TEACHER'S GUIDE: RESEARCH AND BENEFITS OF CHESS
By Dr. Robert C. Ferguson
WHAT DO EDUCATORS SAY?
WHAT DO STUDENTS SAY?
WHAT DO PARENTS SAY?
WHY SHOULD YOU PLAY CHESS? WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
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. ,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
A 1989-92 New Brunswick, Canada
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.
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
“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
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
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. ,
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.''
 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).
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.''
Chess is part of the curricula in nearly 30 countries. In Venezuela,
Iceland, Russia and other countries, chess is a subject in all public
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.
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.
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.
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.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education
Terrell Bell encouraged knowledge of chess as a way to develop a
preschooler's intellect and academic readiness.
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...''
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.
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.'' 
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
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. 
The chess program
funded by Oakland (California) Youth at Risk program proves to be an
effective vehicle for saving troubled youth. 
Chess program in the
troubled East Harlem district, New York, also rescues kids from drugs and
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.'' 
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). 
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
Dr. Fred Loveland, superintendent of
the Panama City schools, voiced his opinion: "Chess has taught
Why Chess.htmmy students
more than any other subject.''
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.''
"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 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
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.''
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.''
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.''
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.''
"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
WHAT DO STUDENTS SAY?
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 
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
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
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.''
"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
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.''
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 America. Chess could very
well be one of the missing components for America to regain its place at the
top for educating its young people.
WHY SHOULD YOU PLAY CHESS? WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Chess is a game for people of all ages.
You can learn to play at any age and in chess, unlike in many other sports,
you don't ever have to retire. Age is also not a factor when you're looking
for an opponent --young can play old and old can play young.
Chess develops memory. The chess
theory is complicated and many players memorize different opening
variations. You will also learn to recognize various patterns and remember
Chess improves concentration. During
the game you are focused on only one main goal -- to checkmate and become
Chess develops logical thinking.
Chess requires some understanding of logical strategy. For example, you will
know that it is important to bring your pieces out into the game at the
beginning, to keep your king safe at all times, not to make big weaknesses
in your position and not to blunder your pieces away for free. (Although you
will find yourself doing that occasionally through your chess career.
Mistakes are inevitable and chess, like life, is a never-ending learning
Chess promotes imagination and creativity.
It encourages you to be inventive. There are an indefinite amount of
beautiful combinations yet to be constructed.
Chess teaches independence. You are
forced to make important decisions influenced only by your own judgment.
Chess develops the capability to
predict and foresee consequences of actions. It teaches you to look both
ways before crossing the street.
Chess inspires self-motivation. It
encourages the search of the best move, the best plan, and the most
beautiful continuation out of the endless possibilities. It encourages the
everlasting aim towards progress, always steering to ignite the flame of
Chess shows that success rewards hard work.
The more you practice, the better you'll become. You should be ready to lose
and learn from your mistakes. One of the greatest players ever, Capablanca
said, "You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you
win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player."
Chess and Science. Chess develops the
scientific way of thinking. While playing, you generate numerous variations
in your mind. You explore new ideas, try to predict their outcomes and
interpret surprising revelations. You decide on a hypothesis, and then you
make your move and test it.
Chess and Technology. What do chess
players do during the game? Just like computers they engage in a search for
the better move in a limited amount of time. What are you doing right now?
You are using a computer as a tool for learning.
Chess and Mathematics. You don't have
to be a genius to figure this one out. Chess involves an infinite number of
calculations, anything from counting the number of attackers and defenders
in the event of a simple exchange to calculating lengthy continuations. And
you use your head to calculate, not some little machine.
Chess and Research. There are
millions of chess resources out there for every aspect of the game. You can
even collect your own chess library. In life, is it important to know how to
find, organize and use boundless amounts of information. Chess gives you a
perfect example and opportunity to do just that.
Chess and Art. In the Great Soviet
Encyclopedia chess is defined as "an art appearing in the form of a game."
If you thought you could never be an artist, chess proves you wrong. Chess
enables the artist hiding within you to come out. Your imagination will run
wild with endless possibilities on the 64 squares. You will paint pictures
in your mind of ideal positions and perfect outposts for your soldiers. As a
chess artist you will have an original style and personality.
Chess and Psychology. Chess is a test
of patience, nerves, will power and concentration. It enhances your ability
to interact with other people. It tests your sportsmanship in a competitive
Chess improves schoolwork and grades.
Numerous studies have proven that kids obtain a higher reading level, math
level and a greater learning ability overall as a result of playing chess.
For all those reasons mentioned above and more, chess playing kids do better
at school and therefore have a better chance to succeed in life.
Chess opens up the world for you. You
don't need to be a high ranked player to enter big important competitions.
Even tournaments such as the US Open and the World Open welcome players of
all strengths. Chess provides you with plenty of opportunities to travel not
only all around the country but also around the world. Chess is a universal
language and you can communicate with anyone over the checkered plain.
Chess enables you to meet many interesting
people. You will make life-long friendships with people you meet
Chess is cheap. You don't need big
fancy equipment to play chess. In fact, all you may need is your computer!
(And we really hope you have one of those, or else something fishy is going
on here.) It is also good to have a chess set at home to practice with
family members, to take to a friend's house or even to your local
neighborhood park to get everyone interested in the game.
CHESS IS FUN! Dude, this isn't
just another one of those board games. No chess game ever repeats itself,
which means you create more and more new ideas each game. It never gets
boring. You always have so much to look forward to. Every game you are the
general of an army and you alone decide the destiny of your soldiers. You
can sacrifice them, trade them, pin them, fork them, lose them, defend them,
or order them to break through any barriers and surround the enemy king.
You've got the power!
To summarize everything in three little words: Chess is Everything!
Ferguson, ``Chess in Education Research Summary,'' paper presented at the
Education A Wise Move Conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community
College, January 12-13,1995.
Frank, ``Chess and Aptitudes,'' doctoral dissertation, 1974, Trans. Stanley
Christiaen, ``Chess and Cognitive Development,'' doctoral dissertation,
1976, Trans. Stanley Epstein.
Nurse, ``Chess & Math Add Up,'' Teach, May/June 1995, p. 15, cites Yee Wang
Fung's research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Ferguson, ``Teaching the Fourth R (Reasoning) through Chess,'' School Mates,
1(1), 1983, p. 3.
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.
Ferguson, ``Teaching the Fourth R (Reflective Reasoning) through Chess,''
doctoral dissertation, 1994.
Linder, ``Chess, a Subject Taught at School,'' Sputnik: Digest of the Soviet
Press, June 1990, pp. 164-166.
Tudela, ``Learning to Think Project,'' Commission for Chess in Schools,
1984, Annex pp. 1-2.
Tudela, ``Intelligence and Chess,'' 1984.
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.
Ferguson, ``Tri-State Area School Pilot Project Findings,'' 1986.
Ferguson, ``Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,'' 1988.
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
Margulies, ``The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess
Program Second Year Report,'' 1992.
Chess-in-the-Schools, Web page at
Rifner, ``Playing Chess: A Study of Problem-Solving Skills in Students with
Average and Above Average Intelligence,'' doctoral dissertation, 1992.
Margulies, ``The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores,'' 1996.
Liptrap, ``Chess and Standardized Test Scores,'' Chess Coach Newsletter,
Spring 1999, Volume 11 (1), pp. 5 & 7.
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.
Rabell Mendez, ``Report by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to the United
Nations Organization (UNO),'' June 1988, quotes Dr. Klaus' comments.
Kathleen Vail, ``Check This, Mate: Chess Moves Kids,'' The American School
Board Journal, September 1995, pp. 38-40.
 Yasser Seirawan, ``Scholastic Chess --
Feel the Buzz,'' Inside Chess, February 21, 1994, p. 3.
Langen, ``Putting a Check to Poor Math Results,'' The Reporter, December
Fred Loveland personal communication.
Improves Academic Performance, Christine Palm, 1990.
Personal letter from Dr. Calvin F. Deyermond, Assistant Superintendent for
Curriculum and Instruction for the North Tonawanda City School District.
Personal letter to Allen Kaufman from Principal Cheryl Coles, June 9, 1995.
Chmelynski, ``Chess said to promote school performance and self-esteem,''
School Board News, July 6, 1993, Vol. 13 (12), pp. 7-8.
Artise, ``Chess and Education.''
Jose Mercury News, 4-3-96.
Coudert, ``From Street Kids to Royal Knights,'' Readers Digest, June 1989.
``Editorial: Chess gives hope for our youth,'' The Saratogian, March 12,
Tajarobi, e-mail from December, 1996.
J. Rozsa, Birmingham, Alabama, Newsgroup e-mail.
Geithmann, ``Strobeck, Home of Chess,'' The National Geographic Magazine,
May 1931, pp. 637-652.
``Check Mates,'' Fairfield County Advocate, Mar. 20, 1989.
Bell, Your Child's Intellect, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982,
Chess'n Math Association, Canada's National Scholastic Chess Organization,
1681 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ont. M4G 3C1 (web page at
Edelman, ``New Jersey Legislature Passes Chess Bill into Law,'' Chess Coach
Newsletter, Spring 1993, Vol. 6 (1), pp. 1 & 3.
 Math and Chess Puzzle Centre, 3550 West 32 nd Avenue,
Vancouver, BC V6S 1Z2 (Web page at
Alexander Taylor, ``Chessmen Come to Life in Marostica,'' The National
Geographic Magazine, November 1956, pp. 658-668.
Bell, Your Child's Intellect, 1982, pp. 178-179.
Scholar-Chessplayer Outstanding Achievement Award Applications.
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