Chess has been growing in its popularity all around the world. The chess grandmaster, Bobby Fischer popularized the game in America in the 1950s and 1960s. It is widely played by the elderly, the youth, and by children all around the world. It has been proven by numerous studies that playing chess improves a variety of cognitive skills, boosts brain power, and transforms the brain to encourage better decision making.
Results from the 2012 YouGov polling study which was sanctioned by a World Chess Federation, show that about 605 million people play chess all around the world. Due to the influence of Viswanathan Anand, the former world chess champion, 85 million people are known to be active chess players in India. 15% of the US, 43% of Russia, and 23% of the German population are composed of active chess players. According to statistics, about 1.2 billion people actively followed the 2014 world chess championship.
Dating back to several thousand years, Chess has always been associated with the intelligent, even since the time it entered the scene of the Indian brain game about 1,500 years ago. World chess champions such as Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen both reportedly have an IQ of 190. Judit Polgar, the female champion, who became a grandmaster at the age of 15, is said to have an IQ of 170. Some television personalities of note who are also known for their intelligence and chess prowess include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, and Ben Affleck.
Dostoevsky, Napoleon, Pascal, all notable historical figures, knew the benefits of the chess game. It exercises critical parts of the brain, and could be said to be associated with the many notable accomplishments of these people, that earned them their place in history.
The various benefits of chess in exercising the brain and increasing brain power cannot be overemphasized. Alongside building your biceps and toning your abs as you sit over the chess board, below are some of the lifelong mental benefits that come from playing chess.
How playing chess can make you smarter
- Chess can raise your IQ: there is a common misconception that people who play chess are natural born “brainiacs” who already have an inherent intelligence and possess already high IQs. So the question is whether smart people play chess or whether chess makes players smart. A study has actually proven that playing chess raises the IQ. 4,000 Venezuelan students, comprising of both boys and girls, showed significant increases in their IQ after going through four months of chess study instructions.
- Promotes brain growth: activities that challenge the brain and foster reasoning, such as playing chess, stimulates the growth of dendrites, which are tree-like branches that send out signals from the brain’s neuron cells. This causes neural communication within the brain to improve and become faster.
- Increases mathematical and problem solving skills: math involves pattern recognition, logic, and the ability to mentally handle numerous variables. These parameters are all what the chess game is about. Chess games comprise of constantly changing parameters as you and your opponent try to outthink each other. A study conducted in 1992, which involved 450 fifth grade students from New Brunswick, showed that students who supplemented their math classes with chess instruction performed significantly better on a standardized test than those who followed a strict math curriculum without getting any chess instructions.
- Improves critical thinking and teaches logic and efficiency: Robert Ferguson performed a study which reported that pupils who start to play chess in the 7th to the 9th grade showed an improvement of 17% in their results. He stated that the improvements were as a result of the critical thinking and good judgment skills which they picked from playing chess, as compared with their peers who did not play chess. Playing chess teaches logic and has to do with handling a lot of constraints prevalent on the board and with the chess pieces. Playing teaches efficiency as you try to outthink your opponent who has the same goal of winning the game. It fosters the mental evaluation of the problem at hand and the use of simple solutions to solve apparently complex problems.
- Improves emotional intelligence: chess is often thought of as a game of cold calculation. However, the opposite appears to be the case. Chess game consists of two players, and is shown to improve psycho-social skills an emotional intelligence according to findings by Freedom Chess Academy’s Dr. Rose Marie Stutts. Playing chess wells up a lot of emotions in the player as he wins, looses, or as he tries to stay alive over the board.
- Exercises both sides of the brain: studies have shown that the left and right hemispheres of the brain become active during chess play. A German study showed that both hemispheres of the brain became highly active as players were asked to identify geometric shapes and chess positions.
- Encourages creativity: chess sparks originality as it activates the right side of the brain, which is known to be responsible for creativity. A four year study involving students in the 7th to 9th grades, had a group play chess, another group to use computers, and the last group to engage in other activities, once a week for a period of 32 weeks so as to show which of the activities would foster mental growth and creative thinking the most. The group that played chess scored higher in all measures of creativity and showed originality as their biggest area of improvement.
- Fosters memory improvement: playing chess improves retentive memory as it comprises of complex rules and patterns. Players also need to remember their previous positions to prevent falling into loop holes and they also need to take note of previous mistakes so as to not repeat them.
- It helps to prevent Alzheimer’s: just as the muscles of the body require exercise to stay strong and healthy, the brain also needs exercise to stay healthy and ward off laxity. Findings by the New England Journal of Medicine show that people who are above the age of 75 and engage in brain exercising activities such as playing chess are far less likely to develop dementia.