Chess Offers Low-level Gains for Society

The Legendary Georgia Ironman did not care for the conclusion drawn by the authors of Educational benefits of chess instruction: A critical review, by Fernand Gobet & Guillermo Campitelli. The Ironman loves chess and has, on occasion, gotten his back up when I have mentioned anything negative about the Royal game. He has acted rather prickly upon hearing it said that Wei-Chi, or Go in the US, is a better game. For example, there are almost no draws in Go. It can therefore be thought of as a game with honor, something, because of the proliferation of offered draws, chess lacks. Go players do not offer a draw because to do so would show a lack of honor, which would mean a loss of face, or respect, so it is simply not done. I enjoy going over the games of the Go masters because the commentary emanates from the mind of a human, not a machine. GM Maurice Ashley has been part of the broadcast team of the US Chess Championships from the opulent St. Louis Chess Club for the past several years and I still have no clue what he thinks because he is the human informing the viewers of what the computer “thinks.” In post game interviews with the top human players in the world today one hears the word “computer” ad nauseam. It is, “computer this, computer that…here a computer, there a computer, everywhere a computer…computer, computer, ‘puter, ‘puter, ‘puter, ‘puter, ‘puter, ‘puter, ‘PUTER!” until one is sick of hearing the word. The best human players in the world no longer tell fans what they think, because they allow the ‘puter to do the thinking for them.

The Ironman, like many in the chess community, simply refuses to believe the conclusions drawn by the authors, as they acknowledge in section 4.2: Recommendations for future research

“We realize that our conclusions are likely to disappoint many chessplayers, in particular those who have invested considerable amounts of time and energy in promoting chess in schools, and those who have actually collected data about the effect of chess instruction.”

The conclusions reached almost a decade ago by Gobet and Campitelli could have been used for future research, but as of now, this is the last word. One finds this in the previous section, 4.1 Evaluation of past and current research:

“As mentioned earlier, research in psychology and education suggests that cognitive skills do not transfer well from one domain to another. Thus, the default position for most education experts will be that skills developed during chess study and practice will not transfer to other domains. Do the empirical data on chess research refute this position? Unfortunately, the answer is: no.”

The end of the line shows this written in the conclusion to the study, given it in its entirety.

5 Conclusion

“As shown in the documents collected by the USCF, chess teachers and chess masters are sanguine about the benefits of chess instruction, proposing that chess develops, among other things, general intelligence, ability to concentrate, ego strength, self-control, analytical skills, and reading skills. De Groot (1977) is more specific and has suggested that chess instruction may provide two types of gain: first, “low-level gains,” such as improvement in concentration, learning to lose, learning that improvement comes with learning, or interest in school in underprivileged environments; and second, “high-level gains,” such as increase in intelligence, creativity, and school performance. Our review indicates that research has mostly explored the possibility of high-level gains, and this, with mixed results.
As argued in this chapter, there is a huge chasm between the strong claims often found in chess literature and the rather inconclusive findings of a limited number of studies. The extant evidence seems to indicate that (a) the possible effects of optional chess instruction are still an open question; (b) compulsory instruction is not to be recommended, as it seems to lead to motivational problems; and (c) while chess instruction may be beneficial at the beginning, the benefits seem to decrease as chess skill improves, because of the amount of practice necessary and the specificity of the knowledge that is acquired.
This chapter has critically reviewed the extant literature, and has proposed avenues for further research. We hope that the somewhat negative conclusions we have reached will stimulate the next wave of empirical studies. While chess may not “make kids smarter,” it may offer what De Groot calls “low-level gains” for our society, and it would be a pity not to exploit this opportunity.”

Unless and until this is refuted this has to stand as the final answer to the question, no matter how unpalatable it may be to some in the chess world.

The Future of Chess is Terrifying

Continuing with “Intelligence and chess” by Fernand Gobet, & Guillermo Campitelli, published in 2002, we find this under the sub-heading, Expertise in chess:

“In addition, there are important individual differences in the style of play:
some players are aggressive, others defensive; some prefer tactical complications,
others transparent strategic planning. Finally, one can look at extra-chess activities
for evidence of individual differences. In his 1946 book, De Groot found that there
were important differences in training and background in the sample of 55
grandmasters he studied. In particular, he found that 13 of his grandmasters had a
training in science or mathematics. Interestingly, such differences in background
have tended to fade away in recent years: nowadays, with the stringent training
requirements of competitive chess, most players are professional, with no university
Where do these differences come from? Several psychological explanations,
paralleling the strands of research mentioned above, have been advanced. Information-
processing research tends to emphasise the role of the environment (presence
of coach or playing opportunities, coaching techniques, etc.). The extreme position
in this strand has been taken by Ericsson (e.g., Ericsson et al., 1993) in his theory of
deliberate practice, which denies the role of innate differences, except for motivation
and the ability to sustain long-term practice.”

This is the “theory.” In an article at the Chessbase website, Vladimir Kramnik: My Path to the Top, dated 2/20/2015, we find the “practice.” Vladimir says, “If my first book would have been a collection of the best games of Kasparov or Tal, I am sure that I would have a different playing style. But it happened as it happened, and I have nothing to complain about.”

“In the introduction Kramnik reveals how he started to play chess and he describes the atmosphere and the chess culture in Tuapse, a small town on the Black Sea where he was born and brought up. You will hear charming and humorous anecdotes you have not heard before: “I had a normal childhood. When I was seven, I went to a normal school. I would say Tuapse was a normal provincial Soviet town. It is an industrial town with working people, and I can say that I was not in the elite atmosphere, I’d say as far I am aware quite a few of my classmates, they went to prison rather soon after finishing the school (laughs). So it was a normal worker’s place with rather tough working lessons…”

“Kramnik also reveals what his first chess book was. Can you guess? A collection with the Best Games of Anatoly Karpov! Kramnik was fascinated by the games of Karpov and studying them had a big influence on his style.” (

If how chess is learned depends upon the style of the games from which the student learns, what kind of players will be, or are already being produced due to the influence of computer programs such as Komodo and Stockfish? To help answer this question I send you to the excellent article, Massacre by the innocents, by GM Vlad Tkachiev at the website. The GM, one of the best writers, and thinkers, in chess, writes about the future generation of chess, “The future of the second chess superpower arranged a worldwide premiere just for us, with a clash of generations, civilisations and philosophies. And here’s what left the deepest impression on me: the way, whether it was evening, afternoon or morning, they would gather in the lobby of the Grand Sahid Hotel, connect to the free Wi-Fi and spend hours immersed in surfing the internet. They didn’t talk to one another. They didn’t drink anything. They paid no attention to their surroundings. They were off on their notebooks, tablets and smartphones – somewhere very far away.
They say we fear the unknown. For us, seasoned professionals, it was terrifying.” (