Chess for the elderly

by Ainoa Jiménez
2/24/2021 – “Healthy Chess” is the name of Club Magic Extremadura’s program focused on the elderly and directed by Juan Antonio Montero since 2008. The pioneering goals of the program have more to do with keeping the mind active instead of simply teaching the participants how to play chess. The classes are given in the Spanish region of Extremadura. | Pictured: Juan Antonio Montero giving a class | Photos: Club de Ajedrez Magic Extremadura

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Healthy chess

The differences are not only theoretical but also practical: we stopped presenting typical problems (mate-in-x, tactics) and started working with memorization exercises or questions related to specific positions presented on the demo board (an essential tool) such as, ‘How many white/black pawns are placed on light squares?’ or, ‘How many black knights, bishops and rooks are placed on odd-numbered files?’. Other exercises include increasingly-difficult positions in which the participants have to find out the number of moves a knight needs to capture a pawn sitting still.

Leontxo García de visita

Leontxo García paying a visit to the club

This is how we started applying our ‘Method of Cognitive Training through Chess’ to the elderly — since then, the program has been improved greatly. Curiously, many women have joined the program, not because they were particularly interested in chess at first but because they wanted to keep their minds in good shape. 

We have also worked on improving intergenerational relationships, not by simply bringing together the old and the young in tournaments but by allowing them to have meaningful personal relationships, actually getting to know each other while working on cognitive exercises or playing chess.


Age difference does not matter in chess 

The games are taught in a playful environment and without losing our sense of humour — a feature of all the programs championed by our club — and are focused on improving the participants’ memory skills, their ability to focus their attention and their visual-spatial skills, among other cognitive functions.

The program has survived for so many years thanks to our collaborators: AUPEX (Regional Association of Popular Universities of Extremadura) and SEPAD (Extremadura Service for the Promotion of Autonomy and the Avoidance of Dependency). 

A good and healthy environment

The main objective, among the many mentioned above, has been to promote active ageing. Moreover, proof of the program’s success is the fact that more than 1.400 elderly people have joined the program. They have provided very positive feedback, mentioning the beneficial repercussions the program had on their lives.

Chess keeps our minds youthful

It is important to mention that “Healthy Chess” won a national award, the Premio Generaciones Unidas (United Generations Award) granted by IMSERSO, the University of Granada and the Cajasol Foundation in 2011 for “being an effective example of intersection between health, active ageing and intergenerational relations”.

Smiling students

Fast-forward to 2020/21 and the aftermath of the pandemic has been catastrophic for this sector of the population. Most of them have had to face loneliness and isolation, which has led to a lack of cognitive stimulation. The circumstances have affected their cognitive functions and, of course, had a major negative effect on their state of mind.

Once again, the Club Magic Extremadura, with its great ability to adapt, managed to meet these needs by using virtual tools and new technologies to keep the participants active, training their minds during these trying times.

Let’s play a game!

Modern times

Our Cognitive Method was adapted to the virtual reality by delivering the program through an app that many older people have mastered in recent years — WhatsApp. The extensive bundle of exercises was completely recycled into a quick and easy-to-read image format. In this way, the five cognitive areas continued to be trained without losing sight of the metaphor: our brain is a ‘muscle’ that needs to be constantly exercised so that it does not atrophy.

This virtual twist was very well-received and was very successful among the elderly, who were eager to get away from the daily routine and the bombardment of news they heard day in and day out. The online meetings became social gatherings where they could enjoy each other’s company, have their minds cleared of the problems related to COVID-19 and enjoy the satisfaction of doing something for their health (in this case, mental health). The program took longer than originally planned, as the groups fervently insisted that it should not be stopped — in fact, it was extended by two months.

Let’s solve this!

I must point out that on numerous occasions they have shown great courage to face the digital challenges, as we witnessed, for example, at the ‘Intergenerational Tournament’ that was organized by the Club over Christmas with the Magic youth team. To some people it may seem simple, but believe me, the courage, self-improvement and motivation they showed in their comments were impressive: “I’ve never done it before, but sign me up”, “I don’t know how to handle anything like that, I’m clumsy with technology, but I want to take part”, “I have no idea how it all works, it’s a lot for me, but I’m excited to play”.

Chess as a helpful tool for the young and the old

Finally, for those who speak Spanish, do check out our blog, Ajedrez Saludable, and the video series aimed at senior citizens in our YouTube channel — the videos are focused on helping us understand and deal with each of the cognitive functions that worsen or deteriorate with age by using our Method of Cognitive Training through Chess.


Psychologist specialized in the “Cognitive training through chess” method at the Club Magic Extremadura. She also creates and edits video series on chess as a therapeutic tool and chess for the elderly.


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