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Chess Edumacation

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It has become commonplace to hear references to how playing chess improves kids' performance in school, helps them concentrate better, and does just about everything this side of eliminating cavities. Data to back this up is important when it comes to things like getting funding for chess clubs or adding chess to the curriculum. Groups like America's Foundation for Chess and Chess-in-the-Schools know that school districts prefer thick piles of charts and test scores (that they will likely never read) to mountains of anecdotal evidence from teachers, parents, and students. (I speak as a former teacher and the son of a teacher. School systems are just like any other bureaucracy.)

This recent Press-Enterprise story is a typical one, although it actually mentions two studies instead of just acting like it is an intuitive step to say that playing chess improves student performance in other areas. That site requires a rather onerous registration process, so an excerpt:

"The connection between chess and math, reading and critical-thinking skills is well-documented. In the 1980s, researchers studying chess in Pennsylvania schools during a five-year period showed that critical thinking skills improved by 17 percent for students in chess classes, compared with a 5 percent improvement for students in other classes.

Similarly, a study in 1996 by educational psychologist Stuart Margulies showed a marked improvement in reading skills for students learning chess in New York schools."

The Margulies study is mentioned in more detail here. An interesting summary of that and many other findings regarding chess and thinking is here. The evidence is strong that regular chess play improves cognition in various ways, likely differing from child to child. One problem with several of the studies, at least at first glance, is that old bugbear correlation vs causation. Kids who take to mind games like chess seem likely to have greater aptitudes for other mental disciplines, including test-taking, problem solving, reading, etc. Even if selection is random, kids who stay with a school chess program are likely to be ahead of those who drop out of one.

Of course it's not a coincidence that many of these experiments were created and conducted by chessplayers, who would have at least a mild interest in putting a positive spin on the game. Someone with no knowledge of chess is unlikely to come up with the idea. (Margulies was co-author of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.)

But when the rate of improvement increases with the introduction of chess into group, you've got something, and this happens consistently with high correlation. And I'll take the word of teachers, parents, and kids over statistics any day. Hundreds have testified to the many positive effects on individuals and groups.


I am interested in using chess as a tool in high school math in an inner city school. Most of the experience (the anecdotal evidence) applies to elementary school age children. Any ideas for high school?

Hello Marc. Not a good place to ask a question because few make it back here to the archives! You should post to the message boards and you are sure to get many responses (follow the link from the main page).

Meanwhile, a few places to start. The US Chess Federation has links to many resources here:

http://www.uschess.org/scholastic/ and a good primer document about scholastic chess here:


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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 28, 2004 4:16 AM.

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