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The Effect of Chess on Our Brain

Author: Harry Yoon

Editor: Rachel Chen, Eric Lin

Artist: Shaoyu Zhang

Throughout its 1,500-year-long lifespan, chess has grown to become a symbol of strategic and tactical intelligence, with its games being played anywhere from international tournaments to public parks. It is a board game with millions of players all around the world and has produced some of the world's brightest minds; some of the greatest grandmasters have achieved extraordinary things as a result of their years of chess expertise. Research over the years shows that this seemingly-simple game can have a very profound effect on the brain.

The number of possible chess games has been calculated to be around 10120, which is more than the number of atoms in the universe. With its unique pieces and requirement for clever strategies, a chess game is full of complexity, and any move can change the course of the game in favor of either direction. It requires the player to constantly analyze the situation, look for weaknesses in their opponent's pieces, and think ahead of their opponent’s strategy. The prefrontal cortex is the front part of your brain that is responsible for judgments, self-control, and making decisions; however, it isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. Because chess requires the player to constantly evaluate and judge a situation, it has been revealed to boost the growth of the prefrontal cortex in young children.

Another skill that chess taps into is memory and observations of patterns. A player looks back at the outcomes of past games to either learn from their mistakes or to reuse the same moves that would shift the game in their favor. They remember crucial turning points in a game as well as important strategies while playing. Grandmasters are able to memorize entire games in their heads, and when shown a board position, they are able to recognize what game it was from as well as what was played next—some can even play multiple games while being blindfolded. Their knack for short-term memory is nearly superhuman. Because playing chess stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, it has also been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia as a person grows older. Although it isn’t a remedy, it is a beneficial method of prevention towards these uncurable diseases.

Chess is loved by so many people over other games because of the creative approach required to play the game. It is difficult to quantify a single move as good or bad, and there is no such thing as a perfect game of chess. This provides the opportunity for various playstyles, openings, and methods to win the game. Chess theory can only take you so far, so it is up to the players themselves to devise a cunning solution to stump their opponents. Research has also shown how chess affects both sides of the brain. The brain is split into two hemispheres, and they each have a respective role in how they function. The left hemisphere of the brain controls how a person approaches logic and reasoning. The right hemisphere controls our ability to be creative and imaginative. Someone skilled in arts and crafts would be described as being "right-brained,” while someone who is an expert and logical deduction and reasoning would be referred to as “left-brained.” It is no surprise, then, that chess activates both hemispheres of our brain while we play.

Chess is more than just a game. It helps the brain grow and develop the many different parts of our mind. Its beauty and complexity have drawn in millions of players and continue to open up the minds of many individuals. This mere board game gives people the tools they need to excel in many different aspects of life. Not everyone is able to play multiple games while blindfolded, but it is satisfying to know that we all have the potential to one day get to that level.

 

Citations:

DiMauro, Jaden. “Chess Is More Popular than Ever-and Playing It Can Boost Your Brain

Health, According to a Neurologist and Neuropsychologist.” Well+Good, 30 Sept. 2023,

“Benefits of Teaching Children to Play Chess.” Chess Wizzards,

2024.

P., Erika. “10 Things Chess Does to Your Brain.” Science Times, 29 Nov. 2021,

“Brain the Winner in Chess.” YouTube, YouTube, 19 June 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?

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