By Shaun P. Huston, Ph.D.
The Portland Chess Club Project was an after-school activity that was valuable to many students. The goal of
the program was to teach young children aged six to ten to learn to play chess and to see what outcomes chess
might have on their academic performance, self-esteem, and classroom behavior. There were four aspects
of the evaluation results worth noting.
• First, in the area of academic achievement, Chess Club students in grade four had higher mathematics
test scores on the Portland Achievement Levels Test (PALT) scores than their grade level counterparts in
the project schools. This pattern of academic gains continued among Chess Club participants in fifth grade;
these students had higher reading and mathematics test scores on the PALT test than other fifth graders in the
• Second, students also showed gains in nonverbal intelligence / cognition as measured by the Matrix
Analogies Test (MAT). Chess club students gained at least one year in age equivalency scores over a five-
month pre - post testing period on the MAT test. These academic improvements were interesting and
suggestive findings. Indeed, during the spring 1996 MAT testing, a Chess Club Coordinator
mentioned improvements in concentration that supported the conclusion that chess appears to have a
positive affect on nonverbal intelligence.
• Third, parents and school coordinators were extremely supportive of the Chess Club program. The
support of these key groups made a strong statement about the positive value of the Chess Club program.
• Finally, based on the available attendance figures, participation appeared to be good on both a
quantitative and qualitative level. In addition, the chess club was an activity that was attractive to both male
and female students. While the level of students’ academic benefit due to Chess Club participation has been
difficult to quantify, the qualitative measures provide overwhelming support for the positive affect of chess as
a tool for learning.
It should be noted that the Project will be continued and expanded under the auspices of the Chess for
Success Program. The continuity of the Chess Club Program will provide an opportunity for further study of
chess and its influence on behavior, thinking skills, academic performance, and self-esteem. The continuation of
the Project also means that students and parents who have enjoyed and appreciated having Chess Clubs in
their schools will continue to have this valuable learning opportunity.
Other Chess Research
There have been a number of formal studies on the psychological and cognitive effects of chess on school
• During his governor’s teacher grant from the New Jersey State Department of Education, William Levy
found that chess consistently (1980-1987) promoted self-esteem after a year of exposure. Many students’ self-
images improved dramatically.
• The Venezuela “Learning to Think Project,” which trained 100,000 teachers to teach thinking skills
and involved 4,266 second grade students, reached a general conclusion that chess, methodologically taught,
is an incentive system sufficient to accelerate the increase of IQ in elementary age children of both sexes
at all socio-economic levels.
• During the 1987-88 “Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,” all students in a rural
Pennsylvania sixth grade self-contained classroom were required to participate in chess lessons and play
games. None of the pupils had previously played chess. The pupils significantly improved in both memory and
• A 1989-92 New Brunswick, Canada study, using 437 fifth graders split into three groups, experimenting
with the addition of chess to the math curriculum, found increased gains in math problem-solving and
comprehension proportionate to the amount of chess in the curriculum.
• In a 1994 - 97 Texas study, regular (non - honors) elementary students who participated in a school
chess club showed twice the improvement of non-chess players in reading and mathematics between third
and fifth grades on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.
Researches and educators have questioned what causes this growth. The Venezuelan Study claimed:
“Chess develops a new form of thinking, and this exercise is what contributes to increase the intelligent
quotient.” Why does chess have this impact? Chess provides a large quantity of problems for practice. Chess
offers immediate penalties and rewards for problem solving. Chess creates a pattern of thinking. The chess
playing students had become accustomed to looking for more and different alternatives, which resulted in
higher scores in fluency and originality. Children love games. Chess motivates them to become willing problem
solvers and spend hours quietly immersed in logical thinking. These same young people often cannot sit still
for fifteen minutes in the traditional classroom.
Shaun P. Huston, Ph.D., Consultant Research and Evaluation Department, “Portland Public Schools Final
Evaluation Report of the Portland Chess Project”, June, 1997.
Robert Ferguson, “Teaching the Fourth ‘R’ (Reflective Reasoning) through Chess,” doctoral dissertation, 1994.
Rafael Rudela, “Learning to Thing Project,” Commission for Chess in Schools, 1984.
Robert Ferguson, “Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,” 1988.
Louise Gaudreau, “Etude Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathematiqes 5e Annee,” study comparing the
Challenging Mathematics curriculum to traditional math, 1992.
U.S. Chess Mates