Ho Math Chess Research and Articles > Why Chess helps Math

21 Jan 2010

Why Chess helps Math



Frank Ho, Amanda Ho


Founder of Ho Math and Chess and Canada certified math teacher


Vancouver, BC, Canada





Many parents, from time to time, come to us asking to give their children more exercises to do in order to help them do better in math. Most of the time, we obliged since this is what parents wanted. They seem to believe the only way to make progress in math is just to do more practices, perhaps loads of them.


More practice increases the computation fluency so perhaps it makes senses, but we also see there are situations that the end result is some children absolutely hate repetitions of practice and some of them simply have lost the ability of thinking on their own.


If we were asked to use one word to describe math then the word we would use is THINK. Math = THINK. Chess is a “thinking” game, so will playing chess help math in this case? If it does then is there any math example we could give to show why chess helps math?


The following example will give a glimpse view on what would happen if a student doing math with a tunnel vision and one focal point of mind, these are odds against playing a good chess game.


For example, to solve x of the equation 2/3 – 2[(x-1)/2] = ¼ - (1-x)/2


You cannot solve the above problem without looking at the entire expression and then analyze it a bit. This is very similar to playing chess; a good chess player never just looks one side of board and then starts to play. One must look at the entire board and analyze the position and then come up with a strategy.


So what do students “see” when the above equation is given?

They see fractions with different denominators, then what strategy to use?

Both sides must multiply by the LCD 12 to get rid of the denominators.


By multiplying 12 on both sides, what step does a student use? Many teachers teach children as if they were robots without allowing them to use them brain to do a bit of abstract or mental calculation. This is a mistake of not allow them to train more in using their brain.


12 x (2/3) can be maneuvered by using a triangular calculation that is 12/3 is 4 and then 4 times 2 gives 8 so the answer is immediately 8. This calculation does not require any writing at all, yet many teachers “encourage” student to calculate in pencil and paper to come with answers or even calculator instead of promoting mental calculation.

You can not play chess by physically move each chess piece to do the thinking, every move must be thought in abstract way without actually moving any chess pieces, this kind of training can be used in training children’s mental computation ability that is without actually using pencil and paper.


Many students will make a mistake on 12 times 2[(x-1)/2] because they always forget there is a cause and consequence effect, 12 must be negative and not positive. The ability without seeing through is a clear sign that students are not able to do multi-tasking and can only do math with a one focal point of view. One cannot play chess like this, one move has a ripple effect and a good player must be able to see what consequences are by making one move. This math example clearly demonstrates what multi-effect will happen by a simple multiplication of 12.


Students will continue to make mistakes and lose points when taking math exams if these students do not develop the ability of global view when analyzing a problem. They must also have the ability to scan the entire equation to come up with a strategy just like playing chess to scan the entire chessboard. They must have the ability of being able to “look ahead” that is by using one operator then what will happen to other terms in the equation? This is very similar to the ability of playing chess that is to be able to “look ahead”.


So by playing chess, will it help math? We think it will, but this is a conditional statement. If the student does not “think” when playing chess then the benefit of playing chess will not transfer to do math. It is very important how chess is trained to a child so that they are learning the abilities of being able to “look ahead”, “scan” the problem, “analyzing” problem with a “global view”, in addition to “local” view.


Frank Ho, Amanda Ho