Chess can serve as an extremely powerful education tool. It instills key lessons that aren’t directly taught in the classroom. Through my own chess upbringing beginning when I was five years old, and later through passing on knowledge to the next generation, I’ve identified the top five skills that chess teaches children.
These can be universally applied to a wide variety of fields — they will help your kids get a head start in any discipline they decide to later pursue.
There is a misconception that chess players double as math geniuses. A chess player won’t necessarily be able to calculate triple integrals. However, chess does instill the broader prowess to compute logically. It is closer to the logical sequences encountered in Boolean or predicate logic.
A player has to work within the parameters constraining chess — i.e. the rules dictating the manner in which the pieces are permitted to move and their initial placement. As a player progresses in strength, so does the complexity in the logical statements that still hold as true, for example: the relative values of pieces and pawns, and which pawn structures are superior. The ultimate logic training arises in forced tactical sequences such as mate in three.
2. Attention to Detail
Another misconception is that chess players have to see at least 10 moves ahead at any given time. In fact, you only need to see a few moves ahead.
The key is exercising precise judgment to evaluate the end of each variation. At each juncture during a game, the players have to consider possible replies, threats, and counter-threats. The process of always being on the lookout for opportunities and pitfalls extends to scrupulous attention to detail off the board.
Chess reinforces discipline on and off the board. A child learning chess for the first time may gain a few quick wins with the fool’s mate. Over time, he or she will realize that the trick doesn’t work against experienced players. Instead, chess requires a lot of patience to win.
All children learn the importance of developing the pieces before rushing into an attack. At the top levels, you see grandmasters maneuvering endlessly to “grind down” their opponents in endgames. Games in serious tournaments allot about three total hours to each side, which means a game has the potential to last six hours or even longer if the clock has a delay or increment feature.
As a child becomes more competitive, the games will be played on a slower time control. From a young age, chess players are conditioned to build stamina for prolonged thought. This is a priceless skill that later translates into stamina for taking standardized tests or drawn-out school examinations.
4. Explaining Difficult Concepts
A major part of the game is analyzing with other players. Thus, children who are exposed to chess early on also pick up its language. Kibitzing moves (e.g. “why not Bxf6?” “No, no, your rook is hanging.”) is second-nature to players, but sounds like a foreign tongue to outside observers.
Chess is also one of the few games in which children can go head-to-head with adults twice their size and quintuple their age. Conversing with adults about chess on the same level instills sophistication and maturity in kids.
Chess is often portrayed as an isolationist game. It may be true during the game itself, but it is not at all the case during the learning process. The corollary to conversing about chess is that it builds collaboration and respect.
When children learn chess in a group setting, they can analyze their games together and yell out sudden ideas in blitz games for hours. It is also rare for players to learn new ideas completely on their own. Weaknesses are best assessed with input from a coach or training partner
Since an argument in chess can be readily assessed as working or not, children are taught to back up their suggestions with concrete evidence. This is a useful skill that contributes to productive discussions.
Finally, the competitive tournament circuit can foster deep friendship among players. You encounter the same players, and learn their playing styles. They can become your essential support system during tournaments.
Not only has chess instilled in me these five important skills, but it’s also given me lifelong friends.
Chess is an engaging method of introducing these essential cognitive and practical skills. And all you need to start are a board and pieces!
Other countries (such as Armenia) already mandate chess as part of the school curriculum.
If you have the opportunity, enroll your child in after-school classes, a chess camp, or try out a few online tutorials to gauge his or her interest.