You’ve probably read claims that ‘chess makes kids smarter’: that learning chess improves children’s numeracy and perhaps also literacy scores. You may also have heard claims that chess improves children’s creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and much else.
I’m sceptical as to the value of these claims – and, even so, they refer to putting chess onto the curriculum where children study chess systematically rather than after-school clubs for children who’ve just learnt the moves in half an hour at home.
A meta-analysis of international studies carried out by researchers Fernand Gobet and Giovanni Sala found at best only a moderate effect. Gobet wrote (The Psychology of Chess Routledge 2019) – and I agree – In my view, chess is a great game providing much excitement. enjoyment and beauty on its own. There is no need to justify its practice by alluding to external benefits.
For me, the real benefits from chess are social rather than academic: children who enjoy playing chess will be able to meet old friends, make new friends, join clubs, take part in competitions and have a host of wonderful experiences with like-minded people. Some the friends I made back in the 1960s are still friends today. It’s very often the children like me who don’t fit in, who struggle to find acceptance at school or in other activities, who gain the most from chess.