Check Mate: How Chess Improves Math Scores

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Publication Date: 11/16/2009


For over a decade, scientists and educators have studied the intellectual benefits of playing chess. Research has shown that chess improves the player’s problem-solving abilities, self-discipline, and deductive reasoning—all of which are skills utilized in math. This connection between chess and improving math skills has prompted schools across the nation to establish after-school chess programs in order to boost students’ math scores.

Dr. Eric Gottlieb, associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Rhodes, says, “The ability to think several steps ahead and to work through multi-step processes is important in both chess and math. Therefore, you’d expect that playing chess would improve your ability to do those things and your mathematical abilities as well.”

Gottlieb goes on to explain how both chess and math involve objective reasoning: “The best chess players know strong positions to play toward. So they don’t start from the present situation; they try to move toward a position that they know is winning. Similarly in mathematics, you’ll often have an objective that you’re reasoning toward, which is to prove a theorem.”

In the past few years, computer scientists have made major breakthroughs in creating chess-playing computer programs. In fact, computer scientists have now developed machines that can defeat some of the best chess players.

Gottlieb, who is fascinated by computer science, says, “On the one hand, playing chess improves cognitive abilities that are needed for mathematics and computer science.  On the other hand, the act of developing powerful chess-playing programs has posed challenges that have helped computer science to grow as a discipline.  Chess play at the highest levels has also been informed by the way expert computer programs play chess.”

Gottlieb, a trained enumerative and algebraic combinatorialist, teaches math and computer science and is interested in combinatorial game theory.

For media interested in speaking with Dr. Gottlieb:
Phone: 901-843-3723
Email: gottlieb@rhodes.edu

(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Brianna McCullough ′10)