Why Four GMs Think Playing Chess Is Important: Anand, Aronian, Hou, and Kramnik
On International Chess Day 2020, four GMs discuss the benefits of playing chess. Photos:

Why Four GMs Think Playing Chess Is Important: Anand, Aronian, Hou, and Kramnik


If you could select just four grandmasters to speak to the world about the value of playing chess, whom would you invite? Would they be:

Program Speakers
Ambassador Margaryan of Armenia begins the program as principal speakers listen and await their turns to speak. Source: FIDE via YouTube.

On the program “Chess for Recovering Better,” hosted by the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations in collaboration with FIDE, the four GMs who participated are Viswanathan Anand (identified in the first bullet above), Hou Yifan (second bullet), Vladimir Kramnik (third bullet), and Levon Aronian (fourth bullet). International Chess Day has been celebrated since 1966; however, 2020 is the first year that it has been officially recognized by the U.N. General Assembly whose members unanimously passed a resolution to commemorate the date and pay tribute to the game.

Arkady Dvorkovich, FIDE president
Arkady Dvorkovich, FIDE president, provides opening comments during the program. Source: FIDE via YouTube.

GM Levon Aronian

Perhaps the most insightful remarks by the GMs were given by Aronian. His comments are directly from his heart as a player and show his generously empathetic nature. What a great privilege it must be to meet him face-to-face over a chessboard. To inspire you to listen to his entire comments, let me entice you with several selected quotations from Aronian’s remarks:

  • “The biggest thing that I learned through chess was to process information,” especially large amounts of information.
  • “In life, if you want to be knowledgeable…, you need to have those skills to understand how to extract information, and that’s what chess players do every day.”
  • “My database is about 15 million games.” [A chess player picks games to study.] “You create your database on the things that you want to learn.”
  • “By playing a game…, you learn to be concentrated.”
  • “Unlike any other activity where you can afford to make a mistake at some point, here you have to keep your attention and concentration at all times.”
  • “No matter how good you are in a game of chess, you are going to lose games, and the ability to forget the negative emotions is one of the best things that I have learned through chess.”
  • “From the game of chess…, something that I value a lot is the ability to read through emotions because you are playing a game… and you’re trying to outwit your opponent, but you have to control your emotions and then understand what he is feeling... by understanding if he is worried or not.”
  • [Competing with someone in a game of chess:] “It can enhance your empathy.” 

Clicking on the video starts the section where Aronian begins to speak. Listen as he describes what he has learned through chess, particularly as a young student when his country was facing difficult social and economic challenges with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Source: FIDE.

GM Vladimir Kramnik

Kramnik spoke the longest of any GM (almost three times as long as Aronian and Hou), but he made important points about the educational value of studying and playing chess—“this wonderful game.”

  • “I liked the game very much from the very beginning and started to be quite successful, so I am what I am, but I’m extremely grateful to chess.”
  • “The results and my career I could never dream of, but I would have been playing chess anyway even if I would be just a regular chess player because it’s very enjoyable.”
  • “I feel a moral obligation to try to give the opportunity to kids, to introduce them to this wonderful game."
  • “Chess is pretty useful for the development of mental abilities, of thinking, for kids."
  • “For kids, definitely, a very important element is play, which chess gives them."
  • “When you play a chess game, actually you are making a lot of decisions, every single move, a lot of decisions."
  • “One of the important skills it [chess] gives to kids is the ability to make decisions in a limited amount of time."
  • “Every move is a decision, and then there is a very clear result.”
  • “I am the parent of two kids myself, and I like when they do anything which is related to thinking.”
  • “From the age of seven to nine [is] probably the best age to start studying chess, although it’s never too late."
  • “The future we will have in 20 years is quite unpredictable…. It’s difficult to understand now what kind of knowledge exactly you need to have for the future.… The most important quality for [the] young ... is the ability to think, to combine abstract ideas, to be very flexible, to have a flexible brain, and to know how to deal with different things.”
  • “Chess is one of the best tools to develop the so-called soft skills, the right thinking process, the right strategic understanding of the situation. That would be very helpful, I believe, for kids."
  • “If you are a good chess player, it’s a very nice profession.”
  • “As a parent of two kids, I’m also teaching them chess. I would recommend that you introduce your kids to this game.”

Clicking on the video starts the section where Kramnik begins to speak. Listen as he describes his early experiences in learning to play chess, explains how studying the game contributes to the development of mental skills, and emphasizes the importance of teaching chess to kids. (Don’t be distracted when the program displays the name of another GM as Kramnik speaks.)

GM Hou Yifan

The comments of the other two GMs, who reinforce points made by the others, are much briefer and include the following ideas. First, Hou:

  • “As a universal activity, chess can easily gather a lot of people together in a harmonious atmosphere, regardless of their cultural background or race.”
  • "Chess can provide creativity, pleasure, happiness, or any other positive relationship.”
  • “Another experience I have learned from chess is about imperfection.”
  • “The best practical option [in a game] is not equal to the best move.”

Clicking on the video starts the section where Hou begins to speak. Listen as she describes the benefits of playing chess from her personal experiences.

GM Viswanathan Anand

The remaining GM who participated on the program is Anand, a recipient of India’s highest sporting award, who said about chess:

  • “When I was young, I was told that chess originated in India, and this was one of our proud accomplishments. It was something that most people mentioned as soon as you talked about chess.”
  • “The original name of chess, chaturanga, simply refers to the four divisions of the army: infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots.”
  • “When I was growing up, there were still a fair number of people who played the older Indian version of the game where the queen and bishop are much weaker than the international version.”
  • “When I won the world championship in the year 2000 … and I brought chess back to India..., it seems like my journey mirrored the ancient past.“
  • "Thanks to the internet, it [chess] has become a truly global sport.... It has never been more widely disseminated as it is now.”
  • “During the pandemic, I’m very happy that so many people have discovered the game of chess.”

Clicking on the video starts the section where Anand begins to speak. Listen as he describes the history of chess and its spread from India into other regions, how the coronavirus pandemic has influenced the interest in chess globally, and why he thinks chess is helpful for school children.

The current coronavirus pandemic clearly influenced the program’s title, “Chess for Recovering Better.” Although playing chess can help everyone recover from the isolation and confinement of a pandemic and the game’s growth online during the last few months has been phenomenal, the discussion by the GMs was much broader and more meaningful. In fact, the program can be played every year or at any time to explain why chess is such a timeless game. (To read my earlier post on International Chess Day, click here.)

To view the entire program (which lasts about 93 minutes) as it was broadcast on FIDE’s YouTube channel, click here. (In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Mher Margaryan mentioned that World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen had also been invited to give remarks but his schedule prevented him from participating.)

International Chess Day
July 20 is International Chess Day. Source: FIDE via Twitter.

If you like “chess quotes,” maybe one or two of the quotations above are worth saving. Here’s my favorite (that is from Hou): “Another experience I have learned from chess is about imperfection.” Doesn’t anyone who plays chess think that?

Now it’s your turn. Is any quotation particularly meaningful for you, or do you find one specifically inspiring? (It’s never too late to post it on social media with the hashtag #InternationalChessDay.)