The award-winning TV series, The Queen’s Gambit, has led to the resurgence in the classical strategy game of chess. It’s now cool to play chess whatever your age. While it used to be the game for adult nerds and children who didn’t play sport, this is not so today. Many schools offer chess as an extramural activity and a broad cross-section of children attend from as early as Grade R (age 6). It’s a fabulous way to engage with your child or connect with another adult – a stimulating alternative to passively watching TV night after night. Play chess to give your strategic thinking a workout.

What can you learn from chess?

The value of chess in boosting the brain cannot be underestimated. It’s a tactical game where you have to take into consideration what your opponent might do. You have to play out various scenarios in your own mind – what if this then that, what if that then this – before committing yourself to a move. There is an incredible amount of forward-and-backwards thinking and planning involved. Chess teaches consequence, cause-and-effect, and uses memory skills, much like real life. With regard to children even primary and high school teachers, as well as educational psychologists agree that children who are good at chess are often proficient at maths.

After learning the name of each chess piece and what it can do, by playing regularly, you or your child will quickly pick up the rules of the game. Chess involves holding the big picture of checkmate in your mind, the ultimate goal in chess, while at the same time being able to work out all the small moves you need to make to get there. Your opponent’s moves. may require adjustments to your strategy You have to be very focused and awake. In chess, you need to be able to work out your moves both forwards and backwards. The connection with maths is that a lot of maths problem solving is done forwards and in geometry, backwards.

How chess helps child development

Chess is fantastic for the development of visual perception skills. It involves all the skills – spatial awareness, direction, planning, visual memory and more. It definitely involves higher-order thinking. Chess is a whole-brain activity that requires creative thinking for the planning of moves and logical thinking in the execution of moves.

Educational researchers Das and Naglieri talk about planning, attention, successive and simultaneous processing in their PASS Theory, which is used by educators today. Chess stimulates all four of these at the same time. Successive processing would be moving forwards in small steps related to the end result, and simultaneous processing would be seeing backwards from the whole to the small steps that are required.

The most remarkable thing about the human brain is that it does both simultaneous and successive processing at the same time. A simpler and yet equally profound example of this would be a baby mastering the physical aspects of crawling and then encountering an obstacle in his way. He has to decide how he is going to get around the obstacle – under, over or just push it out of the way. This would require the use of higher-order thinking skills of problem-solving at the same time as actually learning how to crawl.

Chess, like reading, is a skill for life. If you are not a chess player, then do yourself a favour and get playing. Great for families, great for teams at work. It’s a game I was taught by my son, who learnt to play at school at the age of 8. A good investment of time and attention for both of us. Every family needs a chess set – here is a good one to consider.

In a time where problem-solving, critical, and strategic thinking are at a premium, play chess to give your strategic thinking a workout.


  • Play chess to give your strategic thinking a boost
  • If you have a small team get them into chess and have a knockout tournament over a month to have a reigning monthly champion – another way to connect your team in a hybrid world.
  • Checkers, draughts, or even Chinese checkers will also do, if chess is too daunting (it isn’t as daunting as you think) – the same type of thinking but a little easier
  • There are virtual options available, if you can’t meet face to face for a game,
  • With teams looking at ways to reconnect, play is a powerful connector that shouldn’t be underestimated


  • Encourage your family to learn how to play chess
  • The developmental benefits are many during childhood and last for a lifetime
  • Play family games as an alternative to being on screens
  • Balance time on screens with 3-dimensional games like real chess – a completely different experience

Much love,
Nikki Bush
Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you to win at work and life

Enjoy the podcast of the Refiloe Mpakanyane Weekend Breakfast on 702, where we discussed how playing Chess gives your strategic thinking a workout and helps your child develop many important skills.