There are so many benefits to playing chess that if you’re currently sitting on the fence wondering whether to try it or not, they should be enough to push you over. At the end of this article, if you aren’t convinced that chess is a brain game in the truest sense of the term, then it’s just not for you. Most people who’ve come into contact with the board game or just know a thing or two about it will be well aware that it trains problem-solving and logic-based skills. After all, the board game is like on a puzzle you have to solve through tens or hundreds of micro and macro decisions. Unlike the so-called brain training games you can download and play on handheld consoles and smartphones, chess can be played without a screen or any kind of technology. That makes it an excellent game to introduce your children to, especially if they’ve been tired and restless throughout intermittent periods of quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chess is can also be an exquisitely enjoyable game to play as you pit your wits against another player - human or computer - and see who comes out on top. Here are some of the most compelling reasons to give chess a go:
The number one reason to play chess - whether you’re young or not - is for the brain training benefits it provides. There’s a reason why cerebral is a word you’ll often hear mentioned alongside chess, and that’s because it’s a thinking game. Nobody ever won a game of chess without visualising an opponent’s move or formulating a strategy of their own in their head. It’s a board game that keeps you on your toes cognitively speaking, which at the very least means you are staying intellectually active. But there’s more. Studies have shown that playing chess can result in improved focus, a higher IQ, and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. After all, to pull off Fool's Mate or the three-move strategy you're going to need to understand what's going on and remember the moves. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at each cognitive benefit of chess games for the brain and how the games help you get there:
If you’re not focussing when you play chess, then your opponent will have the edge. One slip up or poorly thought out move is all it takes for an experienced opponent to pounce and secure a victory. As such, you have to remain vigilant and stay mentally active for the duration of the game. This requires a great deal of focus. Bobby Fishcher, an American chess grandmaster, was once quoted as saying ‘chess demands total concentration’. If you feel like you struggle to focus on a single task, or you have a child who’s always fidgeting, chess could be a potential remedy for this restlessness. On top of that, the virtue of patience goes hand in hand with focus when you play chess. For a child, patience can be hard to come by, so cultivating it through a fun and challenging board game like chess isn’t a bad idea at all.
Chess has also been known to have a positive effect on IQ. While it’s easy to think that the only people who play chess already have a high level of intelligence, so what’s the point in starting, what if we were to tell you that you could boost your IQ just by showing up? Several studies make a connection between playing chess and going up a few Intelligence Quotient points, though of course there’s no guarantee here.
Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s
One of the primary reasons to pick up chess later in life is to try and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This form of dementia is affected by the extend to which people engage in brain training activities such as chess, so it’s really worth giving the game a go for this reason alone.
If you worry every now and again about memory loss and what this could mean for you later on in life, the game of chess could be a worthwhile pursuit. Where does memory come into chess we hear you ask? Well, if you haven’t played the game before, it might just look like the two players are reacting to each other’s moves in real time. And they are, to an extent. But what you don’t see is what’s going on behind the curtains in their minds. Every move - at competition level at least - is calculated based on an array of factors. If the opposition player moves a pawn forwards, for instance, the beginner might just move a pawn forwards in response without thinking twice. And then, before the newbie knows it, the more experienced player has taken the victory in just two moves. This is because they have memorised strategies and individual moves, not just their own, but the potential moves and strategies of the opposition player too. The best way to imagine the memory-boosting chess benefits is to think of the scenes in the popular Netflix series ‘Queen’s Gambit’ where the leading character sees the pieces projected onto the ceiling. This is more or less what goes on in the mind of some chess players, and these visualisations are made possible due to their extensive memories associated with previous games and strategies.
An often overlooked benefit of playing chess is that it can enhance your creativity. Perhaps not in a conventional way, since you aren’t creating something like a work of art or a book but in terms of how you think. Chess forces you to adapt and perform mental gymnastics on the fly. It encourages you to think creatively in order to outwit your opponent, and studies have shown that it can have a big influence on divergent thinking. This is the kind of thinking that allows you to come up with an alternate use for an object or to interpret and make sense of abstract patterns and ideas.
Future planning is a skill that many people struggle with. The idea of thinking ahead of today and the upcoming week can seem daunting, but it’s a skill that young kids especially need to learn. If they arrive to a pivotal point in their academic career when they’re faced with the decision of whether or not to go to university, you’d hope that they are adequately prepared to make it. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. While chess won’t necessarily change that, it can teach children how to plan ahead. As you play chess, you aren’t just required to react to the opposition whenever they make a move, but to be proactive and think ahead to try and catch them out with your moves. This kind of strategical long-term thinking is a crucial skill to learn in life, and can help your child immensely when it comes to making decisions throughout their life. Decision-making becomes slightly easier when you’ve spent a lot of time making them on the spot in a game of chess, with the consequences coming rapidly. This kind of quick thinking is also useful, so you get the best of both worlds.
Perhaps the simplest benefit of playing chess is that it can be pure tech-free fun. Few games these days can be played without a screen. Whereas once upon a time the word game was more commonly used for board games, it is now universally used to refer to video games. This is a shame, because it means that many people in the younger generations don’t fully appreciate the enjoyment that can be had with board games. These days it’s more common for a family to play the Wii together at Christmas than it is for them to crack open a game of Monopoly or dust off the old chess board. So because we’re losing touch with these older games like chess, why not make an effort to bring them back in your family? One of the most compelling reasons to do so is that we all seem to be spending far too much time on technology and screens. It isn’t uncommon for the average person to spend upwards of six hours on their mobile phone in a single day. That’s a shocking number, but it’s all too common. While we still aren’t fully aware of the effects consuming so much technology could have on our cognitive development and more, it’s safe to say that it probably isn’t good news for our health. Chess is a game that gives your eyes a rest from screens, and actually challenges your brain unlike so many popular video games which only want to get and keep hold of your attention without providing much value in return in the way of skills. If you want to give your child the opportunity to learn skills in a fun environment, then introducing them to the game of chess is an excellent idea. Who knows, maybe one day you won’t even have to convince them to put the tablet down when you get the chess board out!
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