Shouldn't Your Children's
Curriculum Include Chess?
By Richard Driggers
Printed in PHS #19, 1997.
Chess improves thinking skills. For years research has clearly
shown that playing chess improves academic performance. In many
cases, the child develops an intellectual confidence that leads to
better grades and higher self-esteem. Overwhelming evidence of
improved learning skills can be obtained by asking the U.S. Chess
Federation, which offers over 40 articles and research findings
available at no charge.
Chess is wholesome and has a number of practical advantages over
many other activities. After you get the set, it's free; and it can
be played anywhere, year-round, for a lifetime. There is no risk of
injuries. It only takes two to play (one if you have a hand-held or
conventional computer). It is usually a quiet game. Siblings of
different ages can make games interesting by taking away pieces from
the stronger player (similar to using a handicap in golf). You can
use clocks to shorten the length of the game (Blitz chess). There is
a great team variation called "Bughouse" in which it's two against
two, side by side. Captured pieces are passed to one's partner who,
on his next move, can place that piece anywhere on his board. All
four players are timed. Your team wins if there is a checkmate on
either board or if either of your opponents run out of time before
you or your partner (5 minutes for each player). This team variation
is extremely popular all over the country. At tournaments, the
winners stay "up" and a new team replaces the losing team. It is
Starting a Chess Club
Our chess club was a surprise hit with the children and the
parents in our support group. We started with a dozen, and within
three months 83 young people had joined.
Despite our inexperience, getting our chess club started was
easy. First, we put an article in our newsletter about research
proving over and over that chess improves abilities in reasoning,
comprehension, concentration, reading, persistence, planning, logic,
problem solving, patience, decision-making, objectivity, math,
self-control, commitment, and thinking development. We also
encouraged attendance at the next support group meeting to hear a
talk entitled "How Chess Can Make Your Kids Smarter," given by a
local chess teacher whom we met at a tournament.
At the meeting, we had a 5-inch stack of research papers and
articles we ordered from the U.S.C.F. about the benefits of chess.
Our speaker said giving your child a love for chess is giving them a
gift they can enjoy for a lifetime. He also talked about the
nationwide "Chess in Schools" program that promotes chess clubs and
classes in schools. It is actually part of the curriculum in some
states. (In Russia, chess has been part of the school programs for
decades.) When the program ended, we had four young people at the
front playing "Bughouse" with clocks. One demonstration of this
fast-moving, exciting, team variation of chess quickly erased the
widely held notion that chess is a boring, slow-moving game for
We meet in a city-owned recreation center that we reserve twice a
month from 7:00-8:45 p.m. With our dues, we purchased a menu-driven
chess club computer program featuring a "ladder games" competition
using an internal rating system. (Available from Tom Small at (609)
393-0652). At each meeting, we post club ratings for our three skill
groups: "Red" for the less experienced, "Green" for the middle
group, and "Blue" for the stronger players. We regularly spread the
word that we provide a supportive teaching environment and that
"rookies" are welcome.
The name of our club is "Warriors for the King." Players shake
hands before and after each game. The winner turns in a game card
and the results are entered into our club software later. At each
meeting, one of the dads gives a 10-minute presentation on some part
of chess, using a wall-hung "demo board." Dads enjoy watching games,
matching players for games, and answering mid-game rule questions,
while moms circle chairs and fellowship.
Initially, we wondered how the "competitive environment" would
work out. It just hasn't been an issue. We don't allow boasting or
putting others down. The kids want to win, but if they lose, they
seem to take it in stride. Chess is pure skill, so the players
quickly learn to take full responsibility for the outcome of their
games. What a great lesson to learn early in life - taking
responsibility for your actions (as opposed to being a victim of
something or someone).
One of the highlights of our chess club has been our annual
simultaneous exhibition. We host a Chess Master who plays 20 of our
best players at the same time. The Master walks around inside a
rectangle of tables. When he steps in front of your board, you make
your move. He moves, then sidesteps to the next board. We invited
the media and they did a big story with photographs.
What About Playing in Tournaments?
In tournaments, we play as a team, under the name of our support
group, and it has been one of the highlights of our club. Last year,
we competed in our first Texas Junior Chess Championship against 449
players from 33 schools for individual and team trophies. It was
great fun and really gave our youth a sense of camaraderie. There
were encouraging words to losers and "high fives" to winners. At one
point, three girls were anxiously watching a close game between
their girlfriend and a boy three years older. All three girls
spotted a brilliant mating move and were trying to control their
mounting excitement as they whispered back and forth. Minutes later
she made the mating move, said "Checkmate!" and jumped to her feet
to receive the hugs and praises of her companions.
We were thrilled to win a team trophy for Second Place,
Elementary Section and three individual trophies!
As a student plays in more "rated tournaments," he is assigned a
rating that reflects the strength of his play. Like a handicap in
golf, it is an easy way to track one's progress. Tournaments are
computer-structured to identify an individual winner; that is, after
the first round, losers play losers, winners play winners, and in
later rounds, one plays another with the same record. Better players
move toward the "top table." When the shout, "Pairing are up!" is
heard, each player rushes to the wall to find out who he will play,
his rating, what board, and what color.
Chess tournaments are a great family activity. Unlike baseball,
there are no scheduled practices with chess. You don't have to go to
all the tournaments; you can pick and choose. A Saturday tournament
will last from about 9:00 until 5:00. Parents bring coffee and
folding chairs and have a great visit when they are not watching
games in progress. We usually picnic at a nearby park for lunch, and
sometimes go for an ice cream cone after the tournament.
Tournaments are meant to be enjoyed. Give your players that
perspective early. If they feel they are not strong enough yet,
encourage them to play anyway. Some children will never feel like
they are ready. Remind them that in chess you have to lose a lot of
games before you start winning. Tournaments have a way of awakening
the desire to get better. They will learn a lesson that will serve
them well the rest of their life: how to bounce back after a setback
and keep trying. Our motto is, "You either win or you have a
A Fun Way to Improve Academic Performance
Not only has chess become a family activity we all enjoy (we take
chess sets to doctor's appointments, vacations, and picnics), but we
have also made chess part of our curriculum. At breakfast, I hand
out a couple of chess puzzles for them to solve. The ensuing race to
see who solves it first quickens the children to a mental alertness
that kicks off attention and concentration for that day's learning.
We had one daughter (11) who was struggling with math. She began
to play chess. Two years later, she is our math whiz. The turnaround
has been remarkable. After learning chess, children seem to gain a
new confidence in tackling complicated or difficult problems.
Can Chess Really Build Character?
It was Benjamin Franklin who said:
"The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very
valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life,
are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits
ready on all occasions."
Chess can demonstrate to your children that diligent work
(practice, learning from mistakes, and purposeful study) yields the
fruit of success. A local university professor made the observation
that in contrast to the Asian students, too many American students
lack the ability to think through lengthy problems. In Asia, they
emphasize and value hard work and persistence. In America, we tend
to emphasize talent. Chess has clearly taught our children that one
achieves success when preparation meets opportunity - a great lesson
One characteristic of the present culture is the instant
gratification syndrome. The speeding treadmill of life has a way of
making us want everything quickly . . . now! Your child will learn
patience playing chess. Impulsive, premature attack can be lethal
for the attacker who fails to patiently pursue sound development of
his pieces. Many games are won by developing and waiting for your
opponent to make a mistake. Chess has a way of maturing the mind's
ability to slow down, think clearly, and resist emotional urges in
How Your Children Can Become Better Chess Players
Here's some ways that Johnny can become a stronger player:
understand the fundamental strategies, play (preferably stronger
players), work lots of chess puzzles, study books or practice with
chess software. The basic strategies and sound principles of play
can be learned quickly because they are like proverbs, e.g., "Don't
bring your Queen out early"; "Castle early"; "Develop knights before
bishops"; "When ahead in points, equal exchanges will accelerate
your victory"; "Rooks belong on open files"; "Always be looking for
a double attack"; "Activate the king in endgame"; and so on.
We tell our club players that the Bible explains a number of
non-optional life principles by which to live. If one violates these
principles, there will likely be negative consequences . . . and
it's the same with chess principles.
Getting Your Children Started
We have photographs of me playing four of our children at once.
They loved those games and would always ask after winning: "Did you
play your hardest, Daddy?" We played off and on for a while and then
we had a specially planned week to begin tournament play. We viewed
the video Searching for Bobby Fischer (a wholesome movie and a true
story of how a family worked through some skewed values and finally
achieved a healthy, fun perspective about chess), gave them a
surprise gift (chess clocks), had a lot of fun playing Blitz chess,
and we went to their first tournament that Saturday. They loved it!
Join the U.S.Chess Federation. Order a tournament chess set and a
chess clock. Tournaments will usually run about $8 per player.
A good set will last forever. We have replaced the felt on many
of our pieces. Put your initials on the bottom of the pieces (and
have your children count all the pieces every time they leave a
place). Chess clocks really add a lot to playing; children seem to
like having something to pop after they complete a move. Moreover,
for high drama, there is nothing like a pawn race at the end of a
well-played game, when there are only seconds remaining on both
Lessons for Life
Chess has the excitement of sport, the logic of science, and the
beauty of art. Emanuel Lasker (World Champion for 27 straight years)
said, "On the chessboard, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long."
It has also been said that there are very few things that happen on
a chessboard that do not happen to a person in life. A chess club
has enabled our children to have wholesome fun with their family and
friends. In the process, they are developing thinking skills and
character which will serve them throughout their lives.
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