lba was soon hooked and improved in math. Pepe recovered his memory and self-control. Manuel learned to think before acting. Isabel has the bug. And Juan is fascinated by the minds of teachers.
Chess has caught everyone, a sport that is experiencing a sweet moment of expansion and innovative uses in Spain. Thousands of schools use it as an educational tool during school hours: its practice favors, among other things, impulse control, concentration, self-esteem and creativity. Its application is growing in therapeutic fields, where it is a complement in addiction treatments and an exercise against cognitive deterioration. It is also an ingredient capable of changing the dynamics of a group of inmates. And thanks to fictions such as Gambit de Dama – in which the young Beth Harmon destroys rivals while dealing with her inner demons – many men, but especially women, have approached this simple and at the same time vast sport . These are some of the beneficiaries of the power of the board.
At the IES Manuel Alcántara (Málaga) pawns are captured during school hours. Until recently, Alba Rodríguez, a 13-year-old 2nd year ESO student, only knew how the pieces moved. She “she helps Me with math problems, with reasoning. I raise them better and concentrate more, ”she explains. Manuel Arias, her classmate, knew how to play from the 3rd grade of Primary. He says he has tempered himself thanks to chess: “I am very impulsive and it is good for me to control myself, to think about things more before doing them,” he says. “And to think about bad luck, mistakes … In laziness too!”
Manuel Alcántara is one of the centers attached to aulaDjaque, a school chess program that involves more than 400 schools, 5,000 teachers and 80,000 students in Andalusia. Here chess is no longer seen as a boring analogue game reserved for the gifted few. “The degree of penetration is tremendous,” says Manuel Azuaga, founder of Ajedrez Social de Andalucía, the association that promotes the program together with the Regional Ministry of Education. This success, says Azuaga, a journalist and tireless promoter of the game, has two secrets: that any school can start from scratch, designing a chess plan to suit it; and that the latent demand of the educational community, which accumulated various promising experiences, now extends under an institutional umbrella. “For four years it has been growing at great speed,” he adds.
But what exactly does chess teach? The student Manuel Arias claims to have learned self-control, reflection, and caution. Alba, analytical skills, patience, strategy. This is confirmed by his teachers, delighted with the results of the program. “We work a lot on error as a key element of learning. There is no perfect game, ”Azuaga details. “Or the initiative: when it is better to take it and when to let it go. Or bad luck: we explain that it is nothing more than a euphemism for the excuse. They are ways to reinforce their self-esteem, to value their achievements ”. The practice of it favors capacities such as memory, logical-mathematical reasoning and spatial vision. Actions such as shaking hands with your opponent or waiting your turn teach patience and reflection. An unexpected move from the opponent tests our resilience. What you learn on the board works in real life. “Of course, it is not a magic potion,” Azuaga clarifies. “But chess favors all these abilities.”
This has been verified by teacher Lourdes Giraldo, who has been using chess as a resource for three to five year olds for 25 years. “The application, at these ages, has to be fun,” she explains. “Play with pieces as if they were puppets, stage a living chess on a giant board, sing and dance, keep a chess notebook throughout the course…”. Giraldo is an Early Childhood Education teacher at CEIP Enríquez Barrios (Córdoba) and the author of several educational methods that combine chess and technology, including an interactive story called En el País del Boardro or a little robot that children have to direct to overcome small challenges, such as capturing a pawn in the fewest number of moves. “The results allow us to affirm that chess is revolutionizing the way teachers teach,” she sums up.
But the board hooks anyone because it’s fun. The emotion when making a lethal movement or seeing how the plan that we have in mind materializes does not understand ages or conditions. “The game factor creates a bond. It gives us an advantage. That is why it is so transversal and works so well as a pedagogical resource ”, says Azuaga. In the schools on the classroom payroll, there are students with special needs, children with serious conduct disorders or minors derived from social services. “Very specific centers that are also using it,” she adds.
It is a simple exercise. Several pieces are placed on the board, after a short time they are removed and you have to be able to place them in the same position. For José Antonio Paredes Pepe, 29, a patient at an addiction rehabilitation center in La Garrovilla (Mérida), the first day was made into a world. He danced the figures on the board. But a few weeks later he reached ten. After a month he arrived at 25. And then he learned to play games. “He came from fatal memory,” says Pepe, who was admitted to the center three months ago to be treated for an addiction. “At the time I noticed a lot of improvement. He has also helped me learn to listen. I’ve never listened, it’s hard for me. I am working waiting. If not, they don’t listen to you. And my family has noticed ”.
This therapeutic chess workshop, a complement to the path of rehabilitation, is taught by members of the Magic Club, a sports and social association born in 2001 in Extremadura that works, among others, with people with Down syndrome, serious mental disorders, inmates, stroke patients, elderly or addicted in rehabilitation. “We saw that chess worked too well for us,” laughs Juan Antonio Montero, psychologist and president of the association. The club works with some 25 social and therapeutic centers and estimates that some 600 people benefit from its workshops. Without neglecting the competitive facet: in 2019 they were again champions of Spain, with the great master Manuel Pérez Candelario at the helm (from Zafra, Badajoz), one of the members of the National Chess Team.
All the work they carry out has been reflected in resources and online courses on social and therapeutic chess, recognized as being of health interest by the Junta de Extremadura, in which more than 600 students from Spain and Latin America have participated. “Not only chess players, but psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors or teachers,” explains Montero. “We try to act on a large scale and with official validation.” The Magic Club trains directors of senior centers, nursing home caregivers, social workers, therapists. Recently, Montero and his team traveled to the University of Heidelberg (Germany) to instruct several researchers in their method of cognitive training, patented as ECAM.
“In the part of social chess we transfer values such as respect and courtesy to everyday life,” explains Montero, who remembers how this recipe found its way into a juvenile prison: “When we arrived they had a fight, they did fighting chess. We introduce things as simple as waiting in silence for the opponent’s turn. When we returned some time later, a boy told me: “Here the first thing is to shake hands.” Another detail: the shepherd mate, a quick play, is used as a metaphor for the easy win. “Although some get angry, it is well understood,” he laughs.
The therapeutic part aims to rehabilitate cognitive functions through a simple instrument, a wall chess board, giant squares painted on a wall. You don’t have to be an expert player. “We have more than 400 batteries of exercises,” Montero continues. “We apply them in addictions to recover focal attention, memory and planning capacity. Also in people with Parkinson’s disease and ADHD ”.
Isabel Fortuño, a 69-year-old retiree who spent her work in Prague, New York and Washington, affirms that she had never had a special fondness for games. She just some mah-jong and ludo. “I was very shocked by the loss of identity of my mother, who died of Alzheimer’s. It seemed tremendous to lose your emotional memories, who you have been. So I wanted to do something. Exercise my mind. At first chess seemed dry to me, but as I progress, I find it fascinating, ”she says.