The benefits of chess include memory and attention as well as social connection

Top 10 Benefits of Playing Chess

By: Sarah Walker, Ph.D.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Throughout our lives, we rely on our brains to react quickly and accurately to challenges. These challenges range from minor ("Where are my shoes?" "Why did I stop at the grocery store?") to more serious concerns. ("How do I get to the airport on time now that the interstate is closed?" "That bus is headed right for me—which way do I run?") In those situations, in particular, we need our brains firing on all cylinders.

Thankfully, there are games we can play that are not only fun but provide many benefits for brain health. The game of chess is one of the best-researched brain games, and the science is clear: it provides a good mental workout as well as gains for our brain. Here's what we know about this marvelous mind game.

Top 10 ways playing chess boosts your brain game

The mental and psychological benefits from learning chess will have you setting up a game board in no time! Here are 10 ways this classic game builds mental and emotional growth.

Pro tip: Pair your chess hobby with nootropic supplements to level up your brainpower!

1. Demands concentration/focus

From finishing up that PowerPoint to following recipe instructions, there are many daily activities that require concentration and focus. The good news is that chess develops our ability to maintain attention. This is because the game of chess requires you to be completely transfixed on the task at hand. Even if you're tuned in for the majority of the game, if you make one crucial blunder, you can lose. This isn't so different from other things in life where you really need to be on your toes 100% of the time: a single typo can ruin the quality of your message, and a moment of inattention can result in a burned dinner. Chess helps train players to stay focused from start to finish.

2. Exercises your memory

Learning chess can help support memory. Playing games of chess on a regular basis requires focused practice to remember chess positions, game piece patterns and playing styles while staying multiple steps ahead of the competition. One study showed the auditory memory ability of expert-level chess players to recall a list of words was significantly better than non-chess players. This finding suggests chess training improves memory with practice.

3. Builds social connections

A game of chess is a great connector. It is one of the most popular games in the world and has been around for more than 1,500 years. Once players know the rules, they can play together even if they are different ages and speak different languages. When played with others, chess helps bring people together. This is important because humans are social creatures, and we benefit from social interactions. Research shows that social activity helps support a healthy mood, helps people stay active and maintain a healthy weight, helps with getting good sleep and more!

4. Enhances planning and problem-solving skills

Chess is all about solving the problems in front of you. There is the immediate problem to solve during each move, as well as the long-term problem of strategizing how to keep the king safe while leveraging all the pieces in play. The player is free to choose how to solve the problems presented by the game, and they must react in real-time to their opponent's moves, adjusting and shifting strategy as needed to achieve their desired outcome. This helps boost critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are invaluable in life for everyone.

One study explored how the ability to problem solve and plan differed between chess players and non-players. They found that the chess players showed better planning performance than non-chess players.

5. Realizing consequences

In the game of chess, your actions have immediate consequences. Chess teaches better decision making, which builds the life skill of learning that your actions have consequences, both good and bad. Playing chess is a good training ground to learn calculated risk-taking in search of rewards. As players gain more experience, the consequences of their actions help them become better players and better decision makers.

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6. Inspires creativity

Chess can help support creativity by promoting abstract thinking. Once the rules of the game are ingrained in a player's mind, players begin devising new strategies, adapting old strategies on the fly, exploring never-tried-before moves, and finding new ways of playing. This exploration of creativity and originality can spill into other areas of a player's life. In this way, chess improves creativity and the ability to find new ways of doing things.

7. Remaining calm under pressure

Learning chess almost always results in the discovery that chess is as much a game of mastering yourself as it is an exercise in mastering your opponent. We all experience situations where it is easy to panic but we must keep our composure. Regular games of chess can teach you to remain calm under pressure, which will help you in everyday life, such as during job interviews, presentations, relationship conflicts and more.

8. Empathy

Chess teaches the importance of empathy: seeing something from someone else's perspective. Considering that it's a competitive game, this might be surprising. But look at it this way: in chess training—as in most relationships—it is important to try to think about your partner's next moves and how they will react to your actions. Indeed, children who play chess were found to have a more efficient ability to take other people's perspective/viewpoint than non-chess players.

9. Confidence

Many people struggle with confidence and negative beliefs. Chess training can help promote confidence in players of all levels as they master each of the game's learning phases. Even if you rarely win a match, learning the rules of the game is in and of itself an accomplishment. Receiving validation from someone after you've made a good move can boost your confidence even if you ultimately lose—although there may be no sweeter victory than getting a win against a better opponent. And embracing chess as a learning opportunity offers rewards. Identifying your own areas for growth and developing the resilience to sit down across from an opponent time and time again are not easy to do, but over time they will improve a player's confidence and self-belief.

10. Exercise for both sides of the brain

A study looking at chess players found that, in response to different object and pattern stimuli, both hemispheres of the brain activated faster than in non-chess players. The left hemisphere is associated with logic and math, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with creativity and imagination. Playing a game of chess and becoming proficient at it can be a way to engage both sides of the brain.

Why is chess good for the brain?

Chess is a brain game at its core. You must engage your brain to play, especially the frontal lobe—which is involved in critical thinking and planning—and regions of the temporal lobe associated with memory, like the hippocampus.

The idea of "use it or lose it" applies to cognitive health. Just as we must move, stretch, and exercise our muscles to maintain strength and function in our bodies, we must do the same with our minds. Thankfully, chess is an all-in-one exercise. It is a complex game that requires critical thinking, planning, strategy and problem-solving skills.

Chess can help maintain healthy brain function and memory. One study showed a 12-week chess training protocol with two hour-long sessions a week helped support cognitive function and quality of life in older adults. It also found a positive impact on general cognitive status, as well as attention, processing speed and executive functions.

Who can benefit from playing chess?

You don't have to be a grandmaster—just about anyone can enjoy the benefits of chess. It helps keep the brain in good shape and helps connect players around the world. Chess is widely available online and in real life, is free in most cases and can be played by nearly everyone who can learn the rules of the game. Modern technology even allows us to get the benefits of chess when we play against computers. Research shows certain lifestyles support brain health, and learning chess can be a part of that routine.

What other habits support cognitive function?

We know we need to exercise our brain to keep it healthy, but did you know exercising your body also helps keep your brain at its best? A healthy diet, getting enough restful sleep every night, and targeted nutrition through dietary supplements are other good ways to keep your mind sharp.

After all, we tend to be more clear-headed after a good night's sleep and more level-headed after eating. And cognitive health supplements provide a convenient way to get the nutrients shown to support measurable thinking skills, like processing speed, accurate recall and ability to concentrate. So adding a supplement for focus and attention may help you gain an edge, whether in work or at play.

Whether you want to be a grandmaster or master that report at work, cognitive supplements may help. Take our health needs quiz to get a personalized recommendation for brain health nutrients that fit your life.

About the Author: Sarah A. Walker, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist, an artist, a certified hypnotherapist, an EMDR therapist and a registered yoga teacher. As a lifelong learner and a creative, she brings these skill sets to her specialties and expertise. She integrates creative endeavors as part of the whole mind-body innovative approach to mental health and total well-being.



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