The Chess It is possibly one of the oldest, best known and most popular board games out there. It is a so-called rational board game, that is, those in which chance does not influence the development of the game, and the result only depends on the ability and ability of the players to decide how to move the pieces around the board. . For this reason, chess is a demanding activity from a cognitive point of view.
It is a game that requires concentration, working memory and fluent intelligence (adapt and face new situations in an agile way, without prior knowledge or learning being a determining factor). After all, it is impossible to memorize the thousands of distributions that can be made in chess, and it is estimated that, for a play in the middle of the game, there are about 30 possibilities for a single move. This implies that the ability to foresee plays, develop strategies and critical thinking they are also important skills when it comes to playing.
Due to this requirement that chess presents, two types of statements are usually made that are in some way antagonistic:
- On the one hand, it is stated that chess develops memory, concentration, critical thinking and problem solving; improves the educational performance of children and adolescents (especially in mathematics), and that, ultimately, playing chess makes us smarter.
- On the other hand, chess is reputed to be a complex game, in which only those with many innate abilities are capable of playing at a high level, and therefore it is a game only suitable for a group of especially intelligent people.
What is true then in all this?
Let's start with the first statement. We have said that chess is a game that requires a certain mental effort and certain cognitive abilities. The implicit assumption made in this case, as in so many others, is that the skills that are developed to be able to play chess are transferred to other fields (math, reading ability) or that improve more general capabilities (memory, reasoning).
However, since the beginning of the 20th century it has been known that this assumption does not have to be totally true. Thorndike's Identical Element Theory says that there will be a transfer of skills or abilities between different fields as long as there is an overlap between the skills involved. What the tests seem to indicate is that, with exceptions, the transfer between near fields in common, while between far fields is very rare, although it can occur.
Cognitive benefits of chess
How is the transfer of chess skills applied to other fields then?
The truth is that, despite what it may seem, there are few studies on the matter on how cognitive skills of chess are transferred to other fields, and the conclusions of those that exist in many cases are not definitive. In addition, most of the studies have focused on children and adolescents, since it is precisely at this vital stage when cognitive development is greatest.
This is because rigorous studies of this type are extremely difficult to do rigorously, as they would be too complex and expensive. Research in this field is always complicated. However, a series of conclusions can be drawn, although they are probably not what one would expect.
It has been found that chess can moderately improve math skills and the reading comprehension of both primary and lower secondary school students. In the case of mathematics, there are common elements of quantitative relationships and problem solving. However, it cannot be firmly stated that the cause of this is playing chess, but there may be other explanations.
However, chess does provide another series of clear benefits, which, although not so spectacular, are extremely important. Even more, if we take into account that these benefits are independent of age.
What learning chess provides is improving our attention span and concentration. While learning or playing, it is necessary to be aware of the game, focused on the task, trying to predict future plays, both your own and the opponent's. It also forces you to learn working under pressure, and to evaluate complex strategies. There may not be a clear and direct transfer to other areas, but in today's chaotic world, working on these skills is not negligible.
Another important conclusion of the investigations carried out is on motivation: as long as the classes are not compulsory, in the case of students their attention to school and their interest are improved. Possibly, this is the explanation for why there is some improvement in their academic performance.
It is possible that in the case of adults the incidence of motivation is lower, but learning to play chess provides another vital advantage to both groups: as we learn, fail, repeat and evaluate the strategies used, we can see ourselves our own improvement. Not only that, but we can learn how we learn to improve, a very important skill that in many cases is not easy to observe.
Finally, there are studies that indicate that chess, like other mental sports, is beneficial in the long term for our brain, since exercising it in this way could help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Is chess only for geniuses?
A common conclusion from studies is that learning chess is a far more important factor than innate abilities when playing. In one study, 10- and 11-year-olds who took a course in a weekly chess class could easily beat adults who knew how to play, but without formal training.
It is true that an intelligent person will find it easier to excel in a purely intellectual activity such as chess, but the truth is that, with a minimum of training, few sports are more egalitarian than chess.
Findings from various studies seem to indicate that with a minimum of 25-30 hours of instruction, there is more clearly a transfer of skills to other fields.
Learning to play chess probably won't make us geniuses, but this is really irrelevant.
In the same way that we go to the gym or do sports to exercise the body, we do a diet and some of us follow certain habits to take care of our health, we must also exercise our minds. In this aspect, chess is a demanding game, which forces us to concentrate and work on various cognitive skills, and on top of that, it is fun! What more could you want?