Does chess make you smarter? Researched and Explained!


Thinking chess player

Chess has the reputation of a game that can make someone smart, at least that is what a lot of people online are going to tell you. But is this true? Are there any basis for this conclusion and should we believe that this is the case?

I have done the research in order to present everything that you need to know about this topic, a lot of people are missing the bigger picture. If you’re interested in learning about this keep on reading.

Chess doesn’t necessarily make a person smarter

Focus, patience, and dedication are required to make significant progress in chess, as is a desire to identify and correct mistakes in one’s play. The ability to see patterns or have theoretical chess knowledge will not necessarily make you “smarter,” but playing chess may have an influence on your discipline and how you interpret things in other aspects of your life.

If you have the dedication to spend hours upon hours of theoretical chess studies then you are likely to be an individual who gets a knack for learning about new things. This means that the majority of chess players may just be generally “smart”.

But if we are going to buy this reason then it means that chess as a game is not the source of intelligence, rather it attracts individuals who are already intelligent in the first place. It is a different statement that doesn’t place chess as the almighty game of “smarts”.

Also there might be a reason why this is just not true, just because someone reads a lot about a favorite game that they play does not mean that they will generally become smart. If a person likes to read about Defense of the Ancients (Dota) because they want to improve, it doesn’t necessarily make them smarter.

Dota is a game that requires a lot of thinking, different kinds of strategies and build will be applicable depending on the situation (meaning that it is a worthy comparison to a game such as chess). There are many people who are “gods” to playing Dota because they have studied about it but are not performing academically well.

I think the reason why chess players are generally considered “smart” is because the game in itself has a reputation of hosting intelligent people in popular culture. If any other game that requires just as much thinking as chess is placed in the spotlight it wouldn’t even matter as much.

People will disregard games such as Defense of the Ancients or Starcraft because they have a reputation of “destroying the youth”, not even taking into consideration the fact that they are incredibly hard to play. If chess does make people smart then these other games should too.

Knowledge acquired in chess may not be transferable to other fields

The topics involved in chess are mostly useless outside the aspects of the game, it is not something that can be incorporated to other fields. If you learn how to properly do mathematics for example it is something that can also be applicable to other studies.

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Although chess practice improves one’s chess ability, the question of whether talents learned in one area are transferable is a point of contention among cognitive scientists. Chess players and musicians would prefer to believe their abilities are superior, but studies to yet have been unable to demonstrate this.

For instance, chess players have a superior recall for chess positions but no superior memory for anything else. While musicians have superior recall for musical notes, their memory for everything else is comparable to that of the general population. Thus, even in really basic non-chess situations, a “highly brilliant” chess player may be incompetent/”stupid.”

Chess players that can memorize a lot of lines in a theoretical opening is impressive, but this doesn’t make them superior to students who can memorize chapters before taking an exam. Memorization can be difficult depending on the topic.

If the topic in question is a subject that a person generally feels strongly about, they are more likely to enjoy memorizing it than a subject that is too boring for their taste. Someone who likes studying English is more likely to memorize rules about the said language than a mathematical equation that they hate.

Consequently, someone who likes to play chess a lot is likely to memorize theoretical openings because they already enjoy participating in the game, something that may not be transferable to other fields. It is hard to determine just how much a chess player can memorize outside of chess.

Now there is a case to be made that chess players who memorize a lot of concepts about the game are likely to be better at doing it than an average individual, which may be true to a degree. But there are also some of those “average individuals” who are good at memorizing even without a lot of practice.

This just shows to prove that knowledge that comes from chess does not necessarily make a person smart since the concepts involved in mastering the game are not necessarily transferable.

Are chess players smart or are they just hard working?

Chess players who generally appear to be smart in front of an average viewer may appear to be intellectually superior at a first glance, this is disregarding the fact that they have poured hours upon hours of chess study before the actual game. They will obviously excel in the field since they have put in the work.

When it comes to chess and cognitive ability, there is a correlation that is mostly due to the amount of effort required to play chess. Those who have mastered the art of concentration and study in chess for long periods of time may use their skills in other fields as well.

The same can be said, however, for musicians, physicians, and other professionals. However, it is not exclusive to the game of chess alone.

Musicians that have developed a taste for good music can use their ability in other fields in some form, but it doesn’t make them generally smart. They might be able to tell some things about the individual based on their music taste for example.

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But this is because mastering music requires so much study that there tends to be some little things that may be transferable to other fields. This is the same with chess, some of the things in the game might be transferable but most are not.

A chess player might be able to tell whether a particular wood is good for furniture because they have played on a wooden chess board for so long, but this doesn’t make them smart.

Moreover the time spent in studying the game just makes a person likely to perform well on the said game, but this might just be a product of hard work and not intelligence. It is hard to determine whether there is a correlation.

Again it all comes back to connotation, chess has a wide reputation of becoming a game where smart people flourish, which is why people who excel in this game are more likely to be considered smart.

This is this regarding the fact that many individuals have worked so hard in other things that they can perform well in those too (yet they are not considered smart).

Vague correlation of chess ability to academic performance

If we’re talking about academic performance (which some people would refer to as the primary basis of intelligence) it is pretty clear that mastering chess does not improve test scores. Unlike testing for intelligence in general, there seems to not have any impact between chess study and academic scores.

Numerous studies have shown that although chess does increase cognitive, memory, and arithmetic abilities, this improvement does not always convert into improved exam results. The research on the impact of chess on test scores has yielded inconsistent findings.

Many students who excel in academic related tasks find it difficult to master chess in its entirety, on the other hand, students who are very immersed in chess studies actually perform worse in academic scores (there are exceptions).

The poor performance might just be a result of limited engagement with actual academic materials and instead focusing on chess studies (which makes the statistic pretty unfair). It is not like mastering chess makes student incompetent in tackling academic related tasks, more like there is a conflict in focus.

Students who immerse themselves with many chess studies (and attend formal competitions) find it difficult to keep up with their classmates who only focus on academic related subjects. Whichever subject to focus on will be your strength.

This really makes the correlation between chess and academic scores vague, it is hard to determine whether mastering chess can make someone perform academically well. The main reason why this might be the case is the limited transitional skills acquired in mastering chess.

Academic related skills are mostly not involved in the study of chess except for memorization, other than this concept there is no direct skill that could improve one’s academic performance. As of the moment we can’t prove that mastering chess can make someone smart academically.

Problem with research determining how chess make a person smart

I have been surfing a lot of blogs online about this topic, there is much supposed research out there claiming that there is a correlation between chess study and how smart a person can become. I have found that findings with these research are quite problematic and the conclusions about them are not reliable.

A majority of these research are problematic in their conclusions. In order to conduct a controlled study, researchers must first teach individuals who are not chess players (such as youngsters) how to play chess before testing their cognitive capacity in other areas.

This is because it is possible that clever individuals gravitate toward hobbies such as chess and music as a result of their experience, and so the impact is not causative. In other words it doesn’t necessarily mean that chess as a game will help make a person smarter, rather smart people are just more likely to play in the first place.

This makes sense, the majority of the population do not consider moving a bunch of wood quite fun. Our era revolves around the concept of technology, many games that are supported by the crowd are those that are in the virtual realm.

Chess is also a brain oriented game that is quite tedious in most cases, there is not a lot of things going on in the board and the schemes are positional. This makes people who enjoy playing chess likely to be those that enjoy reading and studying with their free time (therefore likely to be smart and not the other way around).

This is why the “online research” about this topic is mostly not reliable.

The impact of chess to intelligence is hard to determine in general

Aside from the questionable authenticity of the research, it is just hard to determine the impact of chess to intelligence in general.

In the studies that I have found online they normally ask volunteers to play chess or another brain game for a few hours, sometimes over the course of a few days, and then assess their overall cognitive capacity to determine whether there has been any progress as a result of their participation.

It is similar to having participants lift weights for a few hours while the researchers would look for any statistically significant differences in strength as a result of their participation in the study.

As a result, there will be little benefit since it takes weeks or months to generate a considerable improvement in strength via consistent exercise. It’s possible that playing chess has an influence on cognitive capacity, but these studies actually don’t tell us anything about the subject.

If we’re going to take a chess player who has studied for years on the other hand, we may never know if the game made them smart or if they are already smart before trying to play the game. Any conclusion is hard to make.

Final thoughts

There are many people online telling that chess can make people smart which is absolutely false, there hasn’t been any research to back this up. Partly this is due to the reputation of chess as a game that is played by naturally smart people.

Now it could be the case that this is true, however with the knowledge that we have there is no basis for this conclusion. That is all, thank you for reading.

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