Can Playing Chess Improve Brain Health?

Chess is one of the most popular games in the world. Beyond its entertaining qualities, playing chess has been found to have powerful impacts on the human brain. In this blog post, we delve into the potential benefits of playing chess and shed light on how chess may impact brain health.

Recent research

As the average lifespan continues to lengthen, there is a growing concern for having a high quality of life in old age. A significant part of that is maintaining cognitive health in one’s golden years. With this in mind, David Canning, the Professor of Population Sciences and of Economics and International Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, decided to analyze the cognitive effects of playing chess on individuals over time. The study is ongoing and specifically focuses on the effects of aging on the brain and the possible prevention of dementia. 

Canning noted that there is a broad age range of chess players, which makes for a valuable data set. There is a US Chess database that he was able to use to study the cognitive abilities of players over time, essentially using chess games in place of cognitive surveys that a typical study would use.

Past research suggests that there is a correlation between chess performance and cognitive ability, but it hasn’t shown to be very significant. Cognitively stimulating activities, including strategic games like chess, are generally shown to have positive effects on aging brains. However, further study is needed to understand the exact benefits. 

We’re excited to see what Canning discovers as he continues the research. While the specific benefits of playing chess on dementia prevention are somewhat uncertain, there are other ways that chess can positively impact cognition.

Cognitive benefits of chess

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Chess is known for the critical thinking and strategic planning that it requires. When taking part in a chess match, players must analyze various moves and anticipate their opponent’s actions. This process stimulates critical thinking and sharpens problem-solving skills. By constantly evaluating positions and weighing different possibilities, chess players can develop a knack for assessing complex situations and making logical decisions.

Attention and Focus

Success in chess hinges on maintaining concentration and focus throughout a game that can last for hours. With so many possible moves to consider, players must concentrate on the board and analyze their opponent’s intentions. This sustained focus may help to improve attention span and the ability to concentrate on tasks in other areas of life as well.

Spatial Awareness

Chess is a game of visualizing potential moves and anticipating outcomes. Players must mentally project the consequences of their moves and plan several steps ahead. This practice may enhance spatial awareness and visualization skills. Research suggests that regular chess playing can strengthen the brain’s capacity to visualize, leading to improvements in spatial reasoning which can be useful beyond the game.

Emotional Intelligence and Resilience

Chess can be an emotionally charged game, especially during competitive matches. As with any game, victories and losses can provide an opportunity for players to cultivate emotional intelligence and resilience. Chess teaches individuals to manage their emotions, stay calm under pressure, and think objectively even in challenging situations. These emotional skills translate into real-life scenarios, where the ability to regulate emotions and maintain composure can lead to improved social awareness, as well as executive function skills such as decision-making.


Research has shown that chess has many potential cognitive benefits. It’s possible that it may even help to prevent dementia, although further study is needed to provide solid evidence of this. Whether you try chess for the first time or have played for years, the strategy and focus that the game requires provide great exercise for the brain.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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