Leontxo García

Journalist and chess player

"Chess is the best gym for the mind."

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What type of behavior models are we promoting for our children? We are setting up the stars of trash TV as models of behavior. That's terrible. We are making children look to, as role models, totally frivolous, empty people who have absolutely nothing interesting to say, and who do so at peak time when many children watching TV with their parents. Or we offer as role models footballers who poke their fingers in the eyes of their opponent, throw vulgar insults at them or fake injuries to trick the referee. These are their idols. Should we not all play our part to make children's role models scientists, writers, charity workers and, of course, teachers? And if we choose athletes, let them be true model of behavior. My mind goes to Rafa Nadal, for instance, who when asked in an interview: "Do you feel important because you are very famous?" replied: "Me? No. How can I feel important if all I can do is pass a hit from one side of the net to the other? I can't feel very important because of that." That's the type of role model we need.

One thing is chess as a sport and another thing is chess as an educational tool. You may get bored or not be interested in serious competition (that's very normal), but I don't know any case of a student who gets bored in class when their teacher is using chess as an educational tool, so long as the teacher is well trained. The best example I know is that of my colleague Lorena García, who uses colored chess pieces or has her pupils play chess in a gym, where children can play on the floor or sitting, or play in teams or in twos, with two chess boards running at a time, where the pieces that are taken from one board move to the other... Those kids are having fun. To enjoy playing chess or to use it as an educational tool, you do not need to have any special intelligence. Anyone of any age, condition or intellectual level can enjoy chess or use it as an educational tool.

"Besides music, there is no teaching tool that is as effective, offers as many values and is as fun as chess."

Students in educational chess develop their intelligence more than others, and typically in multiple parameters, including emotional intelligence. They also typically improve their academic performance but, above all, in two areas: mathematics and reading comprehension. This is even scientifically proven. There are also many other qualities - we could make a list of 40 or 50 - but to mention just one, it is knowing how to win and lose: this is developed in chess in a very special way because, more than in any other sport, in chess you cannot blame losing on the referee, or the rain or muddy ground. Luck practically does not come into it at all. As such, in chess, the loser is the one who learns the most. If I play a game now with you, and you beat me, the first thing I'm going to do is ask myself why I've lost. I am developing self-critical thinking in a very intense way. If I play chess frequently, I will do that very often. I have no doubt that we can talk about transfer here, that is, that what I am learning from chess is transferable to real life, making me self-critical in my normal life in any situation because I have a kind of automated muscle in my brain to be self-critical. Basically, the list of virtues, values and skills that chess develops is very long.

Having flexible thinking is essential. It's not enough just to think - now you have to learn to think flexibly. That is why chess is so good, because if I play a game with you, during that game, there are several moments when a single play of yours or mine will force us to change completely how we see the whole board. What's more, we have to do it quickly because the clock is ticking.

Leontxo García has been a journalist specializing in chess for more than 30 years, as well as a competitive chess player since the age of 14. He is one of the great chess broadcasters as a correspondent, television presenter, author and lecturer in more than twenty countries. Author of the book "Chess and Science, mixed passions," in 2011, he was awarded the Spanish Sports Merit Medal.