Old school board games might typically be reserved for game nights and power outages, but you should consider dusting off that old chessboard and brushing up. A recent Chinese study showed that chess grandmasters had much more efficiently networked brains than novices, supercharging their minds’ learning and memory systems—even when resting.
Noobs can tap that benefit, as well. “Training your brain is just as important as training your body,” says grandmaster and current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen. “It’s just like a muscle—if you’re not using it, you can lose it.”
Chess not only bolsters mental acuity, but it’s also great for improving problem-solving skills, understanding cause and effect, and anticipating your opponent’s plans, says Tony Rich, executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
With the US Chess Championship happening now through May 20 in St. Louis (the prize is $250,000), now is a great time to pick up—or dive back into—the game. You might not be a grandmaster anytime soon, but you can still use these pro tips to help you harness chess’ hidden brain power.
Start with the rules and basics of the game, says Rich. The best book for beginners is Play Winning Chess by grandmaster Yasser Seirawan ($20, amazon.com), he says. If you don’t already have a board, grab a classic wooden set from chess mainstay, House of Staunton (houseofstaunton.com).
Know Your Resources
If you prefer a more high-tech approach to the game, you can download the Play Magnus app (free, itunes.com), developed by Carlsen, where you can watch training videos, study expert techniques, and play the game based on your age or experience level. Carlsen even plays one app user in person each year.
When considering your technique, keep a few crucial rules in mind. “Get your pieces exactly where you want them early on,” says Rich. Otherwise the player can pounce on your stranded back row. Also, control the center of the board as much as possible, he says. That’s where much of the game is decided. And lastly, don’t get wrapped up in the game and forget to protect your king. “Great chess players know when to break some of these principles, and they gain that knowledge from years of experience,” he says.
Make The Next Move
Experience is your best ally in chess, so get out there and challenge people with different styles of play. When it’s time to ditch the training wheels, try online chess clubs like chess.com and chessclub.com, which let you play friends and join tournaments to hone your skills.
This article originally appeared in Men's Health US.