These are the key ways in which chess helps to develop young (and not so young) minds:
Chess improves focus and attention by encouraging sustained mental alertness.
Chess develops the skill of tactical and strategic planning.
Because players need to find novel solutions to unpredictable problems, chess improves creativity and problem solving skills.
The great game teaches kids to deal positively with stress and to think on their feet. A large number of tactical problems encountered over a game of chess will be unique and need to be solved under pressure.
Chess nurtures evaluative and critical thinking skills (because kids need to deliberate over, and weigh multiple options carefully).
Chess engenders a positive attitude towards learning. Moreover, because it is a game, and they’re having fun, kids aren’t necessarily aware that they’re learning valuable cognitive skills while they’re playing.
The game builds logical, sequential and analytical thinking while simultaneously bolstering the ability to synthesize information.
Chess players develop an acute sense of spatial awareness by having to be alert to opportunities and threats in multiple locations.
Very importantly, chess hones pattern recognition aptitudes. The solution to particular problems often provides a template for solving later problems.
For those who think they matter, IQ scores have been shown to improve with methodical chess instruction.
Through the careful study of openings, middle and end games, players’ ability to memorise improves.
There is a strong general link between chess and improved academic performance in school kids of all ages.
Chess provides a stimulus and a challenge for gifted students.
Chess teaches patience, determination, perseverance and old fashioned grit. It also brings about a different attitude towards failure as something to be deconstructed, analysed and learnt from. Every failure brings with it an opportunity to improve.
When players analyze their own games in order to diagnose and evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, the essential skills of reflection and metacognition become ingrained.
Most interestingly, I have noticed that kids with ADHD (hyperactivity) and ADD (the inability to focus) have shown significant improvement when exposed to chess. Also, kids with social / emotional problems learn to be more confident.
Intriguingly, chess is also a great leveler. It teaches us all that what matters is not what you look like or where you come from – nor is it how old you are or how much you have (or don’t have) – what matters most is what you do with what you have.