April 02, 2012 15:18

'10 big brain benefits of playing chess'

'10 big brain benefits of playing chess'

Not for nothing is chess known as "the game of kings." No doubt the rulers of empires and kingdoms saw in the game fitting practice for the strategizing and forecasting they themselves were required to do when dealing with other monarchs and challengers. As we learn more about the brain, some are beginning to push for chess to be reintroduced as a tool in the public's education. With benefits like these, they have a strong case.

1. It can raise your IQ
Chess has always had an image problem, being seen as a game for brainiacs and people with already high IQs. So there has been a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: do smart people gravitate towards chess, or does playing chess make them smart? At least one study has shown that moving those knights and rooks around can in fact raise a person's intelligence quotient. A study of 4,000 Venezuelan students produced significant rises in the IQ scores of both boys and girls after 4 months of chess instruction.

2. It helps prevent Alzheimer's
Because the brain works like a muscle, it needs exercise like any bicep or quad to be healthy and ward off injury. A recent study featured in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people over 75 who engage in brain-stretching activities like chess are less likely to develop dementia than their non-board-game-playing peers. Just like an un-exercised muscle loses strength, Dr. Robert Freidland, the study's author, found that unused brain tissue leads to a loss of brain power. So that's all the more reason to play chess before you turn 75.

3. It exercises both sides of the brain
In a German study, researchers showed chess experts and novices simple geometric shapes and chess positions and measured the subjects' reactions in identifying them. They expected to find the experts' left brains being much more active, but they did not expect the right hemisphere of the brain to do so as well. 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.

4. It increases your creativity
Since the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for creativity, it should come as no surprise that activating the right side of your brain helps develop your creative side. Specifically, chess greatly increases originality. 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.

5. It improves your memory
Chess players know — as an anecdote — that playing chess improves your memory. Being a good player means remembering how your opponent has operated in the past and recalling moves that have helped you win before. But there's hard evidence also. In a two-year study in 1985, young students who were given regular opportunities to play chess improved their grades in all subjects, and their teachers noticed better memory and better organizational skills in the kids. A similar study of Pennsylvania sixth-graders found similar results. Students who had never before played chess improved their memories and verbal skills after playing.

6. It increases problem-solving skills
A chess match is like one big puzzle that needs solving, and solving on the fly, because your opponent is constantly changing the parameters. Nearly 450 fifth-grade students were split into three groups in a 1992 study in New Brunswick. Group A was the control group and went through the traditional math curriculum. Group B supplemented the math with chess instruction after first grade, and Group C began the chess in first grade. On a standardized test, Group C's grades went up to 81.2% from 62% and outpaced Group A by 21.46%.

7. It 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.

8. It improves concentration
Chess masters might come off like scattered nutty professors, but the truth is their antics during games are usually the result of intense concentration that the game demands and improves in its players. Looking away or thinking about something else for even a moment can result in the loss of a match, as an opponent is not required to tell you how he moved if you didn't pay attention. Numerous studies of students in the U.S., Russia, China, and elsewhere have proven time and again that young people's ability to focus is sharpened with chess.

9. It grows dendrites
Dendrites are the tree-like branches that conduct signals from other neural cells into the neurons they are attached to. Think of them like antennas picking up signals from other brain cells. The more antennas you have and the bigger they are, the more signals you'll pick up. Learning a new skill like chess-playing causes dendrites to grow. But that growth doesn't stop once you've learned the game; interaction with people in challenging activities also fuels dendrite growth, and chess is a perfect example.

10. It teaches planning and foresight
Having teenagers play chess might just save their lives. It goes like this: one of the last parts of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control. So adolescents are scientifically immature until this part develops. Strategy games like chess can promote prefrontal cortex development and help them make better decisions in all areas of life, perhaps keeping them from making a stupid, risky choice of the kind associated with being a teenager.

This article was cross-posted with permission from OnlineCourses.com.

Editors's picture
Author: Editors


J's picture

Not bad then!

Coco Loco's picture

Nice summary. It seems NYC schools - public and private - have certainly been convinced. Numerous schools do chess once a week, usually starting in Kindergarten (age 5-6), and almost every weekend 200+ kids play in local tourneys. I wonder if this population of kids is followed by any academics and if any studies comparing them to their non-chess-playing peers will be done.

Albert FRANK's picture

The study comparing both groups has been done, a long time ago, by me (helped by Dr. Euwe):

Coco Loco's picture

Wonderful - thanks for the links! And funny that replacing (some) math with chess improved one's math (arithmetic) ability. Regarding the improvement in verbal logic, it seems reasonable that chess makes one approach the world - and hence learn - in more logical fashion. Math should do that too, but it's often not taught the right way (too much focus on computation.)

Charles Foster Kane's picture

So I'm not just wasting my time!

archimedes's picture

Not necessarily. This is depends if you have a forum / job / creative outlet to make use of the benefits of playing chess, outside of chess.

Club Ajedrez Laurus Ronda - Laurus Ronda Chess Club's picture

It was amazing how to play chess improve our health

Andre From Outkast's picture

See? I told you chess player goggles were a fashion item.

Henry Garcia's picture

And of course.... " To learn a clever thing .....IS...a clever thing !!!!"

Henk de Jager's picture

I haven´t noticed any of these beneficial effects myself, although the Alzheimer thing is still unclear and the ´dendrites´thing I can´t tell.

jgn's picture

im still an idiot

Chuck Norris's picture

don't be too sure.

sayedai's picture

which practice are good ? playing with computer or with a person regularly

Robert's picture

I suspect that most of these benefits can only be fully capitalized on if one starts to play chess constantly at a young age, preferably as a child or in one's early to mid teens at most, while the "iron is still hot", as they say. Otherwise, starting to play chess as an adult (i.e. early 20s and onwards) is very unlikely to yield the same results, except maybe #2.

Mike's picture

Constant Chess practice help you to walk on your own legs and not vote in populist politicians...

len dogg's picture

all you people who are in scouts like me should write all this down for the chess merit badge

Susan Archer's picture

There is a new iPhone app that combines chess with tic-tac-toe. The pieces go on the board like tic-tac-toe and then take on their chess piece properties. Rooks, Knights and Bishops jockey for position. It's a fun game to play but very challenging to win.

Chuck Norris's picture

very interesting.

Carlos Roque's picture

Suffering from the capacity to concentrate, I learned that playing chess it increased my concentration to foreseen at the beginning 2,3 moves ahead. The after a while 7,8,9 moves ahead. The constant playing I found concentrating was beneficial and all complex problems started making sense. Eureka, I went from c-b grades to b-a grades. Understanding problems were a thing of the past.

Lewis's picture

I shall speak with my principal, and see if we can start a chess club! I've always loved the game, and it would be fun to play against my classmates.

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