Chess & Intelligence

Does Chess Make Kids Smart?

I’ve been asked many times by parents something like the following:

“If I sign my child up for chess class, will s/he improve in math/science/music?” Will they get into an elite college or university?

In other words: does chess make kids smarter or give them other advantages?

I’m not a scientist or a researcher, so I don’t know for sure if “Chess = Smart Kid.”

I am an experienced chess teacher, having taught over 10,000 students since 2003 at dozens of public, private, and charter schools in New York City.

My takeaway is this: chess can develop a child’s abilities in several areas important for success in school and in life.

Concentration and Focus: I have consistently noticed that after 3-4 weeks of chess, students can sit still longer and stay on task better than before. This applies even to Pre-K students.

Etiquette: Chess is steeped in etiquette. We shake hands before and after each game — this is a promise to our opponent that we will play fairly and respect the result of the contest. There are also written and unwritten rules about conduct during a game.

Memory: Considering multiple moves on each turn and remembering the evaluation of each, before making the final selection, is good mental exercise. This doesn’t even mention learning openings or recognizing patterns.

Patience: Tournament games can last at least an hour. It is normal for an experienced player to spend three to seven hours on a single contest.

Sportsmanship: Everyone who plays chess, and I do mean everyone, makes mistakes and loses games. Players quickly learn to show proper respect to their opponents and to the game itself.

Teamwork: In important tournaments, students from the same school quickly realize they are “in it together” and support each other for the good of the team. This creates unlikely bonds.

The Ultimate Prize?

As for chess helping a student get into a top college or university…well, it doesn’t hurt. Chess is reputed to be an intelligent person’s game, something that attracts an admissions committee.

Several of my former students gained admission to top colleges and universities. Coincidence? Maybe — they were excellent students. Still, a lot of outstanding students apply to top schools every year. I’m convinced chess gave them an advantage, if only to break a tie.

I am also reminded of other chess players I have encountered over the years who gained entry to schools one would not expect based on their academics alone.