America: Give Chess A Chance


(Courtesy of Flickr)

By Christopher Canadeo

Chess is an important game to learn and should be taught in more schools across the United States. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Chess is a big deal. It can galvanize countries to root for certain players, inspire individuals to be creative and even teach players how to concentrate and think critically in pressure situations. Chess is also a universal language, as every country uses the same board, pieces and rules to play the game.

Chess is also no nonsense in that outside elements, such as referees and officials, are not present and therefore cannot tamper with the outcome of a game. If a player wins or loses a game, it can not be attributed or excused by a poor call or a bogus rule. The rules of chess are also rather simple to learn, but a true mastery of the game can take a lifetime to achieve.

The benefits and beauty of chess often get lost when projected to the American public at large. Sure, it may not be as appealing to watch as a windmill slam dunk or a 450-foot home run at first glance, but playing the right chess moves under certain circumstances can be just as difficult and awe inspiring for those who know and appreciate the game. It is for this reason that the savants of Chess should not only be further celebrated, but more Americans should at least know the rules of the game and give it a chance.

Since 2013, the chess world has been ruled by Magnus Carlsen, a 27 year old from Norway who is the youngest player ever to be ranked number one in the world and earn the title of World Champion. Carlsen’s reign has elevated him to be of the most popular figures in his home country and a recognizable name throughout Europe. This is because other countries, such as Norway and China, take youth chess much more seriously and make it a sizeable component of elementary learning—something that the United States has pulled back on in recent years. Chess camps and high school chess teams have dramatically faded in the United States as the country, specifically the youth, has lost interest.

As a fan of both athletics and chess, it is easy to see why chess is losing popularity amongst younger Americans. Not much physical activity is required, and brilliance taking form in great chess moves can often be overlooked and underappreciated by those who do not fully understand the game. It is clear that great chess players are not valued in American society as athletes are in major sports. However, though chess may never be as prevalent in schools as sports programs, the academic benefits of teaching the game on a large scale are apparent and significant.

In a 1992 study in New Brunswick, nearly 450 fifth-grade students were split into three groups. Group A was the control group and went through a traditional math curriculum. Group B supplemented the math with chess instruction after first grade, and Group C began strictly chess in first grade. On a standardized test, Group C’s grades went up to 81.2 percent from 62 percent outpacing Group A by 21.46 percent.

Could chess be the reason why countries such as Norway and China continuously outrank the United States in math and science? Possibly. But what is certain is that learning the game of chess at an early age has been proven to increase cognitive skills and performance in areas such as math and science.

Even beyond the elementary level, after-school chess programs have had a positive and statistically significant impact on student mathematics outcomes, according to The Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Ideally, students should be introduced to the game at an early age and choose what afterschool activity they would like to engage in. Even if the student decides to pursue something other than chess, being familiarized with the game gives it a chance to grow and live on.

For potential players of all ages, now is as good a time as ever to familiarize yourself with the game of chess because it is worth understanding.  This past week, American Fabiano Caruana was declared winner of the 2018 Candidates Tournament and will be the first American player to challenge for the title of World Champion in over 40 years. This is the rough equivalent of the U.S. Men’s Soccer team being one match away from winning the World Cup or Michael Phelps getting in the pool for his gold medal race.

Chess will never be as sexy or lucrative as other sports or athletic activities, and after all, why should it be? Parents don’t take their kids into stadiums to see chess matches and buy them jerseys with their favorite chess players on them—those don’t even exist. However, that does not mean that America cannot reap the benefits of learning this special game.

We celebrate sports because, relatively speaking, the highlights are easy to appreciate and understand, since we compare the athletic abilities of the athletes to ourselves when performing unprecedented feats. If we could do the same for chess on an intellectual scale, America may become a major chess and even mathematics powerhouse.

At the very least, this upcoming World Chess Championship match should be covered and televised by major sports networks such as NBC, FSN or ESPN. Hopefully, Americans viewers can appreciate the brilliance of the American contender, but more importantly, whet an appetite for chess and a desire to learn the game and all of its glory.


Christopher Canadeo, GSB’19, is a marketing major from Oyster Bay, New York.