People have been challenging their minds with chess for thousands of years. The nature of chess requires mental acuity, memory and creativity among many other cognitive skills.
Some brain-boosting nootropics for chess may help to optimize key cognitive functions used during chess gameplay, supporting a peak-performing mental state to help you win more.
What Parts of the Brain Does Chess Use?
Studies show that the brains of people who play chess are decidedly different than those who don’t. For example, grandmaster chess players show more activity in their frontal and parietal lobes, areas of the brain that control problem-solving and recognition.
Chess is an exemplary brain game because it uses so many different areas of the brain. Playing chess can improve memory and boost all around brain function. Much more than a mere board game or hobby, chess provides numerous benefits to our brain. Here are some of the most impressive.
Researchers found that the fusifrom face area (FFA), usually reserved for facial recognition, showed activity in chess players as they studied a chess board.<1> Though both casual and expert players showed activity in the FFA, it was more active in experts. But why would an area of the brain primed for face recognition play a part in chess?
Brain plasticity shows that our brains can adapt to other, similar demands. Since the FFA triggers spatial processing for face recognition, it naturally lends itself to the same process for chess. Some nootropics help to support brain plasticity.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for perception, planning, and self-control. It’s also one of the last parts of the brain to develop. Until this brain area develops, usually well into adolescence, our brains are scientifically immature. While expert players can remember common chess positions with uncommon precision, how can kids learn to play chess so well?
Chess stimulates the prefrontal cortex and spurs growth in immature ones, helping young players develop planning, reasoning, and perception skills earlier than kids who don’t play chess.
Frontal and Parietal Lobes
The parietal lobe is associated with the visual system, spatial recognition, and language processing -- all of which are functions that may be enhanced by some natural nootropics. Chess players of all levels show improved language and reading skills. Activation of the parietal lobe during a match can at least partly explain why.
The frontal lobe contains most of the brain’s dopamine receivers, which regulate things like attention, short-term memory, planning, and reward. It’s triggered during problem-solving activities like deciding on your next move.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany, researchers found that grandmaster chess players use the frontal cortex of the brain more than amateurs do.<2>
Medial Temporal Lobe
While grandmasters get more out of the frontal lobe, amateur chess players use the medial temporal lobe more. This area sits below both the frontal and parietal lobes and includes the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is primarily responsible for the formation of new memories, while the medial temporal cortex serves as a storage locker for those memories. Together, they allow us to retain long-term memories, like which moves work well in certain situations and which ones don’t.
Left and Right Brain
Chess engages both right and left brains to come up with a complete strategy that is both creative and logical. The visual information processing part of the right brain picks out patterns, while the analytical left side chooses the most logical move. The brain puts the two processes together, and that’s how chess moves are born.
Chess Player’s Tool Box
Chess is a game based on logic and strategy. With numerous potential moves at any given time, it’s tailor-made for testing your cognitive limits. Numerous studies have explored how chess can boost various brain functions. Here are some of the main brain tasks you can call upon to improve your gameplay.
A 2004 study detailed the important role of memory in chess, finding, “Most of the differences among top chess players appear to be in how many game positions they know, rather than in how effective they are in searching for a good move.”<3>
Chess seems to be largely a game of memory among the best players. Some researchers estimate that grandmasters memorize between 10,000 and 300,000 chess-piece “chunks.”<4>
Without the ability to devote your total focus to every movement in the game, it’s difficult to calculate future moves and develop complex strategies. All your attention must be focused laser sharp on the game, and only the game.
Having a strategy to maintain focus when your mind starts to wander certainly helps. So does stimulating the attention-focusing dopamine neurons in the frontal lobe.
Good chess players are able to recognize and respond to complex patterns. In fact, you could say that chess is a game built upon pattern recognition.
Though other factors play their own part, the ability to perceive patterns and process multiple correlations simultaneously is paramount for the win. This is where spatial recognition, planning, creative thinking, and problem solving intersect.
During a match, there are numerous ever-changing combinations available at any one time. When no logical or tried-and-true strategy seems to work, getting creative can turn the game in your favor. If nothing else, coming up with a creative way to distract your opponent - on the board, of course - can buy you time to develop a winning strategy.
Staying cool under pressure can mean the difference between executing an informed, well-thought out move and making a big mistake. The greatest grandmasters remain calm and relaxed throughout gameplay. Some even use psychologists to help them manage stress during intense events like the Olympiad. Learn about Nootropics for Stress
Beyond Deep Blue: Human Intelligence vs. Artificial Intelligence in Chess
In 1997, Deep Blue was the first computer to defeat a world chess champion - Garry Kasparov. Modern computers are even better at beating human opponents, but human brains do have some advantages.
- Computers are good at tactics, but they don’t create new strategies
- Human players are far better at positional chess
While the computer acts tactically, humans think about long term strategy and access cognitive processes that computers can’t - like perceiving patterns, creative maneuvering, even intuition.
Even pros have a hard time beating chess computers. The greats often hone their skills by playing against computers with the goal of learning more moves, thus sending more “chunks” to memory banks.
A Game for All Ages
Chess Builds Brain Function in Children.
Chess has been shown to enhance analytical, critical thinking, and visualization skills, especially in second and third graders, an age where the brain develops rapidly. However, a child of any age can play chess to improve concentration, patience, critical thinking, and memory as well as enhance creativity and intuition.<5>
Chess Preserves Mental Acuity in Older Adults
Kids don’t get all the benefits. A recent study found that people over 75 who engage in brain games like chess are less likely to develop dementia than their peers who don’t play. , Dr. Robert Freidland, the study’s author, found that unused brain tissue weakens, just like unused muscles. All the more reason to play chess at any age.
Chess Brain Benefits Everyone In Between
Anyone can benefit from the brain boosting benefits of a good chess game at any age. It’s never too early or late to start learning, and the more you play, the more brain power you’ll get. Novice, hobbyist, grandmaster, and everything in between - all levels of play bestow their own benefits on your brain.
Peak Chess-Playing Age
Chess players tend to perform their best in their early to mid-twenties. In many ways, chess is like an extreme sport. It takes ultimate mind-body fitness to play top-level chess. Most people peak mentally and physically in their early to mid-twenties, a big factor in chess prowess. Top players prove it:
- Magnus Carlsen, No.1 ranked chess player since 2011, became World Champion in 2013 at age 22.
- Garry Kasparov, became the youngest undisputed World Chess Champion in 1985 at age 22
- Anatoly Karpov, became the official world champion at age 24, held onto the title for ten years, until his defeat by Gary Kasparov in 1985.
- Judit Polgár, the only woman to qualify for a World Championship tournament, at age 29.
- Vladimir Kramnik, became Classical World Champion at age 25.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Chess
Rhodiola is an adaptogen nootropic herb that's prized for its mood-boosting, stress-busting capability. Adaptogen supplements help reduce cellular sensitivity to stressful stimuli, helping your brain respond better when your cognitive skills are pushed to the limit.
Rhosiola Rosea is thought to soothe the sympatho-adrenal system (SAS) that triggers the stress response in high pressure situations. So, when the heat is on, Rhodiola can help you keep your cool.<6>
Bacopa is another adaptogen that can help you keep calm under pressure. But it’s also an all around memory booster that can support learning and memory retention, so you can build new chunks of chess memory faster and remember them longer.
Bacopa may even speed up visual information processing so you can choose your next move more accurately. It works by stimulating the dopaminergic system in the frontal lobe, but more importantly, it facilitates neural communication.
Playing chess is thought to increase the growth rate of nerve endings in the nervous system called dendrites, and so does Bacopa Monnieri.<7>
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
NALT is a naturally occurring amino in the brain that regulates neurotransmitters like dopamine which impact mood, memory, and cognitive functions like pattern recognition and spatial perception. NALT can become depleted in high pressure situations, affecting memory and decision making.
- Studies show L-Tyrosine can counteract the effects of NALT depletion while thinking under pressure, helping preserve high cognitive function when you need it most.<8>
Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short on Mind Lab Pro®
After Nigel Short started taking Mind Lab Pro®, he began to feel sharper, more alert, more focused. “Taking Mind Lab Pro® during competition, I’ve noticed that my concentration has improved. I’m able to concentrate for longer periods of time. Mind Lab Pro®...is a godsend. I will be recommending it to some of my friends and colleagues, but I will not be recommending it to my closest competitors.”
Mind Lab Pro® nootropics for chess support a winning mindset: Strategy, memory, stress resistance and more.
You don’t have to be a grandmaster to reap the brain benefits of chess. With Mind Lab Pro®, you may reap even greater cognitive benefits and chess success -- winning more while supporting a healthier, more balanced brain.
- Bilalić M, Langner R, Ulrich R, Grodd W. Many faces of expertise: fusiform face area in chess experts and novices. J Neurosci. 2011 Jul 13;31(28):10206-14. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5727-10.2011.
- Amidzic O, Riehle H, Elbert T. Toward a Psychophysiology of Expertise Focal Magnetic Gamma Bursts as a Signature of Memory Chunks and the Aptitude of Chess Players. JOurnal of Psychophysiology. 20, 2006, 4, pp.253-258.
- Burns BD. The Effects of Speed on Skilled Chess Performance. Michigan State University. 2004.
- Fauconnier G, Turner, M. Conceptual Integration Networks. Cognitive Science, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 133-187, April-June 1998
- Dauverne P. The case for chess as a tool to develop our children's minds. University of Sydney. Jul 2000.
- Mattioli L, Perfumi M. Rhodiola rosea L. extract reduces stress- and CRF-induced anorexia in rats. Journal of Psychopharmacology. Vol 21, Issue 7, pp. 742 - 750. First Published September 1, 2007.doi:10.1177/0269881106074064.
- Kasparov G. The chess master and the computer. The New York Review of Books. 2010 Feb 11;57(2):16-
- Jongkees BJ, et al. Effect of tyrosine supplementation on clinical and healthy populations under stress or cognitive demands--A review. J Psychiatr Res. 2015 Nov;70:50-7.