Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


chess-shutterstock

(PHOTO: MIMOHE/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Why Chess Should Be Required in U.S. Schools

• April 15, 2013 • 6:00 AM

(PHOTO: MIMOHE/SHUTTERSTOCK)

It’s a game that motivates us to win, but also teaches us how to deal with defeat.

Rook to B8. Checkmate.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of defeating a worthy opponent in a game of chess: the ultimate battle of the wits. Of course, it’s not a feeling I have very often, since I’m not very good at chess. On the other hand, my father is officially an “expert” and my friend is a “master.” In other words, they are both very, very good. To give an idea of how good, if I was to play 100 games with each of them, I would win precisely zero.

Worldwide, chess is still a popular game, but it is treated with particular seriousness in Eastern Europe. For instance, the Bulgarian National Olympic Committee has been lobbying for chess to be recognized as an Olympic sport, as has Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Russian president of the World Chess Federation. In September 2011, Armenia made chess a required subject for all children over the age of six. (In the DW-TV news clip below, the children are in 2nd grade.)

Indeed, the Armenians may be on to something. One recent psychology study found that chess was associated with greater “cognitive abilities, coping and problem-solving capacity, and even socioaffective development of children.” Of course, because it was a cohort (observational) study, the link could be due to some third factor or the possibility that smart, mature children are more inclined to play chess in the first place.

In the above video, the math/chess teacher says, “Chess trains logical thinking. It teaches how to make decisions, trains memory, strengthens will power, motivates children to win, and teaches them how to deal with defeat. It’s the only school subject that can do all of this.”

That is a very interesting insight. Not only does chess help train the brain, but it also teaches children basic life skills. In our culture, we hand out trophies to winners and losers—or neglect to keep score at all—out of some misguided, politically-correct notion that we should never hurt anyone’s feelings. But, in Armenia, schools are teaching children reality: Sometimes you lose. That’s an important lesson, and it should be taught at a young age.

What makes chess so fascinating is that no two games will ever play out the same. Checkers—really a game for intellectual wimps (like me)—has 500 billion billion possible positions, and, in 2007, researchers reported that a computer has solved the game. (If neither side makes a mistake, the outcome is always a draw.) But chess is far more complicated than checkers. It is unlikely that a computer will ever “solve” the game.

Americans are concerned that our children aren’t receiving a solid K-12 education. Perhaps chess should be introduced into the curriculum as a fun way to teach logic and memory?

In fact, I should get back to practicing the game. Knowing that there are seven-year-old Armenians that could run me off the chessboard without breaking a sweat is a tad humiliating.


This post originally appeared on RealClearScience, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Alex Berezow
Dr. Alex B. Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience and co-host of the RealClearScience podcast. He is also the co-author of Science Left Behind. His articles have appeared in CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and The Economist, among other publications.

More From Alex Berezow

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.