Benefits of Chess for Youth

By Randy Kaech

Northwest Wash. Scholastic Chess††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

Below are summaries of some studies, facts and stories Iíve (RK) collected over the years regarding the positive effects of chess among youth, both mentally and socially. The full articles are available upon request.


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)

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 trained 100,000 teachers to teach thinking skills, and 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 sexesí 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)