What problems confront our schools?

Is there a simple cost-effective solution?

By Robert Ferguson of The American Chess School

AmChess is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to promoting chess! On their site you will find information about the Bradford Chess League, why chess is important in education, and the Castle Chess Camp.

The mission of the American Chess School is to research the benefits of chess, to teach the art and science of chess to its students by providing them with expert instruction, and to organize opportunities to hone their skills. These opportunities include, but are not limited to, participation in tournaments, matches, camps, exhibitions, tours, and access to lectures, newsletters, magazines, books, and classes. The American Chess School provides these opportunities on the local, national, and-- where possible--international levels.

There are many problems facing our nation’s educational system, and research points to an effective solution.  Four of these major problem areas are:

  1. Self-esteem - One-fifth of all 8th graders in the U.S. are considered to be at high risk of school failure.  Approximately 30% of our youth drop out and fail to complete high school.

  2. Math - In mathematics, U.S. twelfth graders perform above only two (Cyprus and South Africa) of the 21 TIMSS countries.  In advanced math, U.S. students performed better than only one country.

  3. Reading - The USA ranks 49th internationally in literacy. Only 37% of high school graduates read at a twelfth grade level.

  4. Thinking skills - Recent research indicates that one of the most neglected areas in today’s educational system is instruction aimed at developing logical reasoning and critical thinking. “We are looking for kids who think,” said Jon Reider, senior director of admissions at Stanford.  (Insight on the News, 1998)

Dr. Howard Gardner, in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, discussed chess as the primary example of spatial intelligence.  In private email, Dr. Gardner has acknowledged, “Skill in chess probably depends on both logical, mathematical and spatial intelligence; and since it is a competitive game, interpersonal intelligence is probably important as well.”  Dr. Gardner and other Harvard professors were actively involved with the “Learn to Think Project” in Venezuela.  The findings (based on a sample of the 4,266 second grade students) were nothing short of amazing:  After a minimum of 4.5 months in the chess program, most students showed a significant gain in IQ.  B.F. Skinner wrote, “There is no doubt that this project in its total form will be considered as one of the greatest social experiments of this century.”
Dr. E. Paul Torrance, in a private email, noted that chess increases academic achievement and self-esteem.  He cited the work of Dr. Harry Turner, a prominent school psychologist in the Atlanta area.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Terrell Bell, in his book Your Child’s Intellect, encourages some knowledge of chess as a way to develop a preschooler’s intellect and academic readiness (Bell, 1982, pp. 178-179).

The use of the best-known intellectual game to address the need to improve critical thinking, self-esteem, reading, and math is an innovative approach that has nationwide applicability. In an effort to promote excellence, the American Chess School sponsors chess camps, tournaments, and research to encourage others to help children through the vehicle of chess. We have brought chess to schools because we believe it directly contributes to academic performance.  Dr. Gerard Dullea pointed out in the early 1980s that Chess makes kids smarter.

Many academicians around the world have completed years of research and arrived at the same conclusion as Dr. Dullea: chess enhances minds and inspires lives.  The quantity of research over the past three decades speaks for itself.  “In countries like Russia, the Netherlands, and China, chess is not only taught in schools, but is the equivalent of sports like basketball and baseball in North America.  The Canadians have created a math curriculum using chess to teach logic.” (Seattle Chess Foundation, 2001, p. 3)  Research demonstrates that chess fosters self-esteem, increases math skills, improves reading, and develops thinking skills.  For a review of the evidence and the educational benefits, please visit http://www.chess.isgenius.com/ and select the “research” link or go to www.amchess.org/research.  (A partial listing of these studies is available at the end of this article.)

The American Chess School believes playing games reinforces problem solving skills for all ages.  Using your memory to a moderate degree can help keep brain circuits exercised. Research demonstrates that stimulating intellectual challenges such as playing chess give the mind the workout it needs, and it’s FUN!! 

Table Summarizing Chess Studies








Math & Science

Yee Wang Fung



Hong Kong

High School

Not given

Teach, May/June ‘95


Louise Gaudreau


New Brunswick, Canada


Étude Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathématiques 5e Année

Unpublished Paper

Math & Reading

James Liptrap


Texas, USA


Chess and Standardized Test Scores

Chess Life, March 1998

Thinking, Creativity,

Spatial Aptitude, Perceptive Speed, Intelligence,

Math, Reading

Albert Frank



ages 16-18

Chess and Aptitudes or Aptitudes et apprentissage du jeu d'echec au Zaiere

Unpublished Dissertation & Psychopathologie Africaine. Vol 15(1), (1979). (pp. 81-98)


Stuart Margulies


New York City Schools, USA


The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess Program Second Year Report

Unpublished Paper available from Chess-in-the-Schools and online


Stuart Margulies


New York & Los Angeles, USA


The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores

Unpublished Paper available from Chess-in-the-Schools


Bill Levy


New Jersey, USA

Grades 6-8

Special education

Utilizing Chess to Promote Self-Esteem in Perceptually Impaired Students

Unpublished Paper available from the U.S. Chess Federation

Self-esteem & Academic Achievement

Harry Turner


Georgia, USA

Grade 9

An Experiment to Alter “Achievement Motivation” in Low-Achieving Male Adolescents by Teaching the Game of Chess

Unpublished Dissertation

Dissertation Abstracts International. Vol. 32(10-B), Apr (1972). (pp. 6040-6041).

Self-esteem & Spatial-Aptitude

Steven Fried & Norman Ginsburg


P.S. 116 in School District 32 in Brooklyn, NY, USA

Grades 4-5

The Effect of Learning to Play Chess on Cognitive, Perceptual, & Emotional Development in Children

Unpublished Paper available from the U.S. Chess Federation

Self-esteem, Concentration, Behavior

Carol Ruderman


New Jersey, USA

Grades 4-7

Special education


Unpublished Paper available from the U.S. Chess Federation

Thinking & Academic Gains

Johan Christiaen




Chess and Cognitive Development or

Schaken en cognitieve ontwikkeling

Unpublished Dissertation & Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Psychologie en haar Grensgebieden. Vol 36(8), Nov (1981). (pp. 561-582)

Thinking & Intelligence

Luis Alberto Machado, Minister for the Development of Human Intelligence



Ages 7-9

Learn to Think Project

Chess Program

FIDE Commission for Chess in Schools Report, Annex 13, pp. 1-2.  & International Journal of Mental Health. Vol 18(3), Fal (1989). (pp. 5-18).


Robert Ferguson


Pennsylvania, USA

Grades 6-12

Tri-State Area School Pilot Study

Unpublished Paper available from the American Chess School


Philip J. Rifner


Indiana, USA

High School

Playing Chess:  A Study of Problem-Solving Skills in Students with Average and Above Average Intelligence

Unpublished Dissertation & Gifted Child Today Magazine, v20 n1 p36-39,48 Jan-Feb 1997

Thinking & Creativity

Robert Ferguson


Pennsylvania, USA

Grades 7-9


Teaching the Fourth 'R' (Reasoning) through Chess

Unpublished Paper &

School Mates 1(1) Fall 1983. p. 3.

Thinking, Memory, Reading

Robert Ferguson


Pennsylvania, USA

Grade 6

Developing Memory and Verbal Reasoning through Chess

New Horizons Online Journal, Vol. VI No. 4* April, May, June 2001


About the Author

Dr. Robert Ferguson is the Executive Director of the American Chess School and the Castle Chess Camp.  You can contact him at the American Chess School, 140 School Street, Bradford, PA 16701 or by emailing execdir@amchess.org.

 Chessville appreciates the consent graciously granted to republish this article which was originally published in the Empire Chess magazine, the official magazine of the NYSCA (New York State Chess Association).