As salamu alaikum,
Is it permissible to play chess just to increase memory power without money?
Wa alaykum salam wa rahmatuLlahi wa barakatuHu,
According to Imam Shafi’i, playing chess is slightly disliked [karahah tanzih]. In Ithaf al-Khayrat al-Maharah, it is related that both Sa’id b. Jubayr and Sha’bi considered it permissible. Hafiz Bayhaqi related something similar from Hasan. Furthermore, Hafiz Busayri cited Hafiz Mundhiri that some narrations are found pertaining to chess, none with a sound isnad.
Hafiz Mundhiri mentioned three conditions for chess’ permissibility:
1) The one playing chess must remain mindful of obligatory prayers and other duties; verily, missing them due to forgetfulness in his case is inexcusable.
2) That no gambling is involved.
3) That it does not incite foul language or other evils.
Regarding chess when a wager is stipulated from both players, it is nothing more than gambling [qimar], which is unlawful by consensus [ijma]. When just one player puts down money, it is not gambling; even so, it is still unlawful.
Finally, both Ibn Hajar and Khatib state that when chess is played without any wager, it is disliked [makruh].
(Ithaf al-Khayrat al-Maharah v. 6, p. 116: Mughni al-Muhtaj v. 6, pg. 347: al-Sunan al-Kubra v. 10, p. 211: Tuhfat al-Muhtaj v. 10, p. 216-17)
And Allah knows best.
Shafiifiqh.com Fatwa Dept.