. The process involves recall, analysis, judgment and abstract reasoning." Andrew Rozsa, psychologist, speaking of his gifted son: "He has had real social and behavioral difficulties since he was 18 months old... He was thrown out of several schools... Things became pretty bad at about age 9 1/2. Nothing seemed to work, nothing. ... Today he is a straight A student and his behavior problems are minimal (but not trivial). ... Sorry, no control subjects, no double blind, no defined independent variables (actually there are two: chess and age). Nonetheless, I think that the great improvements we have seen are, to a large extent, due to chess." (M) (S)

The article "Chess Improves Academic Performance" features a number of testimonies from school principals, including: "Not only have the reading and math skills of these children soared, their ability to socialize has increased substantially, too. Our studies have shown that incidents of suspension and outside altercations have decreased by at least 60% since these children became interested in chess." "It's the finest thing that ever happened to this school. ...chess makes a difference...what it has done for these children is simply beyond anything that I can describe." "I see (students) able to attend to something for more than an hour and a half. I am stunned. Some of them could not attend to things for more than 20 minutes." etc. (I)

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, Christine Palm writes that the Program has proven that: --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 (B)

John Artise (B.S., M.A.) draws upon his years of psychological research in chess to identify the contribution chess makes in education and learning. He identifies four areas of growth: memory improvement, logic, observation and analysis, and operant conditioning. (K)

A two year program conducted in the Republic of Kichinov observed improvement in memory and better organizational skills. (B)

Chess program funded by Oakland (California) Youth at Risk program proves to be an effective vehicle for saving troubled youth. (A)

Chess program in the troubled East Harlem district, New York, also rescues kids from drugs and gangs. (N)

Saratoga Springs editorial: "Chess is the last best hope for this country to rescue its skidding educational system and teach the young generation the forgotten art of nurturing an attention span." (O)

From the book Winning Chess Strategies by GM Yasser Seirawan (1994, Microsoft Press):

When I teach young people the game of chess, I inform them and their parents that chess will teach them the five R's. I then go on to explain:

  • R number 1: To play chess competitively according to the international rules of FIDE, a player must (w)rite down his moves.
  • R number 2: As a player continues to compete, he will experience many losses. Dissatisfied, the player will seek to sharpen his skill and stop repeating the mistakes of the past by reading books on chess.
  • R number 3: To get better at chess, a player must be able to keep score. He starts the game with eight pawns. As the game progresses, pieces get swapped, and pawns get pushed forward and lost. He now has two Rooks and four pawns left for a point count of 14 (5+5+4), and his opponent has a Rook, a Bishop, a Knight, and five pawns for a point count of 16 (5+3+3+5). The opponent therefore has a material advantage of two. Simple. He has just used (a)rithmetic.
  • R number 4: The player undertakes these first three R's because it is his responsibility. No one else's. When playing chess, the player has no excuses for his blunders. A teammate didn't drop a perfect pass or miss a shot. He and only he is responsible.
  • R number 5: The last R is also the most important. Suppose the player's Queen is attacked. If he doesn't move it, the Queen will be captured. If he pulls it back in retreat, it will be safe. If he moves it forward, the Queen can capture a pawn and still be safe. He decides to go for the pawn, and in making his decision, he exercises his powers of reasoning.

These five R's combine to produce that which all education is about: critical thinking. When you get right down to it, education has two elements: information and information processing. Information by itself is worthless. It is the critical thinking that allows us to process the information that gives the information its value.

For further reading:
The Benefits of Chess in Education by P.S. McDonald, Chess Federation of Canada Youth Coordinator
The Case for Chess as a Tool to Develop Our Children's Minds by Dr. Peter Dauvergne, U. of Sydney
Chess, Anyone? -- Chess As an Essential Teaching Tool by Brenda Dyck in Education World
The Use and Impact of Chess by Dr. Robert C. Ferguson
Chess Benefits for Kids by New Mexico Chess
The Role of Chess in Modern Education by Marcel Milat
Chess Clubs Give Kids New Skills -- and New Hope by Sherril Steele-Carlin in Education World
Chess and Common Core from ChampionshipChess

(A) San Jose Mercury News, 4-3-96.
(B) "Chess in Education Research Summary", Dr. Robert Ferguson.
(C) "Chess and Cognitive Development", 1974-76, Johan Christiaen, quoted in (B).
(D) "Developing Critical and Creative Thinking Through Chess", 1979-83, Dr. Robert Ferguson, quoted in (B).
(E) Quoting Linder, in (B).
(G) "The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess Program Second Year Report" Dr. Stuart Margulies Ph.D.
(H) "Your Child's Intellect", Terrell Bell, 1982, pp.178-179.
(I) "Chess Improves Academic Performance" Christine Palm, 1990.
(J) Etude Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathematiques 5e Annee, Louise Gaudreau, 1992, quoted in (B).
(K) "Chess and Education", John Artise.
(L) "Chess Legislation", Rosalyn B. Katz.
(M) "Check Mates", Fairfield County Advocate, Mar. 20, 1989.
(N) "From Street Kids to Royal Knights", Jo Coudert, Readers Digest, June 1989.
(O) "Editorial: Chess give hope for our youth", The Saratogian, March 12, 1991.
(P) "Chess and Standard Test Scores", James M. Liptrap, in Chess Life, March 1998.
(Q) Chess'n Math Association, Canada's National Scholastic Chess Organization, web page.
(R) Chess-in-the-Schools web page.
(S) Newsgroup email from Andrew J. Rozsa, Birmingham, Alabama.

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