Chess and Aptitudes

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I very briefly introduce you herewith to an experiment performed… in 1973.


Very often we hear such wordings as « You need to be intelligent to play chess », « Chess fosters intelligence », … All this is too vague…


In 1973, in co-operation with the Psychology Department of the “Université Nationale du Zaïre” at Kisangani, I undertook an experiment so as to clarify matters.

It should first be noticed that almost everywhere there is a facultative teaching of Chess in primary and secondary schools. A result of this « facultative » feature is that it is extremely difficult to produce unbiased statistical studies.


In a first stage, I received from the Government of Zaire permission to REPLACE, during a year, in three classes of the fourth year (I take the current Belgian denomination) in a major secondary school of Kisangani, two out of seven hours of mathematics a week by two hours of chess teaching.


The six classes of the fourth year in this institution, each 30 students, were divided into two groups : 3 classes in the « experimental » A-group ; 3 others in the « control » B-group.


I was able to administer the following tests :


-    the Belgian version of the G.A.T.B. (« General Aptitude Test Battery »)

-    the P.M.A. (« Primary mental abilities » by Thurstone)

-         the D.A.T. (« Differential Aptitude Test » by Bennet, Seashore and Wesman )

-         the D2 (Brieckenkamp)

-         the Rorschach.


Some preliminary remarks should be made before going over to the description of the experiment :


- Knowing in which measure the used tests were culturally adapted to the tested persons is not absolutely fundamental, since the aim was to compare groups A and B.


-                                            - NO student of both groups had ever heard about chess, which is very useful to eliminate parasites.


-                                            - Ideally, there should have been a third group with another learning … but you can’t have it all !


-         The seven weekly teaching hours (mathematics + chess for the A-group, mathematics only for the B-group) were given by Frenchspeaking teachers – in casu, two Belgian teachers for mathematics and myself for chess.




Experiment phases :


1.      At the beginning of the year, all students (A and B groups) were administered the various tests. Both groups scored analogously.

2.      Whereas group B is normally taught mathematics (7 hours a week), group A is given the same programme in five hours a week and receives two hours of chess (Wednesday 11-12 a.m. and Saturday 7-8 a.m.). Chess lessons, as with others lectures, also contain tests and exams counting for a coefficient of 2/7 of mathematics ( mathematics counting for 5/7 of the total coefficient).

3.      At the end of the year, all students of both groups were given the various tests again. The students of the experimental groups furthermore took an exam to test the chess level reached. The items of this exam were mostly written by Doctor Max EUWE, former chess world champion and chairman of the F.I.D.E. (« Fédération internationale du Jeu d’Echecs).


The « verdict » is brought in : among tested aptitudes, two show significant differences in favour of the experimental group : the arithmetical aptitude, with a threshold of .O5 and “verbal logic “ (most often measured by the identification of synonyms or antonyms) with a threshold of .O1.


These original findings answered the questions raised before the experimentation. But why verbal logic ? …

There is still no answer.


4. The experiment also enabled us to answer questions with a view to delineating, taking the results of the aptitude test into account, the ability to enhance chess performance… but this is beyond the scope of this summary.


5.  The students of both groups received special attention till the end of their secondary studies, i.e. two years after the end of the experiment. The students of the experimental group obtained significantly better results, foremost in mathematics and French.


The complete study is given in the book « CHESS AND APTITUDES », Albert Frank, American Chess Foundation, December 1978.


A technical summary (in French) has been published under the title « Aptitudes et apprentissage du jeu d’échecs au Zaïre » in the magazine “Psychopathologie Africaine” , 1979, XV, 1, 81-98.