Most of us tend to look at chess primarily as a game and a form of entertainment. That is certainly where the desire for giant chess sets tends to come from, and in the right situation they can provide endless amusement. As much as chess is primarily used for entertainment purposes though, it is also a game that is known to produce legitimate health and mental benefits.
In totality, the benefits of chess are actually quite significant. The game elevates creativity, makes players more skilled at forming plans, and can have a calming effect that in some cases is used to stave off panic attacks. Chess is also believed to increase players’ self-awareness, protect against dementia, and even improve general intelligence. That’s an awful lot to take from a classic board game most of us start playing (at least a little bit) as children!
What’s interesting though is that chess is not the only tabletop game that people claim to draw mental perks and/or health benefits from. In fact, many if not most such games can be said to provide some benefit to players. And with this in mind, we decided to look into how exactly chess compares to some of these other games.
Checkers is typically the first game that comes to mind when one thinks of counterparts to chess, and in many respects the games are similar. Certainly, there are crucial differences in what kinds of pieces are on the board, how they move, and what the ultimate objective is. But the basic format — player versus player, taking turns moving pieces around a grid — matches up in both games.
Fundamentally, checkers is less complex than chess. As one piece on mastering checkers put it, the game is ultimately one of mental attrition, wherein the best way to lose is to make a mistake. This is another way of saying that there are correct moves to make, whereas chess is a bit more open. This decreased complexity takes away from some of the genuine health benefits one can gain from chess — but does not stop checkers from providing some of the same perks. It can certainly help players learn how to plan, assess situations, and become more self-aware. Checkers can also have a calming, almost meditative effect, and can train players to improve concentration.
We could cover a number of different card games within a broader discussion on table games, but poker is the most relevant of the bunch. Its popularity is at least similar to that of chess, and its complexity makes it more worthwhile to consider than, say, blackjack or hearts. Furthermore — as with chess — there are established mental benefits that players can draw from regular poker play.
These benefits cover a fairly broad range, and are more related to the learning of new skills than to anything explicitly health-related. Specifically, poker players learn to accept defeat and maintain positive outlooks; they develop resilience that can stay with them beyond the tables; they learn emotional intelligence, and how to make decisions calmly and rationally; and they pick up the habit of treating their own mistakes constructively. While the benefits of chess are arguably more extensive, we’d argue that these learned mental skills can be shared by players of either game.
Strictly speaking, chess and checkers are board games, and just about anything played on top of a table can be thought of similarly. For the purposes of this discussion though, we’re using this category to refer to what people traditionally think of as board games — things like Monopoly, the Game of Life, Risk, Clue, and so on.
There is less discussion generally about how players can benefit from these types of gaming experiences. Where games like chess and poker actually inspire studies and research examining benefits, board games are treated more casually. We can at least assume, however, that some of the perks of the other games discussed here translate to ordinary board games. In particular, they ought to have a similar capacity to calm players’ minds and improve players’ ability to make plans on the go. Additionally, it is commonly acknowledged that there are social perks to playing board games. As to legitimate health benefits or learned skills however, there isn’t as much to say for these games.
All in all, we’d still rank chess on top in terms of different tabletop games’ potential to benefit players’ health and minds. But looking through alternatives like checkers, poker, and other board games, it’s clear that some of the benefits — particularly regarding learned mental skills and behavior — are shared.