Chess and Math Series ~ Using Chess to Practice Basic Counting and Graph Theory

MATCH Chess Curriculum Chess Math Series

Teachers often ask how they can use chess in their classrooms to address subject matter objectives in an engaging manner.  Likewise, schools and parents report similar goals for involving their kids in a chess program. Specifically, they hope that playing chess will improve academic performance and develop important cognitive skills. The challenge then, is how to do it in a way that is fun for kids and effective.

Activities that integrate subject matter content into chess lessons are a great way to address these goals. The hands-on, competitive nature of the game increases engagement by providing immediate relevance and feedback. At the same time, the subject integration increases the assimilation of academic learning by the kids.

Chess Math Activity 1

Intrigued?  Here is an activity that you can try with your students. This math problem from the MATCH Chess Curriculum addresses a number of math and chess skills. Try it with your students and watch the magic happen.


Instructions: Let’s assume that your kids already know how the chess pieces move.  You can use traditional chess sets or create paper ones.  Let your students experiment to find answers to the questions below.  

Start by asking them to create a map of how they can get each of their pieces to the eighth row.  Once they have tried that, ask them if they can find a shorter and then a longer path to the eighth row (officially called a rank).

If your students don’t know how the pieces move, try these puzzles first to get them started. They will quickly learn how the pieces move and be ready to tackle this discrete mathematics problem in no time.  

If you want to make it even more fun, toss in a little imagination by creating a storyline (or ask the kids to create one) to go along with the problems.  For example, you could suggest that their house is on the starting row/rank  and they have to travel on the road (file) to get to their friend’s house on the eighth rank.

NOTE: A row across the chessboard is called a ‘rank’. There are eight ranks ~ for example, squares a1-a8.

Your students won’t know they are learning about graph theory or directed paths. They will be focused on solving a fun puzzle. Meanwhile, you will have the satisfaction of knowing they are sharpening their math skills and building the knowledge they need to plan and strategize effectively in their chess games.

You can conduct this activity using a demonstration board using the description below or you can print out the following worksheet here: MATCH Chess Math Activity 1.

Optional addition to the activity: Add a simple bar graph comparing the number of moves for each piece.


Here are the questions and answers for easy reference: 

Chess Math Activity 1 Answers
Activity created for MATCH by Marianne Dalton, Math teacher & tutor

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