U.S. Chess Mates
                                                                                 June 1997
                                                                 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
program schools.

•      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
verbal reasoning.

•      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.