Educators like to emphasize the cognitive values of chess. It is taken for granted that chess somehow makes kids smarter.
Indeed, children who play the game reportedly improve their grades, test scores, attendance and deportment. Chess often is a schoolteacher’s dream.
For most of the children involved – at least in the beginning – the game is primarily a form of combat. They like to announce “check,” capture pieces and – above all – win.
Their enthusiasm for battle on the chessboard was shared by an impressive group of military leaders, including Napoleon, King Charles XII of Sweden, Peter the Great and Robert E. Lee, all of whom included chess sets in their personal effects during military campaigns.
Chess is undeniably a war game, and all of us – if not eager or reluctant predators – are at least keen on not being someone else’s prey.
Chess is a superb instrument for teaching defense as well as attack. Both depend on well-conceived aggressiveness.
In 1929, Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky, a top Russian chess player and dedicated revolutionary, offered a classic observation about the game:
“After all,” he declared, “chess develops in a man boldness, presence of mind, composure, a strong will and a sense of strategy.”