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Chess seems to develop a specialized skill set that in my experience is mostly irrelevant to everyday life. However, I would like to know of any real-life applications that I have overlooked. I am a novice chess player.

[edit]For Example: My brother's University Statistics teacher was a veteran Blackjack player and used the game to teach statistics (and keep the class interesting). More abstractly: There is an ancient game called Go, which still poses real problems for artificial intelligence; unlike chess for which Deep Blue has already been programmed to win (I think that might technically be an application).

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11 Answers

If you play chess a lot, you'll probably develop some or all of these:

  • Critical thinking (Are some moves better than others?)
  • Analytical skills (What's my opponent likely to do?)
  • Spatial awareness (Where can a given piece move?)
  • Patience (Good strategies take time to develop)
  • Courtesy (Be a good loser and winner, no table flips, etc.)

I think one would be hard-pressed to argue that any of those aren't useful for everyday life.

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those seem more like benefits than applications of playing chess –  user1147 Apr 11 '11 at 1:17
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Not that these are not true, but most of these skills are either present in pretty much every game, or anyway plainly inferior to what you would get playing Go instead. This does not invalidate the answer, of course, but I think it was worth noting anyway. –  Lohoris Apr 17 '11 at 19:07
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Chess develops the following US national standards in education:

Mathematical Practice
1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
5 Use appropriate tools strategically.
7 Look for and make use of structure.
8 Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

These standards are not fully met by it, but chess players generally have the ability to do the above to some degree, as all the above are essential to playing chess. They apply to just about any tactical game.

Alaska State Educational Standards addressed by Chess:

Healthy Life Skills
B1 demonstrate an ability to make responsible decisions by discriminating among risks and by identifying consequences;

Employability
B1 identify and appreciate personal interests, aptitudes, abilities, and priorities;

Anchorage School District Behavioral Standards addressed by chess:

Turn taking (Gr Pre-K and up)
Use of multiple approaches to address a problem (Gr 3 & up)
Ability to plan ahead and see consequences of actions (Gr 4 & up)
Develop good sportsmanship (Gr K & up)

Again, almost any board game more complex than Candyland works all of these.

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In addition to the benefits listed by @Kristo, more direct applications of chess skill would be teaching chess and writing articles or books about chess. A lot of master and grandmaster players make their living this way.

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Decision trees and basic understand of prediction and pruning are direct applications of Chess. The ability to distinguish useful choices and options from wasted time is incredibly useful. This principle can be abstracted and applied to many forms of decision making; optimization; estimation; prediction.

Other applications:

  • Moving value systems. When your opponent considers a space important you may not be able to understand why but the fact that your opponent cares is enough to start caring about the same position. This is applicable to economics; business.

  • Sacrifice and gambits. Using temporary setbacks for larger gains is a fundamental strategy that can be applied to most contests — especially those involving race conditions or territory control.

  • Motion and movement. Each piece has its own rule system and the player must guide these movement rules to form a cohesive army. Learning to make a composition of these pieces and their potential movements is applicable to many tactical games or environments involving varied mechanics or rule systems. It also helps teach using complicated interactions to create solutions to problems that the individual pieces or rules themselves could not solve.

  • Mirrored responses. The identical white vs. black setup has been studied to such a degree it is an excellant example of how seemingly identical situations have drastically different results.

The list goes on and on. In addition to these, the basic problem solving skills and memorization required to compete at Chess are transferable to any similar medium.

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Deep Blue did not "solve" chess - it and the generations of computer chess programs since have demonstrated they computer programs have gotten to grandmaster level (or just beyond) in playing chess - BUT - they have not "solved" chess.

Solving chess would imply knowing who will win from the initial starting position (i.e. showing a forced win for either white or black from the opening).

And more recently it has been shown that an average chess player in partnership with a modern chess program can beat grandmasters by themselves or the best of modern computer programs (i.e. human+machine is better than human or machine alone).

Chess is a game that changes as you get better and more studied in playing the game. One of the most important books I've ever read was Emanuel Lasker's Manual of Chess (published now quite a long time ago yet still a classic and great book). Emanuel Lasker was one of the best chess players in the history of the game - was the world champion for many years - and he was also a philosopher. His manual of chess teaches chess in the opposite manner of most teachers (then and now) - he starts with the endgame and works up to the opening.

But more than his chess lessons (which are fantastic and still compelling today) he was also teaching a way of thinking - a way of looking at the future, as your own decisions and the impact of them on others (and of other's decisions on you). He deemphasized the memorization that is all to often how chess is taught in favor of teaching you to evaluate positions, make plans and understand situations. Learning to think for yourself, to modify your plans when the situation changes and learning how to evaluate honestly your position (and that of your opponents) is a skill which carries over into everything I do with my career.

Further I disagree that "any" modern game can teach the same lessons as chess.

  1. Many modern games, unlike chess, involve randomness as an aspect of the game. Learning to deal with randomness (and to understand probabilities etc) are important lessons but are not part of chess.

  2. Unlike most modern games Chess is not a win/lose game. Draws are core to chess (though frequently poorly understood by beginners). Learning to recognize a drawn position - and when to offer a draw (and when to accept one) is a lesson that few games other than Chess offer.

  3. The literature and history of chess as well as the universality of chess are fairly unique. Few other games have as rich a history or as deep a library (poker today may be beginning to come close, Bridge has some and Go has others - but Go for example is not a global game to the same degree as Chess). I've played chess against opponents with whom I shared no common language, something hard to do with most other games.

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Historically, chess was useful for teaching young military leaders that rushing straight at your opponent is (unless you have overwhelming force) not terribly wise, as you may fall into unforeseen traps. Better to gain skill from practice (understanding likely patterns and how to act accordingly), plan carefully, see deeper than the opponent, play the opponent rather than merely the game. The complexity of chess makes it useful to think in more generalizable strategic terms rather than the particular game-specific tactics of a simpler game. An inability to see very far ahead resembles the "fog of war."

As war can be a useful metaphor for many other competitive activities, such as sports, business, or politics, one might find at least an introductory familiarity with chess to be a good teacher.

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Chess originated from Chaturanga and almost all well-know military strategies used by ancient Indian civilizations had their roots from Chaturanga. Chess is all about planning.

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what well known military strategies are you referring to? –  user1147 Apr 16 '11 at 17:47
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@noname: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthashastra –  yetanothercoder Apr 16 '11 at 17:54
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Here's a very practical application: to keep your mind and will intact when you are suffering great hardship and deprivation. From the BBC article Natan Sharansky - How chess kept one man sane:

A human rights activist campaigning for the rights of Jews to emigrate to Israel, Sharansky was sentenced in 1977 on a fabricated charge of spying for the Americans. He spent nine years in a Siberian prison. Half of that was spent in solitary confinement and for more than 400 days he was locked in a punishment cell, given barely any food and clothes so thin that in the winter it amounted to a form of torture...

"But in prison it became clear why I needed this," he recalls. In his dark, empty, freezing punishment cell, with no-one to talk to, where he was forbidden to read or write, he played games in his head, obviously having to move for both sides, white and black: "Thousands of games - I won them all."

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I have once taken a class in combinatorics, and knowing chess helped me to not struggle through a couple of lectures. Not knowing poker at the time actually did hurt me. True chess skills could possibly impress one on a resume. If you know some chess, you get some cultural references. If you know both chess and poker, you can watch more movies with better understanding. Chess trains your mind, possibly helps to fight Alzheimer's. If you are at a retiring age and have much time on your hand, then chess is a great way (but not the only way) to keep your mind sharp. Familiarity with chessboard (overall square, black-white squares) is great for being able to refer to it when occasionally describing an algorithm or a math problem. Being really good at chess can be a money maker. You can impress your co-workers. If you are a new hire, but played chess at work and beat everyone, you might get some extra respect. Lastly, chess is cool and fun (when you win)!

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You can go on to pick up programming and some knowledge of artificial intelligence, and write some amazing chess engine that beats the crap out of Rybka and Houdini. There are still plenty of computing challenges left to solve for chess, such as in the realm of tablebases.

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I would say that “educating your mind” is a real-life application of chess. Also, chess books make excellent soporifics.

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