1. IT CAN RAISE YOUR IQ
Chess has always had an image problem, being seen as a game for brainiacs and people with already high IQs. So there has been a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: do smart people gravitate towards chess, or does playing chess make them smart? At least one study has shown that moving those knights and rooks around can in fact raise a person’s intelligence quotient. A study of 4,000 Venezuelan students produced significant rises in the IQ scores of both boys and girls after 4 months of chess instruction.
2. IT HELPS PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S
Because the brain works like a muscle, it needs exercise like any bicep or quad to be healthy and ward off injury. A recent study featured in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people over 75 who engage in brain-stretching activities like chess are less likely to develop dementia than their non-board-game-playing peers. Just like an un-exercised muscle loses strength, Dr. Robert Freidland, the study’s author, found that unused brain tissue leads to a loss of brain power. So that’s all the more reason to play chess before you turn 75.
3. IT EXERCISES BOTH SIDES OF THE BRAIN
In a German study, researchers showed chess experts and novices simple geometric shapes and chess positions and measured the subjects’ reactions in identifying them. They expected to find the experts’ left brains being much more active, but they did not expect the right hemisphere of the brain to do so as well. Their reaction times to the simple shapes were the same, but the experts were using both sides of their brains to more quickly respond to the chess position questions.
4. CHESS PLAYERS ARE SUCCESSFUL
The 2012 YouGov poll also found a clear relationship between being a regular chess player and various measures of achievement and success. 78% of active chess players are university graduates. 20% of households making above $120,000 regularly play chess. Chess players are 5 times more likely to read in-depth analysis and high-brow publications. They are also likely to be affluent, 40% more likely to purchase luxury items. Peter Thiel, a prominent venture capitalist, co-founder of Paypal, and a major figure in the 2016 Presidential election is an avid chess player. And he’s not alone among the famous. Microsoft’s founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen have been known to play each other as do other Silicon valley titans. Acting legends Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando were lifelong chess aficionados. As was John Wayne. So was directing great Stanley Kubrick. Other celebrities known for their chess prowess include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicholas Cage, Ray Charles, Ben Affleck, Bono, Will Smith, and Howard Stern.
5. CHESS IMPROVES KEY THINKING SKILLS
As a game based on logic and processing of numerous potential combinations of moves at once, it is tailor-made for engaging your brain functions. There are a number of studies that show how chess can enhance your thinking powers. One way has to do with pattern recognition. Studies of the former world champion Garry Kasparov showed how quickly a player of his caliber recognized patterns. It has also been shown that better chess players use both sides of the brain to make decisions, engaging the visual information processing part of the brain to find patterns and the analytical side to pick the best logical move. Other studies highlight the interesting fact that the brains of elite players are actually smaller compared to the non-experts, possibly pointing to “localized shrinkage” in order to increase neural efficiency.