The popularity of chess is booming thanks to the hit Netflix’ series, The Queen’s Gambit and the effect of coronavirus.
Sales of chessboards are reported to be booming and the series, which sees a young female star ‘wipe the board’ against her mainly male opponents, could encourage more girls to take up chess.
Malcolm Pein, Chief Executive of Chess in Schools and Communities says there's a clear correlation between chess and computing skills.
"It's a common misconception that chess players are good at maths or music or other disciplines. I've never found that to be the case. Of course there are chess players who are also good at all of these things. However the only correlation that I've ever thought was completely clear was that between chess and computer programming. You get an awful lot of chess players working in IT," said Malcolm, who is also Daily Telegraph Chess Correspondent and England Chess Team Captain.
"I think that's because progress in chess requires building skill in pattern recognition. When I was a a computer programmer I found that skill to be particularly useful. That's why at the charity we feel that not only are we giving children what might be described as softer skills, such as ability to concentrate, to persevere to accept defeat gracefully and learn from it, but also we're equipping them with those skills which will be useful in the new economy," he said.
CAS Outreach Manager Sarah Zaman, is a keen chess player and agrees. We spoke to Sarah about her own experience of playing chess, its benefits and how it can inspire and develop computational skills.
Q. Tell us about your own experience of chess? When did you start and what or who encouraged you to play?
I feel like I have always been playing chess. My dad taught me and my younger brother from an early age. He in turn had been taught himself by his dad, my grandad, (pictured below) who used to play against people across the world in the seventies, sending each move to his opponent by letter. On long journeys we used to play chess on our travel set in the back of the car. It is a very big part of our family. We all still have chess boards in our houses just in case anyone wants a game.
Q. What skills does playing chess develop? How do these have wider benefits? Could these benefit computer science skills in a broader sense?
Playing chess uses logical thinking and problem solving which are key computational skills that can actually be applied to lots of curriculum areas, not just computing. (Barefoot Computing talks about the Computational Thinker and the concepts and approaches that relate to it for example.) In Computing and Computer Science the ability to solve problems is the core of the subject. It involves taking a problem, understanding what the problem is and then looking at the various ways to solve it. When playing chess, the problem you are trying to solve is about which moves in a sequence will win you the board.
Q. How could more young people be encouraged to take up chess? Would a revival of school chess clubs be useful?
Setting up a chess club in school has many benefits. The club I ran at my school attracted children for a variety of reasons, including children who were perhaps not attaining highly in English and Maths. We competed across the county too and with chess being not your traditional sport it meant a different set of children being able to take part in competitive sports. I think what struck me most is the fact that some of the children were excellent chess players due to high levels of logical thinking but their scores in other subjects were relatively low. They were also extremely competent at programming. It demonstrates that children can excel in many different ways that may not always show in test scores. This was a real boost to the confidence of these children.
Q. What about girls and chess? Tell us a bit about your experience as a female player?
For me there was never any question of my capabilities, being a girl playing chess in my family. I was treated as an equal at all times. My dad spent years teaching all three of my children and again there was no discrimination between my sons and daughter. Being the female teacher who ran the chess club at school did encourage more girls to attend though in the same way as I always had an equal amount of girls and boys at my computing clubs. Having a female role model in these otherwise male dominated areas encourages girls to participate in these areas which is of course a good thing.
Q. What did you think of the Queen’s Gambit?
I absolutely loved it. I always felt that I was a girl on my own with my love of chess and seeing a woman portrayed as succeeding in an otherwise male dominated world in that time was refreshing. I also enjoyed the way she spent time going over the games from that day to improve on her performance. I loved her perseverance and ambition to win. Something I feel is a big part of my own personality.