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I am a software engineer by profession, and a chess enthusiast (around 1600 rated). I would like to know is there any professional university certified course like Masters etc. in chess?

Can someone opt for Chess as a means of getting Ph.D or do some research in it?

You can tell me answers like becoming titled players is the same as that, but i am talking about academic university level course.

If yes, it is there? Can someone post me a link to that?

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    I have also never heard of a PhD in wrestling or baseball.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 3, 2012 at 3:43
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    @TonyEnnis: Wrestling or baseball is different from chess. Chess involves search-depth, tree pruning algorithms, BFS-DFS algorithms and more others. So there is more scope of research in chess than in Wrestling or baseball.
    – RajSanpui
    Dec 3, 2012 at 11:07
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    @kingsmasher1 those are topics in CS and game theory, not "chess theory".
    – hobbs
    Sep 30, 2014 at 0:55
  • @hobbs True. Those are subjects in CS, not chess theory. But, (1) there is indeed research on games and sports, (2) resreach on chess based on combinatorial game theory is very much likely to contribute to chess theory. Jun 12, 2023 at 1:59

3 Answers 3

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There are a couple that come to mind, but I am not sure of the present status of them:

Texas Tech has SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence) founded by Susan Polgar and is the first chess institute of it's kind in the world.

Aberdeen University in Scotland was preparing to launch the world's first doctoral program in Chess.

As far as research goes, you can research anything you want about chess, but keep in mind that one normally does not research chess alone, but researches things build up to chess. By things, I might mean certain data structures or algorithms that are found in chess software. Other avenues of research can be explored besides the technical part of it as well.

Equating a chess title to a degree title is too subjective.

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    Good post - one small note, SPICE recently (this school year) moved to Webster University in St. Louis.
    – Andrew
    Dec 3, 2012 at 4:50
  • The linked news article about Aberdeen's proposed doctoral program in chess is dated 2001, and I can't find a web footprint for such a program now. I guess it never actualized?
    – ETD
    Dec 3, 2012 at 5:50
  • @Andrew - Good to know. I couldn't find much on it.
    – xaisoft
    Dec 3, 2012 at 14:49
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    But if you research data structures and algorithms that are applied to solving chess problems isn't that more computer science than chess?
    – Akavall
    Dec 3, 2012 at 15:40
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    One last thing. Although you can't get a degree in chess, Noam Elkies used to teach a class at Harvard on chess-related mathematics. Aug 3, 2016 at 23:25
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The nearest thing I can think of is a Sports Sciences (Masters) Degree. See here for an example. On a quick website recognition, I haven't found any specialised on chess. But then you can complete your background with some chess-related course, work or volunteering.

Then, if you are interested in pursuing a PhD I can think of many areas you could address:

  • psychological aspects of the game (but much work has already been done there)
  • pedagogical methods to teach the game (with a background in software engineering I could suggest research in computer-based pedagogical or training methods)
  • health (and mental health) benefits of playing chess
  • physical training and nutrition of professional chess players (which is the best way to keep them strong enough to play through an important tournament at the best of their capacities)
  • whatever you can think of ;-) (with the condition you win a suitable PhD grant)

But with a Masters in software engineering you could also make a PhD on computer chess or mathematical aspects of the game!

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Updates

Recently, Webster's university launched a Minor degree in Chess "Chess in Education"
(see this link).

There are a few educational institutions that offer courses on chess: TTU (under SPICE program mentioned in xaisoft's answer), UT Dallas, etc.

There is a SPICE office at Webster's university (see this link).

It seems that the idea of Aberdeen University to offer PhD in chess did not take off (no news after 2001; currently, no such program is offered in the university).

Discussion on degree in chess

I would like point out that an academic education program on chess could be for players, coaches or researchers (could there be one for chess authors who write books for players? I am not sure).

For players

For players, performance in tournaments is indeed a better measure. But, an academic degree on chess could attract players who are not top performers but are very much interested in chess. This could help popularise chess. Also, teaching students how to think logically is an important function of education (at least science education). If this is the angle of approach, it makes a lot of sense to not limit to only chess and rather make it a degree on (logical and/or strategy) games. An example of such a course is MS in games for learning in NYU Steinhardt (with focus on use of games for teaching and learning).

For coaches

In the current scenario, to get officially recognised as a coach (by fide or platforms such as chess.com or lichess.org), you need a high rating (2300+). This is reasonable if the coach is supposed to train class B or higher level players. But, for beginner coaches, this is not reasonable. Schools and universities would benefit from a way to recognise good coaches for beginners who are not necessarily themselves top rated players. Moreover, an expert may sometimes not know the typical issue of a complete beginner.
A quote from "Ten ways to know when a chess coach is good"

The master may be used to dealing with abstract theory and concepts but the new player is still struggling to lay down a solid foundation to build upon. Imagine how ineffective it would be, for both parties involved, if a mathematician at NASA were to teach 4 year olds how to count.

Hence, sports/game science degree on chess would be a valuable tool to recognise good coaches or beginners.

For researchers

One could do a PhD in chess from the sports science angle (see the topics listed in lodebari's answer). Apart from that angle also, research on sports and games is a genuine one (for instance, see the papers on chess listed on google scholar). Two papers on chess I find important are "On numbers and endgames: Combinatorial game theory in chess endgames" by Elkies, and "A Combinatorial game theoretic analysis of chess endgames" by Wu et al.
I personally think that combinatorial game theory has produced results on chess beyond the expectation, but thas seems not enough to garner serious attention yet (the sucess of ML/AI chess engines seriously reduced the chances of CGT-based chess reseach getting public attention). Instead of talking about combinatorial game theory here, I shall provide a link to my answer to the question What projects have been undertaken to solve chess completely? (also see this answer to another question).

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