He was speaking after a brief meeting with former world chess champion and Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov at the president's official residence in Pretoria.
"It is so important for young people, particularly at schools, as an educational tool," said Zuma.
He said Kasparov had briefed him on a few chess programmes to be started in the country and told him he was pleased with the progress made.
"Of course I also love this game... it's very nice," he said.
Kasparov said he would have a base in Johannesburg for his Kasparov Chess Foundation.
"The goal is to establish a base in Johannesburg that will promote these programmes throughout the continent."
He said the programmes were supported by the president and businesses which wanted the game to reach people from different social backgrounds.
"I have very high expectations about our goals set for South Africa and the neighbouring countries," said Kasparov.
South Africa's highest-ranked chess player, Watu Kobese, who also attended the meeting, said Kasparov's partnership with local chess programmes would bring much-needed attention to the game.
"Chess does change a person's mind. We believe it can be one of the tools used to remedy the ills we have in schools, in maths and science especially," he said.