Chess in the Schools?

Just a quick post today, so have a look at this essay by Alex Beresow, over at Real Clear Science. He is advocating for chess to be a required subject in schools:

In the above video, the math/chess teacher says, “Chess trains logical thinking. It teaches how to make decisions, trains memory, strengthens will power, motivates children to win and teaches them how to deal with defeat. It's the only school subject that can do all this.”

That is a very interesting insight. Not only does chess help train the brain, but it also teaches children basic life skills. In our culture, we hand out trophies to winners and losers -- or neglect to keep score at all -- out of some misguided, politically-correct notion that we should never hurt anyone's feelings. But, in Armenia, schools are teaching children reality: Sometimes you lose. That's an important lesson, and it should be taught at a young age.

My high school had a student opinion magazine, and I once wrote an essay for them saying the same thing. I have some experience teaching chess to kids, and you'd be surprised how easily you can get most of them to take to it. And Berezow is right that chess teaches a lot of skills in a way that is considerably more fun than standard classroom lessons.

A lot of schools already have chess programs. In fact, kids are playing chess in record numbers. My friend Ned, who you might remember from this post, pointed out to me that if he wanted to start a chess club today everyone would just assume it was meant for kids. Go to any large chess tournament, and you will be amazed by the number of younglings. Alas, the flipside of this is that the adult game is slowly dying. Most of those kids are going to stop playing chess as they grow up. Oh well.

Anyway, let me close with two of my favorite chess quotes, both, alas, attributed to anonymous. “The ability to play chess is the sign of high intellect. The ability to play chess well is the sign of high intellect gone wrong.” And my all-time favorite, “Chess will never appeal to the masses until the masses realize that the joy of removing an enemy's toenail with red-hot pincers pales in comparison to the joy of taking his pawn on the tenth move, and forcing him, for want of that pawn, to resign on the eighty-seventh.”

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How about poker? It does all of those things except it also teaches you about statistics, variance, luck and game theory as it's a game of incomplete information.

By Andrew West (not verified) on 05 Apr 2013 #permalink

"until the masses realize"
the poetic beauty of Donner's Ode to the A-pawn - to be found in his The King.
I am all for chess in the schools; have taught it myself too.

My dad taught me to play the game; chess club gave me a lifelong love for it. Some of my favorite memories from childhood were going to chess tournaments and playing against people I'd never met.


I would agree with you about poker except that there's one major flaw with using it as a teaching tool -- often in poker, correct play leads to poor results and serious blunders lead to good results. This is an idea that most adults that I've played with can't seem to get through their heads.

Just as an example, suppose a student has a flush draw, but the pot odds aren't enough to justify a call. If he calls anyway and then hits his flush and wins the pot, I'm sure it would be very difficult to convince that kid that he made a mistake and should have folded. I know that there are many adults that would be hard to convince of this.

I agree Sean, which is why I think it's a good lesson to teach children. Or maybe I'm being cynical. Sometimes you do the right things and it doesn't work out through no fault of your own - the important thing is how you make the decision though.

By Andrew West (not verified) on 05 Apr 2013 #permalink


Good point, but that might not be a lesson we want to be teaching school-aged kids. It might be better for them to work that out for themselves. Otherwise, you'd get a whole bunch of kids just saying "why bother studying and working hard, that may not pay off for me anyway. I might be able to just goof off and have it all work out in the end." I realize that's not the intended lesson, but I'm sure that some kids, and maybe a lot will take just that attitude.

My dad taught me chess and I taught my children even though none of us are regular players. One of the benefits I see, particularly since I am in the security trading side of finance, is that it trains your mind to think many moves ahead. That has benefits in every walk of life.

Chess trains logical thinking. It teaches how to make decisions, trains memory, strengthens will power, motivates children to win and teaches them how to deal with defeat. It’s the only school subject that can do all

Didn't seem to have a positive effect on Bobby Fischer.

Chess trains logical thinking. It teaches how to make decisions, trains memory, strengthens will power, motivates children to win and teaches them how to deal with defeat. It’s the only school subject that can do all this.

Meh. A good music program can do all this. Even spelling bees can do all this.

By Another Matt (not verified) on 05 Apr 2013 #permalink

Sorry JR, I have lead you on the wrong track.
The quote "until the masses realize" is not from Donner. He wrote a very poetic Ode to the A-pawn though after a win against Velimirovic, which can be found in The King. This ode captures the beauty of chess as much as this quote imo. See yourself:

As a Dutchman I think the original even more beautiful of course:

I vote for bridge, all the advantages of poker minus the gambling, and it is a much faster game than chess or go (a hand takes around five minutes). Moreover you play with a partner which adds to the fun, and it employs plenty of mathematical and logical thinking.

By Ned Rosen (not verified) on 06 Apr 2013 #permalink

As someone who plays a fair number of board games, I think we have better options than these, especially with the number of fully and partially co-operative games that allow a number of players to work together to achieve a set goal despite having different attitudes and player/character abilities. You might have a hard time slipping something like Arkham Horror or Battlestar Galactica into a school, but something like Pandemic should fit in nicely:

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 10 Apr 2013 #permalink