Is Chess Really Beneficial?
Nagesh J.
FIDE Instructor and Arena International Master

Chess is the oldest game known to mankind. Countless players have played the game before and continue to do so. It is one of the most popular games across the world. Chess is a battle, it is a war. It is a one to one fight between two players trying to outwit each other mentally, and this aspect of the game is the reason for its popularity. Because it appeals to the basic instincts of a human being, it has continued to be played by different people over a long period of time.

When we see some advertisements about Chess, we often see the benefits of Chess such as: it improves the ability to focus, it improves memory, it improves decision making ability and many more qualities. Are these claims really true?

To learn the answer to this question, we must understand the specific attributes of what makes a strong chess player. Imagine any modern Chess Grandmaster, what comes to mind?

Such a player usually knows a lot of Chess Theory; in other words, he or she would have memorized many moves which would have been suggested as the better moves either in Books or by Chess engines. While this is not actually a sign of better intelligence, it is an important factor, no doubt, as it helps in learning from your mistakes, remembering what you didn't play well, and not repeating it next time.

An important quality of strong Chess players is their ability to visualize the moves in their mind before it is played on the board. Different players have this ability to different levels, also it depends on the type of position. But the human brain also has its shortcomings; in that, it is practically impossible to foresee all the possibilities.

One more imortant quality is the “pattern-recognition” ability. What worked in a particular type of situation would work again if a similar position occurs on the board. The ability to recognize this, and remember what worked, what didn't work, is very important to find out the right moves every time.

Since Chess as a game, is played individually, it becomes more personal than any other sport. Defeat is more painful and feelings of frustration, helplessness, and many times revenge, is what many chess players go through. After spending so much time and energy, almost all chess players feel that they did not get what they deserved. This again increases the frustration and stress levels. Chess is addictive, the feeling of victory, the mental high it gives, drives players to keep playing again and again, even if they lose.

Because Chess is primarily a sedentary sport, there could be some negative health aspects. Obesity, lack of physical exercise and poor levels of fitness are some of the problems many chess players go through. Also the constant anxiety, stress and tension can't be good for the physical well being of any person.

We have seen in Chess history, many famous chess players who suffered mental illnesses. Paul Morphy, Bobby Fischer, Akiba Rubinstein to name a few, had serious mental health issues. Even if you think of other famous chess players, you somehow do not associate them with charming personalities. In fact, there are well-known examples of bad habits like alcoholism, anti-semitism, misogyny, extreme arrogance and vindictiveness.

The question is actually whether Chess helped to improve the above mentioned positive abilities or whether people who were already good in these abilities were able to excel in a game such as Chess. It seems that the second possibility is more likely.

However this kind of conclusion is too simplistic and does not actually depict the complex reasons why we like Chess, why we continue playing Chess.

Editiorial Note

Bobby Fischer in training
The health benefits of chess can outweigh any detrimental effects arising out oof sitting in one place for too long. It is important to continue physical exercise along with chess activities. Bobby Fischer used to do weight lifting, punch-bag boxing and swimming to keep fit. Gata Kamsky was a boxer in addition to being a chess player. has highlighted 9 Best Benefits of playing Chess:

  1. Chess develops the ability to see from someone else’s perspective
  2. Chess improves memory
  3. Chess enables you to enter a flow state
  4. Chess elevates your creativity
  5. Chess leads to better planning skills
  6. Chess can make therapy more effective
  7. Chess may offer protection against the development of dementia
  8. Chess can improve the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  9. Electronic chess may help stave off a panic attack