Building Thinking Skills through Chess
January 19, 2011
solitaireChess.jpgBy Bill Ritchie, co-founder and president of ThinkFun

Teaching problem solving skills seems to have fallen out-of-vogue in the U.S. As parents, this means it’s up to us to get our kids practicing critical thinking and deductive reasoning. This is not an easy task and there is no single solution. Of course, knowing who I’m talking to, you’re all likely thinking, “Chess IS the solution!”And yes, I agree.

I have always been a math guy, a gamer and a born puzzler. I absolutely believe that the right games can inspire learning and spark creativity. Games can force experience with perseverance, with focus, with flexibility and fluidity of thinking, and create feelings of improved esteem, heightened curiosity, and bolstered self confidence.

As chess players, you already know all this. The benefits of playing chess are widely acknowledged. Going back to Albert Binet in 1893, study after study shows that chess improves people in many different ways. From combination power, to power of calculation, to enhanced creativity, the benefits of play are numerous, but the game can be intimidating for the uninitiated, and especially so for children who can most benefit from learning these skills early.

ThinkFun was founded on the dream that we could change the world through play. We aimed to translate the brilliant ideas of the craziest mathematicians, engineers and inventors into simple toys that are engagingly fun, while also building thinking skills. It only seems natural that we’d attempt to marry the logic puzzles that are at the core of what ThinkFun offers, to chess.

Solitaire Chess is a new ThinkFun logic puzzle based on the rules of chess. We launched the physical version of the game into toy stores last Fall, and today the Solitaire Chess App for the iPhone and iPad became available. Coming later this year will be a special Master’s Edition of challenges, which we will work in partnership with the USCF to develop… but more on that in another post.

The beginner levels of Solitaire Chess provide a great way to bring new people into the world of chess, teaching them the basics of how the pieces move, and allowing them to learn at their own speed. As players graduate to higher levels, they layer on the ability to play strategically, thinking multiple moves ahead.

How to describe Solitaire Chess? I believe, I hope, we have been successful in capturing the essence of chess. Strictly speaking, Solitaire Chess is what recreational mathematicians call a “chess task”… a puzzle based on the rules of chess. To be successful with Solitaire Chess requires players to develop many of the same thinking strategies that are necessary for the real game - thinking strategies like staying focused and persevering, and working through the layers to find the right pattern.

What has me so excited about our twist on the game is that every move must be a capture. This increases the urgency of play, making the game incredibly fast paced and very much in the moment. The play pattern also encourages players scrutinize each challenge after it has been solved, reexamining their thinking and chosen strategies. This was all purposeful as post-analysis is a very important and often overlooked part of the development of thinking skills.

Of course, no one is going to play if the games are smart, but not fun. The collective work of our team is to create the absolutely most clever and diabolical challenges. We’re sure we have done this.

It can’t be mistaken that a core pleasure of chess is in the strategy making and thinking process itself. I believe this is an appreciation that can be taught, and if learned early, will make a difference in how our children approach education, work, and life in general. This group has a lot to offer towards reinventing and redefining how we engage kids with learning.

I look forward to the discussion!

Try out solitaire chess for yourself on this demo site or by clicking the image below.