The RedBandit Chess Method
Along with all of the other benefits of chess, I teach with a deliberate focus on assessing and improving executive functioning (EF). Broadly, EF comprises a set of cognitive control processes that enable goal-directed behavior and self-regulation. Specific skills associated with EF include decision-making, planning, sequencing behavior, inhibiting habitual responses, shifting between tasks, and coping with novel information or situations. As such, EF is necessary for developing good and flexible habits in everyday life. EF skills have also been linked to better overall academic, vocational, and emotional functioning. Thus, by using chess as a fun and evidence-based approach to targeting executive functions, I provide my students with life-long, cognitive benefits – whether their goal is to participate in a beginners tournament or reach the level of master. See below for more details about how chess is directly affected by specific components of EF.
“Chess is the gymnasium of the mind”
“The beauty of a move lies not in its appearance, but in the thought behind it”
“The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess”
Thinking before acting: Chess players must constantly balance how quickly they make decisions. Moving too quickly leads to missed opportunities, while over analyzing can lead to time trouble. Chess enables players to regularly practice inhibiting the brain’s impulse to (re)act, which can strengthen this skill in settings beyond the chess board where thinking before acting is especially important.
Adjusting to the unexpected:
Chess requires cognitive flexibility. Often, the evaluation of a position changes, and players must be able to quickly recognize that and adapt. For example, continuing to play for a win in an equal or worse position can result in mistakes if you are focused on the wrong goals.
Being able to evaluate yourself: As in life, an accurate self-understanding is critical in chess. Unfortunately, many players are unaware of their strengths and weaknesses, which makes it difficult to make any meaningful gains. Ongoing evaluation of one’s position and variations throughout the game, coupled with post-game analyses of performance, are imperative to chess improvement.
Getting started on a task: Often times, procrastination results from difficulty with getting started. Fortunately, chess is a game predicated on structure and iteration. By having consistent and regular study routines, along with multiple opportunities to practice prioritizing choices and integrating feedback, chess affords players organic opportunities to plan and initiate tasks.
Keeping one's feelings in check: Good sportsmanship must always be shown in chess. Players are required to maintain emotional control before, during and after a game. Given that emotions are a normal part of the human condition, regulation can be especially difficult in competitive contexts like chess. Whether the goal is to not give away anything to an opponent or to regulate an emotional reaction to a particular sequence, chess demands that players have the ability to self soothe and keep their emotions in check. Regardless of the outcome, chess players must be good competitors.
Ability to keep key information in mind: Chess is an endless source of new and interesting information that must be taken in, modified, and used at future dates. As such, players must develop and refine effective strategies for remembering key variations, anticipating future moves, and updating approaches.
Planning and Prioritizing
Deciding on a goal and a plan to meet it: During a game, players are simultaneously balancing short- and long-term goals and priorities. Resultantly, players must know how and when to implement specific strategies. For example, prioritizing attack/defense is an extremely important, and often difficult, skill to master. It is also useful for players to know which aspects of their game (i.e., openings, endgames, etc.) require more focus to help inform and prioritize their individualized program of study.
Keeping track of things both physically and mentally: Tournament players must be good at multitasking (i.e., thinking, writing moves, managing the clock, etc.). Mental organization is key to chess success because players are required to track specific thought process on each move, analyze multiple variations/sub-variations, and not lose track of more general game strategies. Time pressures present an additional challenge in chess, and helping students to develop effective time management and organizational strategies is paramount to improving performance.