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Clear Thinking Case Study of the Month

The Story

March 2011

“The Joy of Chess Problems
- great for developing your Thinking Skills” 

Research has established that playing chess, and especially solving chess problems, significantly improves thinking skills. As a result, trials are now being carried out in teaching chess in schools and the lessons have been eagerly received so far. But we have found that chess is highly effective for developing thinking ability at any age. We examine which thinking skills can be enhanced by playing chess, particularly those needed in solving chess problems. We also describe a chess problem-solving process we have devised which is equally valuable for resolving business problems.

Key points of the Story 

Lessons in chess are being trialled by a charity at a number of schools in Britain and children have responded extremely well, much to the surprise of many people. It has been known for some years that chess can improve a rage of thinking skills but little has been done before to apply this learning aid in schools.

We have studied precisely which thinking skills can be improved by playing chess, especially those involved in solving chess problems. Many of these thinking skills are equally relevant to business management. We have also analysed the stage-wise Thinking Process we believe is best suited for solving chess problems. We work through this process every day in solving The Times chess puzzle – at near 100% success rate.

Thinking Skills developed

Memory; Concentration and Patience; Logical Thinking; Analytical Thinking; Strategic and Tactical Thinking; Imagination and Creative Thinking; Risk and Consequence Thinking; Problem Solving; Decision-Making; Spatial Awareness, Big Picture, and Detail Thinking.

Playing chess and solving chess problems have been shown to develop all these Thinking Skills of immense value in business management. As usual, they are easiest to develop in young brains but they can all be improved at any age. And solving chess problems can be fun and addictive for anyone who relishes a challenge.

 

Analysis and Lessons

Thinking Skills, eg Memory, Logic, Analysis, Strategy, Imagination, Risk,
Problem-Solving, Big Picture

A valuable stage-wise Business Thinking Process

The value of the
Thinking Skills
you can develop
by playing chess

 

Memory: chess masters are masters because they have developed phenomenal memory powers – for example: the vast range of opening moves and ‘best move sequences’ for certain situations.

Concentration and Patience: a high degree of focus for lengthy periods. In a world where instant gratification is sought, especially by the young, these Thinking Skills/Behaviours are even more important to develop.

Logical Thinking: working out a logical sequence of moves, for yourself and your opponent.

Analytical Thinking: for example in working out the best option in any situation, or working out why your opponent made a particular move.

Strategic and Tactical Thinking: devising an overall strategy for the game and also the ability to change your plan according to new situations (tactical); assessing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses: spotting opportunities for attack that suddenly present themselves.

Imagination and Creative Thinking: chess encourages inventiveness and ‘what if’ thinking. For example, imagining a situation several moves ahead, or “What if that piece wasn’t there?”

Risk and Consequence Thinking: you won’t get far without developing a good ‘feel’ for the risks of certain chess situations (yours and opponents) and all the possible and probable consequences of particular moves.

Problem Solving: the ability to deal with problems when your strategy/tactics don’t go to plan or your opponent springs a surprise on you.

Decision-Making: develops the ability to make decisions, quickly – especially in clocked games. Being forced to make a speedy decision is highly developmental.

Spatial, Big Picture, and Detail Thinking: all these three, linked, Thinking Styles are needed. You need to see how the pieces are impacting on each other; what pieces are being attacked or capable of being attacked (or defended); the room for manoeuvre; and switch readily between seeing the whole board situation and the detail of each piece of action.

A stage-wise Thinking Process for solving chess problems

… and many problems in business

The following Thinking Process describes a method for solving chess problems but with a little imagination can be applied equally to many business problems, especially those involving a competitive situation, eg business strategy.

1. Look to see if you are being attacked or are in a vulnerable position anywhere on the board. Vulnerability includes being ‘boxed in’, with limited scope for manoeuvre of key pieces, especially your King.

2. Do likewise for your opponent’s situation. This often throws up ideas for attack opportunities.

3. Take an overview. Take in how the pieces are arranged. Look for pieces that are supporting each other or attacking the same square or areas, especially around your opponent’s King. Establish whether the puzzle is a checkmate objective or ‘winning material’.

The next stage begins the problem-solving process proper. You may have to simply go through a series of trial and error moves until you find one that works best. But our favoured approach - ‘Reverse Thinking’ - is to look for the ‘ideal solution’ first then work backwards to see what is preventing it.

4. Reverse Thinking approach: imagine the most likely ‘end point’, eg “This would be checkmate if my Queen could get to that square and those other pieces were in that situation.”

5. Now work out the barriers to getting to this end point, eg your opponent’s Rook is guarding the square you want to place your Queen on.

6. Work out how you could remove those barriers, eg by attacking the Rook or ‘persuading’ it to move away. This process will invariably bring out the solution, starting with the first move.

If this ‘Reverse Thinking’ approach doesn’t seem to fit then you will have to resort to the trial & error approach, but begin by looking at the obvious ‘weaknesses’ or lines of attack. But note that the Financial Times chess puzzle is usually tougher than The Times and is often designed so that the least obvious move is the right solution. All approaches will involve looking at how particular groups of pieces are interconnected, just as when solving any business problem.

Another major aspect to problem solving is to imagine that one piece could attack another if one or more pieces were ‘not there’, ie are blocking your path. If this ‘hidden’ attack could be beneficial, you can then start working out ways of getting those ‘blocking’ pieces to move away. Again, this is identical to solving business problems.

Engaging the right Thinking Styles at each stage

A major element of problem solving (and any other Business Thinking Process) is thinking in the ‘right way’ at each stage in the process. Chess is ideal for developing all the Thinking Styles needed for finding successful solutions.

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