Category Archives: Mathematics

The Effects of Chess Instruction

Three of the people who have been involved with the London Chess Conference since the beginning have written a paper summarising the state of research into the effects of chess instruction.  Giovanni Sala, John Foley and Fernand Gobet have summarised the state of the art and theoretical challenges. The paper, which is an opinion piece in the the online journal Frontiers of Psychology, places the recent EEF study in a broader context. The EEF study was a large study in England conducted by the Institute of Education and funded by the Educational Endowment Foundation. The study found no long term effect of chess on academic performance. This study finding was regarded as disappointing by many in the chess community. However on closer inspection it turns out that the study had some serious weaknesses.

A major problem is the use of public examination results to indicate whether any intervention has an impact. The trouble arises because mathematics exam results in primary school in England appear to have been getting better and better over the last two decades. This may be because children are getting smarter or it may be for other reasons to do with school league tables and teaching to the test.


In the upper diagram we see the latest results for KS2 mathematics (children aged around 11). Rather than the expected Normal distribution, we find what can only be described as a Half-Normal distribution.  Half the children have scored 75% or more. This is an extraordinary result because our traditional experience with children is that some are good at maths but most struggle. The skewed shape of the exam results deserves some explanation.

The lower diagram shows how the shape of the exam results distribution has shifted over the past two decades. What we are witnessing is the accumulation of effects of educational policies which produce good results irrespective of the underlying differences in personal ability of the children. Finally, in 2015, we see that the shape has shifted so far to the right (called negative skew) that the results in maths cannot be regarded as very helpful in representing the underlying reality.

The technical term for this artefact is the “Ceiling Effect”. If examinations produce an artificial limitation on the distribution of results then we cannot distinguish those children who might have done much better.  If most children are doing great, then how can an educational intervention such as chess make any noticeable difference? More generally how can any educational intervention be detected?  This is a wider issue for the mathematics education research community to resolve.





How time flies! The Didactics of Chess are well behind us, if still fresher in our memories than the previous three editions.

Beginnings were modest. The first London Chess Conference, back in 2013, could fit in one of the commentary rooms at the London Chess Classic. With a grand total of 15 speakers (distinguished though they were), the gathering had a decidedly cosy ambience. “Plenary workshop” was not a contradiction in terms. By the first afternoon, everyone had met everyone else. Forget cursory introductions: one would have had a long, stimulating conversation with every other delegate over the course of the weekend. Sessions ran consecutively, aministrative work was minimal, and the networking gathering was an affair so quiet and serene that many would entertain ideas of a quick game of chess. Those were simpler times.

Fast forward three years and we all found ourselves at an eight-room conference centre to discuss teaching chess with 150 delegates working in 25 countries of the world. The 4th London Chess Conference was by far the largest and most international ever gathering of educators, researchers, schoolteachers, coaches, organisers, civil servants and non-profit executives interested in how chess can be used as a force for driving educational attainment. Disappointment was universally voiced at having to choose between concurrent sessions, all equally excellent. But there was no alternative: who would have time to attend a fortnight-long conference? That is what it would have taken to run all talks, workshops, seminars, debates and panels consecutively.

The diversity of topics was staggering and the quality of sessions universally excellent. As has become a tradition, a competition was also held: this time for the best chess exercise involving collaborative problem solving. In the end, the judging panel could not decide between two very different entries, and awarded a shared first prize.

As is unavoidably the case with an event at such scale, there were organisational challenges, but we hope that they remained hidden behind the scenes. At the end of the day, it is not our work as organisers that made the Conference what it was, but the expertise of over a hundred unbelievably clever and dedicated delegates along with your love of chess, passion for education, and selfless enthusiasm for sharing your knowledge and experience.

Our job was gathering all of you together in one building; if we could do that, the event was guaranteed to be a success. We hope that everyone left London feeling as inspired as we certainly did.

From all of the organisers to all the attendees, thank you for making the 4th London Chess Conference so unforgettable.


Chess exercise design competition

For the third year in a row, we will be running a competition during the Conference. In 2014, the subject was designing a game played on a chessboard. The competition was won by Tatyana Ogneva with her game called “Football chess”; Tatyana took home the £500 prize. Last year, we held a Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp together with a competition for the best social chess project, judged by experienced executives. Luis Blasco, who uses chess to work with children suffering from ADHD, earned £500 for his enterprise “Ajedrez y TDAH”.

We are delighted that this year’s Conference will also feature a competition, and thanks to sponsorship from the European Chess Union the prize fund has been increased to 1,000. The task this year is to come up with the best original classroom chess exercise. There is only one rule: the exercise must involve collaborative problem solving.

Check out the competition page for details — and start creating, just don’t miss the deadline!

hilton olympia

London Chess Conference 2016

The 4th London Chess Conference will take place at the Hilton Olympia on 10, 11 and 12 December. For the first time we will be able to hold a three-day gathering.

This year’s main theme will be The Didactics of Chess. We are planning talks, workshops, discussion sessions, panels, presentations and other contributions on different ways of teaching chess, especially in a classroom environment.

The last three editions firmly established the London Chess Conference as the world’s foremost professional gathering of people interested in the impact of chess (and strategy games generally) on education, and how it can be a force for good in society. Amongst the contributors attracted to London each year there are leading chess education practitioners and researchers, academics working in the field, educational software authors, executives of non-profit chess organisations, journalists, authors, teachers, headteachers, politicians and others.

We organise the conference but we do not make it work. It is the profile of attendees and the quality of their contributions that define this excellence. Let us make the fourth edition the finest one yet.

If you have not yet registered, please do. If you would like to contribute, please contact us as soon as possible on We invite submissions on all aspects of the principal theme. Here is but a small set of suggestions:

  • Using Chess in Primary School Mathematics
  • Promoting Metacognition through Chess
  • Teaching Chess together with other Strategy Games
  • Chess for Disadvantaged Students
  • Training Teachers to Teach Chess
  • Certification for Quality Chess Instruction
  • Lobbying for Chess in the Education Community
  • Evaluating Chess in Education Projects
  • From School Chess to Junior Chess
  • Raising Chess Talent
  • Business Models in Chess Teaching
  • Chess in Libraries, Science Centres and other Informal Settings
  • Chess as a Model for Scientific Research
  • Chess History Research with a Social Perspective

We look forward to seeing you in London.

Hard Maze

An experimental number game

Chess is a wonderful board game which brings insights into the broader topic of Game Theory which is a more mathematical approach to analysing competition and co-operation. This type of thinking is very influential amongst economists  – eleven game theorists have won the Nobel prize for economics.

When playing chess, you are really playing two games – one is the logic of the position – the other is trying to outguess your opponent. You have to assess how likely it is that your opponent will fall into a trap. You have to consider not only your opponent’s calculating ability but also their sense of danger. Conversely you have to be on guard whether you are being lured into a trap even though you have not seen the denouement.

Björn Frank experiment in game theory

We now introduce a number game devised by one of our presenters, Björn Frank. All you have to do is choose a number. The number you should choose depends what numbers you think other people will choose. Sounds simple? Give it a try. Take a quick look and decide your number. You don’t have to be a chess player. This is a serious study and the results will be announced at the conference.

2015 London Chess Challenge

There is a prize for the winner, claimable only by those who attend the conference.

Skak gør børn klogere

This means “Chess makes children smarter” and is the headline of a six minute report by Denmark´s TV 2 main news broadcast last Monday.

denmark tv2 newsThe TV talked to Michael Rosholm and Andreas Rasch Christensen from the University Aarhus. There research was done on a pilot, where fifth-graders had one weekly maths lesson replaced by a weekly chess lesson for one school year, after which they did better on maths than pupils in a control group. Rosholm, a reputed education scientist, said that chess teaches thinking, and that thinking ahead and improved self-control are likely the main factors to explain the improved performances. The TV crew visited Virupskolen, a school in Hjortshoej, where an impressed teacher, Linne Nissen, said that she is going to start chess with her first grade next year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The festive time is for some of you an opportunity to catch up. We invite you to have a look at the presentations from our recent conference.

Karel van Delft keeps updating his excellent website with materials from the conference. He has added videos from the presentations by Roland Grabner on the Cognitive Neuroscience of Mathematics Leaning, by Jorge Nuno Silva on the history of games and mathematics and by Ed Pogossian on an innovative Armenian chess project with autistic children.

If you have attended the conference please complete the online questionnaire. It only takes ten minutes, and your replies help us to evaluate the event and plan future events. If you have attended and haven´t received an invitation to our online survey please contact

Chess and Poker – the Mathematical Brain

JenPLAGshoot500Poker has attracted a significant number of talented chess players. Poker players are cool-headed and calculate the odds for the prospect of substantial monetary rewards. To survive and prosper they must have a mathematical brain – or must they? The formidable Jennifer Shahade addresses this topic at her conference presentation on Sunday. She is a Woman Grandmaster and twice the USA women’s champion – and a professional poker player. She will host the prizegiving at the English Girls’ Chess Championship on Saturday at Olympia and give a pep talk to the girls.

Jennifer has written two critically acclaimed books exploring the involvement of women in chess. Chess Bitch looked at the histories and personalities of female chess players and Play Like a Girl extracted sparkling gems from female play. Her message is that traditional feminine preoccupations such as fashion and cosmetics are not necessarily in conflict with being an aggressive chess player. She suggests that females are socialised to be less outwardly competitive.

Remarkably, more girls are playing chess in USA both numerically and proportionately than at any time in the history of the USCF. Jennifer predicts that this trend will continue as chess becomes more glamorous and mainstream with the rise of champions like Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana (who was brought up in the USA although he now plays for Italy).

Continue reading Chess and Poker – the Mathematical Brain

Classroom Chess and Mathematics

Chess is evolving – its purpose has moved towards the needs of schools. Whilst playing chess competitively remains an important motivating factor for many children, there is so much more that can be done. Chesss may be regarded not as one game but as a resource for all sorts of logical and mathematical mini-games, game variants and puzzles.
The rapid rise of classroom chess has been achieved by teaching the game from the simplest beginnings. By working with children on the basic components of the game, literally one piece at a time, they grow in confidence and enthusiasm. Rather than throwing children in at the deep end, modern educational methods have been used to deconstruct the game into digestible components. Continue reading Classroom Chess and Mathematics