Chess: The History, Health Benefits, and Where to Play

Because of the pandemic people are getting back to more of the basics and spending more quality time with people in the same household. Canning, crafting, painting, home repairs, and of course board games, have all ricocheted back into the spotlight and with good reason. Keeping your mind occupied whilst enjoying the company of others, be it in person or virtually, can do wonders for one’s mental health. This blog will look at how chess can help give you reprieve from otherwise stressful events. Information in this blog comes from World Chess Day 20 July, The 10 Best Benefits of Playing Chess, and Some of the Craziest Places People Play Chess.

Brief History of Chess and World Chess Day

Chess is a two-player strategy board game where the aim is to move different types of playing pieces, each with a prescribed set of possible moves, around a checkered square board trying to capture the opponents ‘king’ piece. Today there are over 2,000 identifiable variants of the game. One theory is that an early game similar to chess called Chaturanga originated in Northern Indian Subcontinent during the Gupta period (~ 319 – 543 CE) and spread along the Silk Roads west to Persia.

In 900 CE, Abbasid chess masters al-Suli and al-Lajlaj composed works on the techniques and strategy of the game, and by 1000 CE Chess was popular across Europe, and in Russia where it was introduced from the Eurasian Steppe. The Alfonso manuscripts, also known as the Libro de los Juegos (Book of Games), a medieval collection of texts on three different types of popular game from the 13th century CE describe the game of Chess as very similar to Persian Shatranj in rules and gameplay.

On 12 December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 20 July as World Chess Day to mark the date of the establishment of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) in Paris in 1924.

Under initiative of FIDE, July 20 has been observed as International Chess Day by chess players around the world since 1966.

The designation of World Chess Day of the UN will not only recognize the important role of the FIDE in supporting international cooperation for chess activity and aiming to improve friendly harmony among all peoples of the world, but also to provide an important platform to foster, dialogue, solidarity and culture of peace.

Health Benefits of Chess

Throughout history, games and sports have helped humanity to survive times of crisis by reducing anxieties and improving mental health. While the coronavirus outbreak has forced most gaming and sports activities to scale down, chess has demonstrated remarkable resilience, adaptability and a very strong convening power in time of pandemic.

Over the past few months, the overall interest in chess is reported to have doubled, with more players than ever coming together to participate in chess events that are being increasingly held through online platforms.

According to Rebecca Joy Stanborough MFA, these are the 10 best benefits of playing chess:

  • Chess develops the ability to see from someone else’s perspective. Skilled chess players learn to anticipate an opponent’s next moves. To predict what another person will do next, a player must develop the ability to adopt another person’s perspective and infer what action they are likely to take.
  • Chess improves memory. It might not be surprising to learn that expert chess players have strong memory skills. After all, the game involves memorizing numerous combinations of moves and their potential outcomes. It’s also interesting to note that experienced chess players show higher performance related to a particular kind of recollection: auditory memory. This is the ability to remember what you’ve learned through hearing.
  • Chess increases your intelligence. People with lots of experience playing chess have highly developed thinking abilities in two areas (in addition to memory skills): 1. Fluid intelligence. This is the ability to consider new kinds of problems and use reasoning to solve them. 2. Processing speed. This is the ability to swiftly comprehend tasks and respond efficiently to challenges.
  • Chess enables you to enter a flow state. Flow is a deeply rewarding sense of total involvement, in which you’re operating at a peak performance level in a challenging task. Athletes, artists, and performers often describe entering a kind of time warp, where they are so wholly focused on the task at hand that their awareness of anything beyond the performance seems to disappear.
  • Chess elevates your creativity. Chess increases one’s ability to exercise divergent and creative thinking.
  • Chess leads to better planning skills. Chess games are known for long periods of silent contemplation, during which players consider each move. Players spend time anticipating their opponents’ responses and attempting to predict every eventuality.
  • Chess can make therapy more effective. Some counselors and therapists play chess with clients as a means of increasing self-awareness and building more effective therapeutic relationships.
  • Chess may offer protection against the development of dementia. Researchers found evidence that the game, which challenges memory, calculation, visual-spatial skills, and critical thinking abilities, may help reduce cognitive decline and postpone the effects of dementia as you age.
  • Chess can improve the symptoms of ADHD. Students who participated in this treatment method experienced a 41 percent decrease in both inattentiveness and over-activity following the course of treatment.
  • Electronic chess may help stave off a panic attack. There haven’t been any large-scale studies to support the use of chess apps to help reduce panic attack symptoms. In one 2017 case study, an individual who experienced panic attacks was able to use a chess app on a phone to increase the sense of calm and keep a panic attack from progressing.

Five Unique and Two Traditional Ways to Play Chess

Chess is one of the most ancient, intellectual and cultural games, with a combination of sport, scientific thinking and elements of art. As an affordable and inclusive activity, it can be exercised anywhere and played by all, across the barriers of language, age, gender, physical ability or social status.

Chess games can be enjoyed in a wide variety of venues – at home, at work, school, or even in public parks. There are chess clubs that hold tournaments, and you can even play the game online.

Here are five of the most unique places people have played chess.

Underwater Chess. If you ever visit Motril, Spain, you’ll have your own opportunity for getting deeper into chess. Here you can suit up in full scuba gear and head to the bottom of the ocean. Down there, you’ll find a chess board waiting for you on a small table. They’ll even have two chairs and illumination set up so you can enjoy the game.

On the International Space Station. Greg Chamitoff played a game of chess during his time on the ISS. He was a Canadian astronaut and board game enthusiast. In 2008, when he orbited around the Earth, he’d play each round against grade-school students from around the planet. While his time was kept busy on the space station, he did make the time to play one move per day with the earthbound students. He even got to play an entire third grade championship team.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris. In 1921, at the top of Eiffel Tower, Monsieur Eduard Pape climbed to the top of the structure and placed his chess board in a precarious position, complete with perfectly balanced chess pieces. What makes his chess game so daring is that he’s not on the safe platform near the top of the tower, but outside and between two metal columns of the structure.

A Boxing Ring Match. Chess boxing involves a round of boxing followed by a round of chess, then another round of boxing, and so on. There is a short break between rounds, and both games are usually played in the middle of the ring. The only prerequisite to play are that both players must be thoroughly versed in boxing and chess, so they have a fair chance at winning.

On a Roller Coaster Ride. It seems that this practice is becoming more popular on amusement park rides. However, many of these photos are fake, as the chess pieces have been glued down onto the boards beforehand. The goal is to get a photograph of yourself supposedly playing the game while plunging down a sharp hill or curve on the roller coaster. Apparently, this practice began with an online meme and others thought it would be a good idea.

Then there are the more serious ways to enjoy a good game of chess that anyone can participate in.

In Person Chess: Obviously the most traditional way of playing is in person at a location of the players’ choosing. ILA offers a Tactile Chess Set that has the added benefit of allowing persons with low or no vision the ability to better participate in any face-to-face rounds.

Online Virtual Chess: There are scores of sites available to play a round (or more) of chess depending on what you are looking for with some being free and others having a paid membership. One popular online site is chess.com. (For nine more options please see this article The 10 best places to play chess online put out by Chess Strategy Online)

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