Chess surged in popularity during the pandemic; with so many families stuck at home during lockdowns and home learning, there was a huge surge of interest in board games like chess. The Queen's Gambit – which tells the story of a female chess prodigy – ignited interest in the game, particularly with young girls and women. And, long recognised as a game of intellect, chess is gaining traction as an invaluable educational tool.
Just last month, the UK government announced a £1 million package to improve chess in schools and disadvantaged areas across England (as well as 100 new chess tables installed in public parks). International organisations like Chess in the Schools in the US are making the game more accessible to students (in the US it provides free chess classes to low-income students); in some countries schools have made chess a compulsory part of the curriculum (Armenia was the first country in the world to introduce mandatory chess classes at primary school back in 2011).
From after-school chess clubs to school competitions and more, here’s why schools worldwide are adding chess to the timetable and why your child should get involved in this epic battle of wits.
Chess isn’t just a game, it’s a mind-bending adventure which sharpens focus, boosts brainpower and teaches life’s sneakiest tricks all while having fun. From applying logic to anticipating an opponent’s moves, strategising moves ahead to adapting plans based on game dynamics, chess assists in developing the confidence to make decisions (especially when under pressure) and in fostering strategic thinking.
If you despair at your child’s seeming inability to sit still and concentrate for a period of time, then chess may just be the answer. The nature of the game means that concentration is key – and that patience is a must. Chess can help children to focus their attention in a way that’s becoming increasingly difficult in such a busy and connected world, allowing them to be more ‘mindful’ and ‘in the moment’. It also offers the opportunity for managing emotions, learn from setbacks and develop resilience – all of which gets a big thumbs up!
With an extensive list of required skills that can be used beyond the chessboard, chess has long been associated with intelligence. Whether your child is a maths genius or needs a little help, chess helps foster an understanding of mathematical principles that can activate a greater grasp of the subject.
With so many benefits, it’s little wonder that an increasing number of schools around the world are including chess as an extra-curricular option or even as part of their weekly timetable. There are after-school clubs and private lessons and a growing number of inter-school tournaments. There are even chess scholarships at UK independent schools including Brentwood School, Millfield School, Brighton College and Oakham School.
At Brentwood School, a day and boarding school in the UK, chess is an important part of school life. Hundreds of students regularly play at lunchtime or join after-school chess clubs, inter-school competitions, house events and even at the highest level – with many being UK chess title holders.
Head of Chess Robin Slade aims to make Brentwood School one of the UK’s strongest chess schools, offering everything from beginner sessions to top level coaching and 11+ chess scholarships, making chess fun and accessible.
Mr Slade told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com:
“Students of any age and any level get a huge amount from the game. Without realising it, they are learning problem solving and risk management. They are also learning to deal in the right way with all the emotions of leading and trailing, winning and losing. Just as importantly, it is simply a fun way to spend time with and make friends.
“In our last House competition, 120 students played over 500 games for their Houses. Anyone who sees chess as a quiet, scholarly activity would have been surprised to see, and hear, all the players and non-playing supporters cheering for their Houses in the Memorial Hall during the competition.”
In the UAE, GEMS Our Own English High School – Sharjah, Girls (OOS), first introduced chess as an activity in 2009. Since then students have participated in national and international tournaments, most recently earning a spot in the CBSE Chess Nationals.
The game is growing in popularity across the emirates. It is now part of the Dubai Schools Games, which is a free event open to all schools, and 13 private schools competed in this year's first chess event organised by Dubai Affiliated School Sports Association (DASSA).
Ms Bagiyalakshami D, Chess Coach at GEMS Our Own English High School – Sharjah, Girls explains why chess should be taught in schools.
"As a school, we recognise and actively promote the many benefits of chess. Far more than just a game, chess fosters cognitive development – critical thinking, pattern recognition, and analytical skills. It also develops important attributes such as patience, resilience, and camaraderie.
"Embracing chess equips students with the skills and values to navigate life with clarity and determination. In the same way that they strategise on the chessboard, they approach life thoughtfully, and players’ accomplishments resonate beyond the chessboard, enriching minds and empowering futures.
"At OOS, we are committed to gaming prowess and holistic student development. Through chess, our students evolve with refined intellects, resilience, and strategic skills. And this is reflected in our students’ top honours in two prestigious chess tournaments, which has significantly bolstered school pride."
In Singapore’s Overseas Family School, chess is compulsory in the Elementary School curriculum and the school has a large dedicated chess room – fully equipped with demonstration boards, chess sets and chess clocks – to support this. As OFS Chess Teacher Dijana Dengler says, chess teaches skills such as focus and visualisation.
“Chess encourages students to think strategically and improves decision-making skills. Students learn to make plans and think about their moves and alternatives in advance. Chess teaches them that every move has consequences, and they learn to make choices carefully. This kind of approach, where you think first and then act, is most appropriate for any situation in life.
"It also boosts creativity. When students face challenging situations in a game, they learn to think creatively to solve problems. This creativity can be carried over to other areas in life, like school exams or finding solutions to everyday challenges."
In Hong Kong, students at Malvern College Hong Kong participate in a mandatory chess programme for the development of higher-level critical thinking, and mandatory debate and public speaking for effective communication – which is evidence of the co-curricular very much feeding the academic success of Malvern students.
All students at the Australian International School Bangkok (Sukhumvit Soi 31) in Thailand have chess lessons as part of the curriculum, which the school says is "an old traditional favourite that has embedded itself within the AISB culture and philosophy.”
The inclusion of chess in schools is certainly experiencing a surge in popularity, with teachers and principals recognising its potential to equip students with essential skills.
While the academic benefits of chess are clear, advantages of playing extend far beyond the classroom. Transcending age, gender and any background barriers, this is an inclusive game which offers a level playing field. And, while there is an element of competition (of course!), chess instills qualities including sportsmanship, patience and humility. Players learn to respect their opponents and taught to shake hands at the end of each game, regardless of outcome. It’s not just about the victories, with each move being a lesson in itself and every piece holding a key to mastering tactics.
In an age where more value is being placed on slowing down and being ‘present’, where we try to balance screen time with more traditional activities and where adaptability and critical thinking are vital, the case for introducing chess to more schools has never been stronger. And if you’re child has not yet considered taking part in this ultimate strategy game, maybe now is the time to check mate.