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The Ancient Game of Chess Meets Modern Math

Check your work meets check mate

Chess is a universal board game language. It constitutes one of the largest communities in the world, engaging players across nearly all continents. We could describe math as a science of patterns. In the game of chess, players study patterns to discern the right pathways, and then follow them one step at a time.

Research has shown that chess can build problem-solving skills for young students, and improve both their math and reading scores. Some U.S. schools have even brought chess into their regular curriculum.

What exactly is chess? It’s a strategy game that two people play on an 8 x 8 checkerboard of 64 squares. Each player has 16 chess pieces—a King, a Queen, two Rooks, two Bishops, two Knights, and eight pawns. The pieces have varying degrees of power to travel the board in perpendicular or diagonal lines. Through deft well-planned moves, you capture the other player’s pieces one by one. The aim is to corner your opponent’s King in “checkmate”––then, you win!

Where did this iconic game that captivates hundreds of millions of people come from? Chess goes back nearly 1500 years, first played in India in the 6th century A.D. Its earliest form was known as “chaturanga,” which referred to the four military divisions of “infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry.” By the mid-12th century, those early figures had evolved into the royal court pieces familiar to us. Essential game play took its current form in Europe in the 15th century. And standard rules we still play by today were set in the 19th century.

Math and chess both involve logic. You have a problem to solve and you plan a strategy to solve it. Chess is about patience, thinking ahead, and mapping out decisions. A growing number of schools have found that second grade is the ideal time to start students in chess. Evidently, it’s a great classroom tool to help develop their intellects in fun, energizing ways. P.S 194 in New York even has kids design their own chess pieces with crayons and paper.

Enjoy these stories from elementary schools reaping the learning benefits of chess:

World chess champion Garry Kasparov says that chess “is a game of unlimited beauty…that will make you a better decision-maker.” He says, “It’s about coming up with new ideas, and always improving. You find your mistakes, next time you do better. Chess can release your creative potential.”

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