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Chess / By Shelby Lyman

Chess is a microcosm of life. The centrality of the decision-making process has resulted in the game being described as “the gymnasium of the mind” by observers as disparate as Blaise Pascal and Vladimir Lenin, and as the “touchstone of the intellect” by Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

The game or sport of chess engages the player in a complex process which increasingly beguiles teachers and school administrators around the world.

Judging by reports in an ever larger number of Google Alerts that pour into my computer daily, scholastic chess programs continue to proliferate.

In a sense, the game is subversive. It challenges the static focus on memorization and canned answers that is the bane of good teaching.

Instead of factoids, the student confronts ideas that are dynamic and constantly employed in a context of play and struggle.

Learning based on so-called (discrete) facts is replaced or supplemented by a dialectical process of theory and practice.

Most children are natural autodidacts if we let them. They teach themselves and they teach each other – drawing constantly on fresh experience.

Their naive response is that errors are not abhorrent or punishable. They are, instead, moments for insight learning and even a chuckle or two.

The process is deeply satisfying, empowering and fun.

It is not a surprise that many children find the chess experience exhilarating.

Below is a win by Vladimir Kramnik against Mohammed Al-Modiakhi from the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway.