Chess is a game that involves critical thinking, focus, spatial reasoning, and a whole range of complex cognitive skills. It’s also a game that’s just plain fun.

Put those two things together, and you might have the perfect teaching tool. At least, that’s what a group of researchers from Denmark are suggesting.

Actually, the researchers aren’t only suggesting it. They decided to put it to the test by introducing an experimental test class into a school in Aarhus, Denmark.

In their study, the researchers teamed up with a school to introduce a new math curriculum that involved three math classes and one chess class a week. The school’s typical curriculum consisted of four math classes a week.

Some of the students in the school were enrolled in the new math-and-chess curriculum while some stayed in the old math-only curriculum. Over the course of two semesters, researchers tracked how both groups of students progressed.

They found that not only did students in the math-and-chess group not lose out from having one fewer math class a week – these students actually ended up with slightly higher math test scores. This result indicates that the broader critical thinking skills the students picked up during their chess lessons helped them make the most of their math classes.

Moreover, the researchers found that some students benefited from the “chess intervention” more than others. In particularly, those who were more bored in school improved the most under the experimental math-and-chess curriculum. By contrast, students who were generally happy and engaged to begin with performed equally well in both setups.

So it may be mixing a little chess into the math curriculum is especially effective for reaching students who are less engaged in traditional math classes. While there’s more work to be done in understanding the precise ways in which chess lessons can improve math performance, trading in a math lecture a week for more student interest and an improvement in general critical thinking skills may be more than worth it in the end.

Image: Flickr/Sasha the Okay Photographer