Can chess make you brainy? Do you have to be brainy to play chess? Which one, if either of these two commonly held beliefs reflects the truth? Most people probably believe both of them. There are many claims of the benefits of getting children involved in playing chess, it is seen as the go to game for extremely intelligent children.
But let's be honest here, the coolest in the school playground have never viewed chess success as anything other than compensation for not being cool. You either get to be cool, or to be a chess champion, the two can never be compatible. Or so the thinking goes.
To get a real perspective on the interest of children's chess, I canvassed the views of chess coach Richard Weekes, who founded his own Chess Academy in south east London, and runs clubs across the capital. He is a real believer in the power of chess.
Richard Weekes, Founder of the Richard Weekes Chess Academy
"Chess is a great game that's easy to learn and should be taught in a way that is fun. Playing chess helps to improve children's thinking skills and allows them to explore new ideas."
Over the years, a host of films, and stories have brought glamour and relevance to the game that has made people think differently. One of the oldest of these films now is Knights of the South Bronx portraying Ted Danson as a washed up teacher who is rejuvenated by steering a deprived call of pupils to New York State Chess Championships. Another well-known American chess movie is Searching for Bobby Fischer which features a more traditional chess hero doing battle with a Svengali type figure to go on to win in his own way.
With the rise of technology, you now don't even need to go near a real chess board and many technological versions of the game, such as Chessfire. You can play with an unknown electronic opponent, or an anonymous but real player on the other side of the world, or someone who is completely anonymous.
Weekes believes that when children play chess, it can empower them in their wider lives:
"Playing chess helps to decrease the reaction time of children in certain situations and allows them to think a little longer about choosing more positive options so that they can respond and act more appropriately".
A new chess film due for theatrical release in the UK in autumn 2016, is Queen of Katwe, made by Disney/ESPN is set to draw more attention to the game. It is based on the real life story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan child chess prodigy. This will bring renewed interest in girls chess playing, so how appealing is chess to girls? Weekes comments:
One slight disappointment I have though is the noticeable absence of young girls and teenage girls who do not yet play chess. I have been promoting and raising awareness about this for a few years to encourage participation as I believe girls can play chess equally as well as boys. I'd like to think that more girls coming into chess is not that far away though, and what I think could help change this is to have more visible images of chess so that people can see these images around their neighbourhood
For more information, contact Richard Weekes's Chess Academy.