Junior chess may well have been the preserve of independent schools and grammar schools in the past, but it is pleasing to see that more juniors are coming through in England who have not benefited from these education advantages.
In the London Borough in which I live, Kingston-upon-Thames, we are very fortunate that about 80% of state primary schools have chess clubs. This is fantastic as children are introduced to chess relatively early. The mere fact that children are exposed to chess is enough to engage the inquisitive, it is not vital that the teacher is an expert at chess.
To give an example, Koby Kalavannan, the current U11 British Champion attended a state primary school in this Borough and only started playing at school 3 years ago. With the support of his parents – taking him to tournaments regularly – he is now winning just about every national junior prize in sight for his age.
Another example, Akshaya Kalaiyalahan, the current British U18 Girl Champion and U12 Girl Champion also attended a state primary school in this Borough. This summer she helped Surrey win the ECF County Championship Trophy with a crucial win. And she is making an impact on the international scene: in the European Youth Chess Championships 2013 she came 4th in the Girls U12 section with 7/9. More info here.
Congratulations to both of them!! But just imagine for a moment Koby and Akshaya had never had the opportunity to attend a school chess club. Perhaps they never would have discovered their talent and passion for the game. What a loss to British chess that would have been!
Is it a coincidence that these two chess stars went to primary schools in a Borough where the vast majority of primary schools do chess? I don’t think so. I think it’s largely because they had the opportunity to learn and play early in a school environment that they got into chess.
If we don’t have chess in primary schools we’re really falling at the first hurdle in terms of bringing through a new generation of chess stars. The more we fail to bring chess to all primary schools and communities the less likely it is that we’re going to find the next seriously talented players.
Fortunately, things are gradually improving. The chess charity Chess in Schools and Communities has been making great strides into bringing chess to more children, particularly in less privileged inner city communities. Mike Basman’s Delancey UK Schools Chess Challenge continues to be effective at getting children into tournament play.
Whether chess at schools is done by teachers, or chess coaches, or volunteers, or chess charities doesn’t matter that much, what matters is that it happens!