Chess and Successful Aging

The 21st World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics was held July 23-27 in San Francisco, California. The International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) only arranges this congress every 4th year, whereas the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) has an annual congress. My wife wanted to attend the congress, so we planned 9 days in San Francisco and California, business and pleasure.

When the GSA found out that I was an International Master and chess author, they contacted me to include the topic of chess. Eventually, the subject of Chess and Successful Aging came up, and I was to give a live-presentation at the conference.

The subject of chess as a board game to train cognitive skills is an interesting one, but the obvious question is: why chess? Other board games and cognitive exercises seem to have a similar impact on the mind, so I made a comparison and showed how chess as a well-established game in society has much to offer. Not only as a brain-game, but also due to the social interaction and proven problem-solving skills that can help elderly build their self-efficacy.

Chess was not the only game present at the conference – a Japanese professor and researcher talked about the benefits of Mahjong at a separate meeting that I was fortunate to attend. Mahjong is an ancient Chinese game that has a central place in China and Chinese communities around the world: elderly go to the social day-care centers to play the game.

A main difference between Mahjong and chess is that Mahjong is a game for 4 players. To be 4 in a grouping is quite different from only 2 – not only from a social perspective, but also from a game theoretical one: you are not only fighting against one opponent (chess). 3 opponents make luck and dependence on others a factor, whereas chess is mostly regarded as a game without luck, as the player is entirely dependent on own decisions.

My knowledge of Mahjong is fairly limited at this point, but with the help of my wife, I am slowly learning how to play it.