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A Checkmate for ADHD

Oct 22, 2014

Playing Chess is very beneficial. In fact, Chess has been used as a brain-developing game for ages, and due to it's distinguished history is regarded as the king of all games. Taking into account the so-called epidemic we see in ADHD diagnoses today, does Chess have anything of value to offer?


The epidemic of ADHD has become a cultural phenomenon – it seems to be everywhere. You either have it, or you know someone who has it. But what’s really happening? It’s still a matter of debate whether ADHD is actually a harmful ‘disease’, or merely a natural process that occurs during the phases of maturity.

Whatever you think, the fact that it affects many people is undeniable. According to a research by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.


[ADHD diagnosis in the US during 2011-12 | Source:]

The high rate of ADHD diagnosis is a matter of concern for parents and teachers, as is the consumption of mind-numbing prescription pills and drugs by children. Is medication really the solution? There are numerous side effects to taking prescribed medication, in terms of health and behavioural changes.

“We have too few long-term studies on the effects of these medicines. There’s a big, big gap in our understanding of what the effects of these medicines might be. It’s worrisome.”

 -- Dr. Sanford Newmark, head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program, USCF and author of ADHD Without Drugs ...  


Concerns with the long-term effects of medication on children have led to a ‘no-drug’, therapy-based treatment for ADHD. Much research is being done right now into alternative therapies, some of which include psychological and psycho-educational interventions, social interaction and psychosocial therapy.


"The results of the current review indicate that there is
clear scientific evidence of the efficacy of nonpharmacological
treatment for ADHD."

-- [Eduardo Serrano-Troncoso, Monica Guidi,José Ángel Alda-Díez; 2013]


Tackling ADHD the fun way: Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom.


 Brain imaging studies have revealed that, in youth with ADHD, the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed, on average, by about 3 years. The delay is most pronounced in brain regions involved in thinking, paying attention, and planning.

                           -- National Institute of Mental Health, USA.


The ancient game of Chess and its impact on the brain has been a subject of research for many researchers. An article published in the May 19 (1994) issue of the Nature journal focussed on "Brain activity in chess playing" and shed some light on how Chess activates critical areas of the brain involved in visual processing, memory, planning and judgement, and how it activates both the left and the right hemisphere of the brain. If ADHD affects parts of the brain associated with "thinking, paying attention and planning", as the National Institute of Mental Health says it does, surely the effect of Chess on ADHD kids is a viable research option in alternative ADHD therapies?

In 2011, a team of Danish researchers reviewed research on the side effects of ADHD drugs, and they noticed that drug manufacturers funded almost all of the studies. Furthermore, the majority of the authors received contributions from the pharmaceutical companies producing the medications.

This fact is very difficult to digest.  

Sometimes, evidence-based therapy is more logical than under-researched drug-based treatment. So, we did our own research to understand how Chess can help kids with ADHD. Here's what we discovered when we interviewed 16-year-old Leanne, who was ‘diagnosed’ with ADHD, before and after our little Chess experiment.

Q: ‘Do you feel the effects of ADHD? How did you notice something was wrong? What happened?’

‘When I was 14, I started losing attention in school, I would rather sit with my phone under the desk than listen to what the teacher was talking about. Many of my classmates also did this, but in my case I had to actually charge my phone three times during school hours, because of the constant use. As a result, my grades started to decline and I would sometimes even skip school just to sit at the computer the whole day. When my parents confronted me along with the school council – I realized that this had gotten out of my control.’

Q: ‘What happened next? What did the doctors say? Has anything changed since then?’

‘The doctor diagnosed me with ADHD and since I didn’t know what it meant at the time, those four letters scared me. I got some pills prescribed and I had to drink two before any school work, which includes going to class, doing my homework and things like that. But as I got older, I actually realized that many of the pills are only placebos – they put me in the mindset that ‘I drank the pills, I will now be able to focus more’ and I believed it, which actually did improve my focus. Since then, my ADHD had gotten worse because I knew that I was being given pills with fructose and nothing more, now I’m afraid that the next step will be to actually give me some ‘real’ drugs.’

Q: ‘Do you think taking medicine is the only solution for you? Have you tried anything else?’

‘I don’t really know what else is there. Anything beats taking medicine I guess.’

Q: 'Would you be interested in trying to play a game of chess? It has certain elements which could help with your ADHD.’


After a 3-hour Chess session [1] , here’s what 16-year-old Leanne had to say:

‘I can’t remember the last time I focused on one thing for so long! It’s strange how I only had to check my phone three times during all that, chess seems to make me focus, because if I don’t – I lose certain details and then I lose the whole game. You’ve got something here that I think could help others like me!’



A possible solution to kids with ADHD presents itself without a pill case – it usually comes in a box, and is a thousand year-old board game called Chess. Chess is played between two people who have sixteen pieces of varying strengths, and the one who captures an opponent’ King-piece is the winner. But there is much more to the whole process. During a chess game, a large amount of concentration, attention and focus is required to achieve victory. One small mistake may ruin the chances of success, so players have to be attentive and focused on their next move as well as that of their opponent (probably a better alternative to Ritalin).

It’s clear how chess can help people suffering from ADHD – by playing the game, people are forced to pay attention or they lose. This instant punishment/reward pattern is a proven way to improve any skill, because players would rather pay attention and win, than lose their focus and with it the game.

Do you also believe that Chess can help kids with ADHD? Or have something to add to the story? 

Do share your thoughts in the comment section below. We will be happy to read and respond to them.  

[1]: The experimented was conducted for a period of three hours using the system on -- an online chess training platform that uses gaming to teach Chess -- followed by a chess playing session.

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ria 01:19 - 25 Oct 2014
cool info.

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