Chess and Education
by Bill Wall

There are so many educational benefits of chess. Chess teaches children to think analytically, logically, and on more than one level. The educational benefits of chess are well documented by a large body of research papers from around the world. Chess helps promote intellectual growth and has been shown to improve academic performance. Chess also helps to build up decision-making tools. It educates them to be responsible for their decisions and the consequences of those decisions.

The most frequently cited general benefits of chess include the development of:

-Cognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, and logical thinking.
-Critical thinking, improving the ability to assess strengths and weaknesses, establish value judgments, and make decisions.
-Increased creativity through problem solving.
-Ethical sense in which improvements in attitude and general behavior are noted.
-Improvements in literacy.
-Better results in mathematics.

Chess is also noted as beneficial for cognitive skills such as:

-Focusing attention. Children soon learn that if they don't watch what is happening on the chessboard, they can't respond to it.
-Visualization and imagining a sequence of actions before it happens. This ability is strengthened by moving the pieces in the mind before doing so on the chess board.
-Abstract reasoning. This is the ability to analyze information, detect patterns and relationships, and solve problems. One learns to take patterns used in one context and apply them to different, but related situations.
-Planning and developing longer range goals and taking steps to bring them about. This is the need to re-evaluate plans as developments change the situation.
-Thinking ahead — learning to think first, then act.
-Weighing options — learning that you don't have to do the first thing that pops into the mind.
-Analyzing correctly. Does this sequence help me or hurt me?

There are a number of social benefits with minorities. There have been noted reductions in delinquency and drug use in places such as Harlem and The Bronx through the Chess-in-the-Schools program. Other benefits include improved ethical sense, improved discipline, improved sense of fairness, improved social mobility, and better integration of minorities. Chess clubs in minority communities are a gateway to community activities for the children and their parents. It is also a stepping stone towards involvement in other kinds of social activities such as sports and voluntary social work.

Chess often serves as a bridge, bringing together children of different ages, races, and genders in an activity they can all enjoy. Chess helps build individual friendships and school spirit when children compete together as teams against other schools. Chess also teaches children about good sportsmanship — how to win graciously and not give up when encountering defeat. For children with adjustment issues, there are many examples where chess has led to increased motivation, improved behavior, better self-image, and improved school attendance. Chess provides a positive social outlet, a wholesome recreational activity that can be easily learned and enjoyed at any age.

There are about 30 million school children that take part in chess in school programs around the world every week. There are 138 countries in the world that has chess in school programs.

India has about 17 million children involved nationwide in chess. Chess is a part of the curriculum in the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

From 1973 to 1974, Dr. Albert Frank, a school director based in Zaire, studied the effects of chess on children who took chess classes for two hours every week. He conducted studies using 92 students, ages 16 to 18. After the lessons, he concluded that those who practiced chess demonstrated improved verbal skills, as well as enhanced mathematical skills and administrative-directional tasks. He found that good teenage chess players had strong spatial, numerical, administrative-directional, and paperwork abilities. His study was published in 1974, Chess and Aptitudes, Doctoral Dissertation.

In 1977, Dr. Adrian De Groot (1914-2006) suggested that there were two types of benefit to young people learning chess. First, there were low-level gains in which pupils improve their concentration, learn to lose, and come to understand that improvement comes with learning. Second, there were high-level gains such as increase in intelligence, creativity, and school performance.

A study in 1977-79 at the Chinese University in Hong Kong by Dr. Yee Wang Fung, demonstrated a significant 15% increase in test scores for mathematics for chess players, compared to students not exposed to chess education.

Chess can bring all kinds of recognition. In 1983, Bob Cotter, a 5th-grade science teacher, took his team of inner-city kids from PS 27 in Indianapolis to the National Elementary School Chess Championship in Memphis. After the team won the championship, the kids were invited to the White House and met President Reagan. An Oscar-nominated documentary titled The Masters of Disaster was also made of their achievement.

In 1986, the Chess-in-the-Schools (CIS) School Program, a non-profit organization, was formed to teach chess in the New York public schools. Over 500,000 students have been impacted the by the program since 1986. During the 2017-2018 school year, there are 47 elementary and middle schools in the School Program. That means 6,000 students will learn to play chess in this program this year.

Chess helps in the ability for people to socialize, either at a chess club, chess tournament, or even on the Internet. Chess enhances your ability to interact with other people. In 1988, Joyce Brown, an assistant principal and supervisor of the Roberto Clemente School's Special Education department in New York, 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."

Children love games. Chess is the kind of game that teaches a child patience and willpower. Children enjoy chess despite the fact that it is good for them. Chess improves children's thinking and problem-solving skills. A 1990-92 study in New Brunswick, Canada by Louise Gaudreau, entitled, Etude Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathematiques 5e Annee (Comparative study on 5th Year Mathematics Education), showed the value of chess for developing problem solving skills among young children. By integrating chess into the traditional mathematics curriculum, teachers were able to raise significantly the average problem-solving scores of their students. These students also scored far higher on problem solving tests than ones who just took the standard mathematics course.

One study, conducted by Philip Rifner, Purdue University, from 1991-1992, aimed to determine whether or not students who practiced general problem-solving skills through playing chess could successfully apply those skills to an unrelated domain, in this case, poetic analysis. The study, Playing chess: A Study of the transfer of problem-solving skills in students with average and above average intelligence, concluded that chess proficiency develops skills which students can indeed apply to other fields. Students were shown to be more adept at poetic analysis as a result of exposure to chess, leading to the conclusion that chess potentially accelerates cognitive development in a multitude of capacities.

In a 1995 study titled Chess in Education Research Summary, Dr. Robert Ferguson established that chess is instrumental in the enhancement of a child's critical thinking and good judgment skills. His subjects, seventh to ninth graders in Pennsylvania, yielded a 17.3% improvement in the results of academic performance, compared with only 4.56% for students participating in other forms of "enrichment activities."

A 1997 study, titled Chess and Standard Test Scores, in Texas showed that elementary students who participated in a school chess club showed twice the improvement of non-chess players in Reading and Mathematics between third and fifth grades on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). The study was conducted in four of the elementary schools in a large suburban school district near Houston, Texas from 1884 to 1997.

In 1998, James Smith and Robert Cage showed that chess was crucial in the improvement of a child's mathematical skills. In their study titled The Effects of Chess Instruction on the Mathematics Achievement of Southern, Rural, Black Secondary Students, they demonstrated that math proficiency test results improved in African-American high school students when they were provided 120 hours of chess instruction. James and Cage attributed the enhanced arithmetical skill of the subjects to the influence of chess on perceptual ability.

In 2000, James Smith and Bob Cage reported the effects of 120 hours of chess instruction on the mathematics achievement among rural, African-American secondary school students in northern Louisiana. They determined that the treatment group composed of 11 females and 10 males scored significantly higher in mathematics achievement and non-verbal cognitive ability than the control group composed of 10 females and 10 males after controlling for differences among pretest scores.

In 2002, Robert Katende began a Ugandan Sports programs in Katwe, the largest of Kampala's slums. The sports program also included chess. In 2006, Phiona Mutesa, age 10, won the Uganda National Junior Chess Championship. She also won in in 2007 and 2008. She played second board for Ugana at the Women's Chess Olympiad in Kany-Mansiysk, Russia. She gained the title of Woman Candidate Master at the 2012 Chess Oympiad in 2012. Disney made a move of her, called Queen of Katwe, which every parent and child should see.

Chess has been shown that, when methodologically taught, it can increase the IQ in elementary age children. A 2003 study by Dr. Murray Thompson at the Flinders University in Australia showed that participants who played chess also demonstrated improved IQ levels. Thompson ascribed this to the concentration and logical thinking a chess game calls for. A similar study was conducted in Venezuela with over 4,000 children. Children who took chess classes for 4.5 months increased their IQ points. This occurred across all socio-economic groups and for both males and females.

In 2005, the Chess for Peace was initiated by the International Educational and Cultural Services, a non-profit organization. The Chess for Peace initiative is designed to promote peace throughout the world by bringing secondary school students from different countries together to learn how to play chess and to establish lasting friendship. On October 29, 2005, former President and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev launched the Chess for Peace program in the U.S

In 2006, Dr. Alexey Root authored Children and Chess: A Guide for Educators. Since then, she has written several other books on the relationship between chess and education. She has written Science, Math, Checkmate: 32 Chess Activities for Inquiry and Problem Solving (2008), Read, Write, Checkmate: Enrich Literacy with Chess Activities (2009), People, Places, Checkmates: Teaching Social Studies with Chess (2010), The Living Chess Game: Fine Arts Activities for Kids 9-14 (2010), Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children Ages 5-14 (2012), and Preparing With Chess Strategy (2016)

In 2007, the University of Aberdeen sponsored a Chess in the Schools and Communities International Conference (CISCCON).

In 2008, the Department of Education invested $120,000 for chess in 100 public schools. Since then, it has expanded to several hundred more schools.

In 2009, Robert Katende launched a chess program in Gulu, Uganda. In 2013, he gained support from the Uganda national chess federation and the World Chess Federation's Social Action Commission. The programs have grown and the lives of many children have been empowered with improved social and life skills using this chess platform. In 2017, a girl's chess team from Gulu won the National Schools Championship. The team was comprised of the girls from the "Smart Girl Chess Program" that Robert Katende started.

In 2010, International Master Malcolm Pein founded the Chess in Schools and Communities to promote chess education for youth in the UK. Chess is taught to underprivileged, often immigrant, children in the United Kingdom.

In 2011, Armenia was the first nation to introduce chess as a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Armenian schools teach chess as a purely academic subject, so the focus is educational, not competitive chess. Children are taught chess two hours a week for two years. But the chess culture spreads far beyond the classroom, with weekly chess magazines and television programs aimed at children. Serzh Sargsyan, the country's president and head of the Armenia's Chess Federation, sees chess not just as an educational benefit but as a means of developing a sense of national identity. "We don't want people to know Armenia just for the earthquake and the genocide. We would rather it was famous for its chess," he has said.

In March 2012, the European Parliament endorsed the 'Chess in European schools' program, a cooperation between the European Chess Union (ECU) and the Kasparov Chess Foundation.

In 2012, Farhad Kazemi and team examined the cognitive effects of chess play. They employed an experimental group composed of 86 randomly selected school-aged students, who received chess instruction for six months, and a control group of 94 randomly selected school-aged students. All participants were male and from 5th, 8th, and 9th grades from schools in Shanandaj in western Iran. All participants were administered a measure of metacognitive ability and a grade-appropriate mathematics exam prior to and after the intervention. The chess group participants registered significantly higher posttest metacognitive ability scores and higher posttest mathematics test scores than the non-chess group participants. A major conclusion of the study is that chess instruction improves significantly the mathematical abilities and the metacognitive capacities of school-aged students.

In 2013, Susan Sallon evaluated the effects an in-school chess intervention on second grade students in England. 201 students participated in a total of 30 hours of chess instruction. Schools in which chess was taught to students at this age were matched, based on student characteristics, with schools that did not offer chess to their students or taught chess in a later grade. Students in both groups completed a math quiz composed of 19 math and reasoning items. The quiz specifically sought to measure student ability in the areas of numeracy spatial awareness, logical deduction, and problem solving. The results of independent tests comparing the mean performance of students in treatment schools to that of students in control schools revealed significant differences on each of the four areas of mathematical ability measured by the quiz. The results were statistically significant. The randomization of schools into the treatment and control groups provided confidence that the higher levels of mathematics achievement observed among treatment group students is attributable to the chess intervention.

In 2013, Roberto Trinchero examined the effects of chess instruction on the mathematical ability of primary school students. His study involved 568 primary school children in Italy placed in four groups: (1) experimental, (2) control, (3) experimental without a pretest, and (4) control without a pretest. The experimental group received chess training in addition to ordinary class lessons. The control group only received ordinary class lessons. One prominent result was that the experimental group that received chess training registered a modest but statistically significant increase in scores on mathematics test items that required problem-solving skills on complex tasks. That effect was greater among students who had more hours of chess instruction.

In 2016-17, the New York Chess-in-the-Schools program surveyed the schools in their program. What they found was that 89% of the teachers reported that practicing chess increased their students' self-esteem. 89% of the teachers reported that chess enriched their students' social skills. Finally, 91% of teachers reported that practicing chess enhanced students' cooperation skills.

America's Foundation for Chess (AF4C) has developed a program called First Move. It is being taught in 26 states at the 2nd and 3rd grade level. It uses chess as a learning tool to teach higher level thinking skills, advanced math and reading skills. It also uses chess to build self-esteem in students.

In Philadelphia, the 7th largest school system in the country, 18 of the 280 public schools have added the AF4C First Move chess program to their curriculum. Additionally, the Philadelphia Eagles NFL football league has made a commitment to chess in the Philadelphia schools as part of its Eagles Youth Partnership After-Schools Activities Partnership (ASAP) program.


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