The Axon Chess Academy in SussexTransforming lives through chess, one move at a time
Ten factors as to why chess is good for the mind and body
1. It can raise your IQ
Chess has always had an image problem, being seen as a game for people with already high IQs. So there has been a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: do smart people gravitate towards chess, or does playing chess make them smart? Many studies have shown that moving those knights and rooks around can in fact raise a person’s intelligence quotient. A study of 4,000 Venezuelan students produced significant rises in the IQ scores of both boys and girls after 4 months of chess instruction.
2. It helps prevent Alzheimer’s
We all know that games can be fun and challenging, but if we are interested in actually maintaining brain fitness, then mind sports stimulate all six cognitive areas of the brain at the same time and are the most beneficial. The emergence of mind sports as a tool to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s is based on using and exercising all six cognitive areas of the brain and continuing the program over a period of time. Chess touches every one of those areas.
3. It exercises both sides of the brain
The right and left sides of the brain focus on different skills which, when combined, enable individuals to be rational and spontaneous, analytical and creative. As with physical exercise, working on both sides of the brain enables them to sharpen and coordinate.
In a German study, researchers showed chess experts and novices simple geometric shapes and chess positions and measured the subjects’ reactions in identifying them. They expected to find the experts’ left brains being much more active, but they did not expect the right hemisphere of the brain to do so as well. Their reaction times to the simple shapes were the same, but the experts were using both sides of their brains to more quickly respond to the chess position question.
4. It increases your creativity
Since the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for creativity, it should come as no surprise that activating the right side of your brain helps develop your creative side. Specifically, chess greatly increases originality. One four-year American study had students from grades 7 to 9 play chess, use computers, or do other activities once a week for 32 weeks to see which activity fostered the most growth in creative thinking. The chess group scored higher in all measures of creativity, with originality being their biggest area of gain.
5. It improves your memory
Chess players know that playing chess improves your memory. Being a good player means remembering how your opponent has operated in the past and recalling moves that have helped you win before. But there’s hard evidence also. In a two-year study in 1985, young students who were given regular opportunities to play chess improved their grades in all subjects, and their teachers noticed better memory and better organisational skills in the children. A similar study of American sixth-graders found similar results. Students who had never before played chess improved their memories and verbal skills after playing.
6. It increases problem-solving skills
A chess match is like one big puzzle that needs solving, and solving on the fly, because your opponent is constantly changing the parameters. Nearly 450 fifth-grade students were split into three groups in a 1992 study in New Brunswick in America. Group A was the control group and went through the traditional maths curriculum. Group B supplemented the mathematics with chess instruction after first grade, and Group C began the chess in first grade. On a standardised test, Group C’s grades went up to 81.2% from 62% and outpaced Group A by 21.46%.
7. It improves reading skills
In an often cited 1991 study, Dr. Stuart Margulies studied the reading performance of 53 elementary school students who participated in a chess program and evaluated them compared to non-chess-playing students in the district and around the country. He found definitive results that playing chess caused increased performance in reading. In a district where the average students tested below the national average, kids from the district who played the game tested above it.
8. It improves concentration
Chess masters might come off like scattered nutty professors, but the truth is their antics during games are usually the result of intense concentration that the game demands and improves in its players. Looking away or thinking about something else for even a moment can result in the loss of a match, as an opponent is not required to tell you how he moved if you didn’t pay attention. Numerous studies of students in the U.S., Russia, China, and elsewhere have proven time and again that young people’s ability to focus sharpened with chess.
9. It grows dendrites
Dendrites are the tree-like branches that conduct signals from other neural cells into the neurons they are attached to. Think of them like antennas picking up signals from other brain cells. The more antennas you have and the bigger they are, the more signals you’ll pick up. Learning a new skill like chess-playing causes dendrites to grow. But that growth doesn’t stop once you’ve learned the game; interaction with people in challenging activities also fuels dendrite growth, and chess is a perfect example.
10. It teaches planning and foresight
Having teenagers play chess might just save their lives. It goes like this: one of the last parts of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control. So adolescents are scientifically immature until this part develops. Strategy games like chess can promote prefrontal cortex development and help them make better decisions in all areas of life, perhaps keeping them from making stupid, risky choices.