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Chess Research

Over the last 35 years there has been significant  research conducted into the benefits of Chess.

Table of Contents

Anecdotal Materials
What do Educators Say?
What do Parents Say?
What do Students Say?



In a 1973-74 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. [1], [2], [7]

In a 1974-1976 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, clear-cut and playful subject matter can have a positive effect on motivation and school achievement generally...'' [1], [3], [7] 

In a 1977-1979 study at the Chinese University in Hong Kong by Dr. Yee Wang Fung, chess players showed a 15% improvement in math and science test scores. [4]

A four-year study (1979-1983) in Pennsylvania found that the chess-playing experimental group consistently outperformed 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. [1], [4], [5], [6], [7], [23]

The 1979-1983 Venezuela "Learning to Think Project,'" which trained 100,000 teachers to teach thinking skills and involved a sample of 4,266 second grade students, reached a general conclusion that chess, methodologically taught, is an incentive system sufficient to accelerate the increase of IQ in elementary age children of both sexes at all socio-economic levels. [1], [7], [8], [9], [10]

During his governor's teacher grant from the New Jersey State Department of Education, William Levy found that chess consistently (1980-1987) promoted self-esteem after a year of exposure. Many students' self-images improved dramatically. [7], [11]

According to a two-year study conducted in Kishinev under the supervision of N.F. Talisina, grades for young students taking part in the chess experiment increased in all subjects. Teachers noted improvement in memory, better organizational skills, and for many increased fantasy and imagination (Education Ministry of the Moldavian Republic, 1985). [1], [7]

In his 1986 pilot study, Dr. Ferguson found that it is possible to enhance achievement by focusing on individuals' modality strengths, creating an individualized thinking plan, analyzing and reflecting upon one's own problem solving processes, sharing his/her thinking system with peers, and modifying the system to integrate other modalities. [1], [7], [12]

During the 1987-88 "Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,'' all students in a rural Pennsylvania sixth grade self-contained classroom were required to participate in chess lessons and play games. None of the pupils had previously played chess. The pupils significantly improved in both memory and verbal reasoning. The effect of the magnitude of the results is strong (eta 2 is .715 for the Memory test gain compared to the Norm). These results suggest that transfer of the skills fostered through the chess curriculum did occur. [1], [7], [13]

A 1989-92 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. [14]

A 1990-92 study using a sub-set of the New York City Schools Chess Program produced statistically significant results concluding that chess participation enhances reading performance. [15], [16], [23]

Playing Chess: A Study of Problem-Solving Skills in Students with Average and Above Average Intelligence'' a study by Philip Rifner, was conducted during the 1991-1992 school term. The study sought to determine whether middle school students who learned general problem solving skills in one domain could apply them in a different domain. Data indicated that inter-domain transfer can be achieved if teaching for transfer is an instructional goal. [17]

During the 1995-1996 school year, two classrooms were selected in each of five schools. Students (N = 112) were given instruction in chess and reasoning in one classroom in each school. Pupils in the chess program obtained significantly higher reading scores at the end of the year. It should be noted that while students in the chess group took chess lessons, the control group (N = 127) had additional classroom instruction in basic education. The control group teacher was free to use the "chess period'' any way he/she wanted, but the period was usually used for reading, math or social studies instruction. The control groups thus had more reading instruction than the chess groups. Even so, the chess groups did better on the reading post-test; therefore, the gains in the chess groups were particularly impressive. [18]

In a 1994-97 Texas study, regular (non-honors) 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. [19], [20]

Researchers and educators have questioned what causes this growth. The Venezuelan study claimed: ``Chess develops a new form of thinking, and this exercise is what contributes to increase the intelligence quotient.'' [10] More recent researchers speculate that it is the growth of new synaptic connections. Chess promotes the growth of dendrites!

Why does chess have this impact?

Briefly, there appear to be at least seven significant factors:

1) Chess accommodates all modality strengths.

2) Chess provides a far greater quantity of problems for practice.

3) Chess offers immediate punishments and rewards for problem solving.

4) Chess creates a pattern or thinking system that, when used faithfully, breeds success. The chess playing students had become accustomed to looking for more and different alternatives, which resulted in higher scores in fluency and originality.

5) Competition. Competition fosters interest, promotes mental alertness, challenges all students, and elicits the highest levels of achievement (Stephan, 1988).

6) A learning environment organized around games has a positive affect on students' attitudes toward learning. This affective dimension acts as a facilitator of cognitive achievement

(Allen & Main, 1976). [21]

Instructional gaming is one of the most motivational tools in the good teacher's repertoire. Children love games. Chess motivates them to become willing problem solvers and spend hours quietly immersed in logical thinking. These same young people often cannot sit still for fifteen minutes in the traditional classroom.

7) Chess supplies a variety and quality of problems. As Langen (1992) states: ``The problems that arise in the 70-90 positions of the average chess game are, moreover, new. Contexts are familiar, themes repeat, but game positions never do. This makes chess good grist for the problem-solving mill.''

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Chess is part of the curricula in nearly 30 countries. In Venezuela, Iceland, Russia and other countries, chess is a subject in all public schools. [8]

In Vancouver, BC, 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. [42]

In Harriet Geithmann's article "Strobeck, Home of Chess",The National Geographic Magazine, May 1931, pp. 637-652, we find that this medieval village in the Harz Mountains of Germany has taught the royal game in its public schools for years. Chess began in Strobeck in 1011. [37]

In "Chessmen Come to Life in Marostica,'' The National Geographic Magazine, November 1956, by Alexander Taylor, pp. 658-668, we see an Italian town reviving a romantic legend of the Middle Ages, in which suitors played chess for the hand of a lady fair. [43]

The mathematics curriculum in New Brunswick, Canada is a text series called Challenging Mathematics, which uses chess to teach logic and problem solving 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 highest math grades in Canada, and Canada scores better than the USA on international mathematics exams. [19], [20], [40]

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell Bell encouraged knowledge of chess as a way to develop a preschooler's intellect and academic readiness. [39]

The State of New Jersey passed a bill legitimizing chess as a unit of instruction within the elementary school curriculum. On December 17, 1992, New Jersey Governor Jim Florio signed into law a bill to establish chess instruction in public schools. 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...'' [41]

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 Senate that way, but the phrase was deleted later in Conference Committee. [19]

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Anecdotal Materials

Several articles discuss chess as a tool to assist children of all levels.

Dr. Stefurak, a cognitive neuropsychologist, stated that "chess instruction informs the mind and the emotions in such a way as to structure an emergent mental circuit where motivation and ability multiply to produce achievement in chess and school and life.'' [23]

In December 1996, Arman Tajarobi wrote: "For the past three years, I've been a witness to an experiment held in 24 elementary schools in my town: The school board allowed these schools to replace an hour of math classes by a chess course each week for half of their students. For three consecutive years, the groups who received the chess formation have had better results in math than those who did not. This year (the fourth year), the school board has allowed any school that wants to provide its students with a chess formation to do so.'' [35]

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. "Chess and Education,'' John Artise. [31]

The chess program funded by Oakland (California) Youth at Risk program proves to be an effective vehicle for saving troubled youth. [32]

Chess program in the troubled East Harlem district, New York, also rescues kids from drugs and gangs. [33]

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.'' [34]

In his book "Your Child's Intellect,'' former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell Bell encourages some knowledge of chess as a way to develop a preschooler's intellect and academic readiness (Bell, 1982, pp. 178-179). [44]

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What do Educators say?

"Not only have the reading and math skills of these children soared, their ability to socialize has increased substantially, too. Our studies have shown the incidents of suspension and outside altercations have decreased by at least 60 percent since these children became interested in chess.''

-- Assistant Principal Joyce Brown at the Roberto Clemente School in New York, 1988 [25]

Dr. Fred Loveland, superintendent of the Panama City schools, voiced his opinion: "Chess has taught my students more than any other subject.'' [26]

The article "Chess Improves Academic Performance'' from the NY School Chess Program 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.'' [27]

"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.'' [27]

"I see them (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.'' -- Jo Bruno, Principal, P.S. 189 [27]

Dr. Calvin F. Deyermond, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the North Tonawanda City School District, wrote: "Chess develops intellectual, esthetic, sporting, decision making, concentration, and perseverance skills. We have seen the effects of this wonderful game in our classroom and as an extracurricular activity. Not only is it mentally challenging but it attracts not only gifted pupils but also students at all levels of learning. Many students who have been experiencing problems, particularly in mathematics and reading, sometimes demonstrate remarkable progress after learning chess.'' [28]

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, and then putting the whole thing back together. The process involves recall, analysis, judgment and abstract reasoning.'' [38]

Public School 68 in the Bronx noted standardized scores increased 11.2% in reading and 18.6% in math during the 1994-95 school year. Principal Cheryl Coles wrote: "As encouraging as our scores are, the benefits of our Chess Education Program far exceeded anything that these scores could ever hope to indicate. There were significant outgrowths in varying degrees in all curriculum areas. Such as: increased enthusiasm for learning, increase in general fund of knowledge, increase in pupil attendance, increase in self-confidence, increase in parent involvement, etc.'' [29]

Beulah McMeans, a guidance counselor at Morningside Elementary School in Prince George's County, MD, uses chess "to help raise the self-esteem and higher order thinking skills for young students, particularly those at risk." [30]

"Intuitively, I feel what the kids learn from chess carries over to their everyday lives. The change shows up in their improved critical thinking and problem solving. It gets kids to think for themselves.'' -- Fred Nagler, Principal, P.S. 123 [27]

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What Do Students Say?

"Chess has significantly increased my logical and mathematical skills. In fact, because of the effect of chess, I am going to major in mathematics and computer science in college, both of which utilize the aforementioned skills.'' Matthew Puckett [45]

"The skills chess offers to those who play it are gold mines. It teaches the faithful players how to approach life. It teaches people that are having dilemmas that here is more than one answer to a problem. While your adversary is looking at the issue through a single point, you as the great chess player that you are, can take a step back and look at the picture through many points.'' Sultan Yusufzai [45]

"Because of chess, I feel that my life has been enriched both mentally and socially. I have improved my critical thinking skills in everyday life through chess.'' Brandon Ashe [45]

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What do Parents Say?

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 ... 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.'' [36], [38]

"Chess is one of the most meaningful things I've ever seen enter this school system.'' Dee Estelle Alpert

"I want to see chess introduced into the curriculum, right alongside math, music, and art.'' Oscar Shapiro [27]

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At the 40th World Chess Congress in 1969, Dr. Hans Klaus, Dean of the School of Philosophy at Humboldt University in Berlin, commented upon the chess studies completed in Germany: "Chess helps any human being to elaborate exact methods of thinking. It would be particularly useful to start playing chess from the early school days ... Everybody prefers to learn something while playing rather than to learn it formally…it produces in our children an improvement in their school achievements. Those children who received systematic instructions in chess improved their school efficiency in different subjects, in contrast with those who did not receive that kind of instruction.'' [22]

Because of the overwhelming research demonstrating the benefits of chess and because of the brain research theorizing the growth of dendrites, chess should be integrated into the school curriculum at the primary level.

Chess is a new way of solving the old problem of poor education. From the streets of Harlem to Venezuela's public schools the sport of kings has been implemented as an effective tool for teaching students to utilize their higher order thinking skills and to strive to overcome personal problems to reach their full potential. In light of these facts it is not unreasonable to imagine chess as a broader part of schools in New Zealand. Chess could very well be one of the missing components for New Zealand to gain a place at the top for educating its young people.

You can find a good library of research on Chess in schools here.

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[1] Robert Ferguson, ``Chess in Education Research Summary,'' paper presented at the Chess in Education A Wise Move Conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, January 12-13,1995.

[2] Albert Frank, ``Chess and Aptitudes,'' doctoral dissertation, 1974, Trans. Stanley Epstein.

[3] Johan Christiaen, ``Chess and Cognitive Development,'' doctoral dissertation, 1976, Trans. Stanley Epstein.

[4] Donna Nurse, ``Chess & Math Add Up,'' Teach, May/June 1995, p. 15, cites Yee Wang Fung's research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

[5] Robert Ferguson, ``Teaching the Fourth R (Reasoning) through Chess,'' School Mates, 1(1), 1983, p. 3.

[6] Robert Ferguson, ``Developing Critical and Creative Thinking through Chess,'' report on ESEA Title IV-C project presented at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 11-12, 1986.

[7] Robert Ferguson, ``Teaching the Fourth R (Reflective Reasoning) through Chess,'' doctoral dissertation, 1994.

[8] Isaac Linder, ``Chess, a Subject Taught at School,'' Sputnik: Digest of the Soviet Press, June 1990, pp. 164-166.

[9] Rafael Tudela, ``Learning to Think Project,'' Commission for Chess in Schools, 1984, Annex pp. 1-2.

[10] Rafael Tudela, ``Intelligence and Chess,'' 1984.

[11] William Levy, ``Utilizing Chess to Promote Self-Esteem in Perceptually Impaired Students,'' a governor's teacher grant program through the New Jersey State Department of Education, 1987.

[12] Robert Ferguson, ``Tri-State Area School Pilot Project Findings,'' 1986.

[13] Robert Ferguson, ``Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,'' 1988.

[14] Louise Gaudreau, ``tude Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathématiques 5e Année,'' a study comparing the Challenging Mathematics curriculum to traditional math, 1992. (The authors are Michel and Robert Lyons. The ISBN is 2-89114-472-4. This collection has been sold to La Chenelière & McGraw Hill in Montreal. You can reach them at (514) 273-7422. Ask for Michael Soltis.)

[15] Stuart Margulies, ``The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess Program Second Year Report,'' 1992.

[16] Chess-in-the-Schools, Web page at www.symbolic.com/chess/chsgym.htm.

[17] Philip Rifner, ``Playing Chess: A Study of Problem-Solving Skills in Students with Average and Above Average Intelligence,'' doctoral dissertation, 1992.

[18] Stuart Margulies, ``The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores,'' 1996.

[20] James Liptrap, ``Chess and Standardized Test Scores,'' Chess Coach Newsletter, Spring 1999, Volume 11 (1), pp. 5 & 7.

[21] L.E. Allen & D.B. Main, ``Effect of Instructional Gaming on Absenteeism: the First Step,'' The Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 1976, 7 (2), p. 114.

[22] Naciso Rabell Mendez, ``Report by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to the United Nations Organization (UNO),'' June 1988, quotes Dr. Klaus' comments.

[23] Kathleen Vail, ``Check This, Mate: Chess Moves Kids,'' The American School Board Journal, September 1995, pp. 38-40.

[24] Yasser Seirawan, ``Scholastic Chess -- Feel the Buzz,'' Inside Chess, February 21, 1994, p. 3.

[25] Roger Langen, ``Putting a Check to Poor Math Results,'' The Reporter, December 1992.

[26] Dr. Fred Loveland personal communication.

[27] Chess Improves Academic Performance, Christine Palm, 1990.

[28] Personal letter from Dr. Calvin F. Deyermond, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the North Tonawanda City School District.

[29] Personal letter to Allen Kaufman from Principal Cheryl Coles, June 9, 1995.

[30] Carol Chmelynski, ``Chess said to promote school performance and self-esteem,'' School Board News, July 6, 1993, Vol. 13 (12), pp. 7-8.

[31] John Artise, ``Chess and Education.''

[32] San Jose Mercury News, 4-3-96.

[33] Jo Coudert, ``From Street Kids to Royal Knights,'' Readers Digest, June 1989.

[34] ``Editorial: Chess gives hope for our youth,'' The Saratogian, March 12, 1991.

[35] Arman Tajarobi, e-mail from December, 1996.

[36] Andrew J. Rozsa, Birmingham, Alabama, Newsgroup e-mail.

[37] Harriet Geithmann, ``Strobeck, Home of Chess,'' The National Geographic Magazine, May 1931, pp. 637-652.

[38] ``Check Mates,'' Fairfield County Advocate, Mar. 20, 1989.

[39] Terrell Bell, Your Child's Intellect, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982, pp.178-179.

[40] Chess'n Math Association, Canada's National Scholastic Chess Organization, 1681 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ont. M4G 3C1 (web page at www.chess-math.org/)

[41] Dan Edelman, ``New Jersey Legislature Passes Chess Bill into Law,'' Chess Coach Newsletter, Spring 1993, Vol. 6 (1), pp. 1 & 3.

[42] Math and Chess Puzzle Centre, 3550 West 32 nd Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6S 1Z2 (Web page at www3.bc.sympatico.ca/mathchess/)
[43] Alexander Taylor, ``Chessmen Come to Life in Marostica,'' The National Geographic Magazine, November 1956, pp. 658-668.

[44] Terrell Bell, Your Child's Intellect, 1982, pp. 178-179.

[45] Scholar-Chessplayer Outstanding Achievement Award Applications.

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