All posts by John Foley

About John Foley

Director, London Chess Conference Member, Education Commission, European Chess Union Promoting chess as a way to develop thinking skills

Chess with asylum seekers

What can you do when you hear that asylum seekers have come to the old prison in your town and besides their worries they are also bored? You gather old chess sets from everywhere and you ask your chess club members to donate a new chessboard. That is what happened to Niels van der Mark in Doetinchem in the Netherlands a year ago.

Now, one year later they play weekly in the centre and meet a lot of refugees. Most of the time they exchange only a few words of English. But they play chess the whole afternoon, shake hands and sometimes hug and that’s good. The refugees that come to Doetinchem, a small town near the German border and stay there for about 6-8 weeks. During they stay they learn whether they can stay (most of the time for 5 years) or have to leave. Although they know they know they can stay safely for period of when they come from the civil war in Syria,  they are naturally worried about the process. Somehow playing a game of chess eases there mind. It provides a distraction from thinking about their relatives who may also be on the run if they haven’t managed to escape from Syria. On the chessboard they are solving other problems on the chessboard that they have a  chance to solve.

ChessClubCardDuring their stay in Doetinchem, the club offers asylum seekers free membership. The club is one way to help them to get into Dutch culture and customs. The club made a business card with its address and a QR-code they can scan which opens Google Maps and the route to the playing location. The card is issued if they would like to play a serious game of chess.

Another way they have found to stay in touch is through Chess.com.  Niels invites the asylum seekers to create an account so they can play online once they have left for another centre for. Besides playing chess they can still stay in touch.In this way, Niels kept in touch with Mohammed and learned that he wanted to start a chess club in the centre where he was staying. Niels organised ten boards and pieces and brought it to him. And so he started a chess club in the centre at Deventer.

ChessDeventermedium
Chess with asylum seekers in Deventer, Netherlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Niels Van Der Mark will be speaking about his project at the conference.

Local press report.

Chess as a mental health therapy

JulianWayJulian Way was reading Classics at Oxford immersed in the literature and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome. He was also a strong chess player – a FIDE Master – and had authored a monograph on the Queen’s Gambit. Given his intellectual talents, he could legitimately have expected a glittering career but suddenly everything changed. He had a mental breakdown and ended up in hospital. He never returned to the dreaming spires to finish his degree. Instead he spent years in and out of mental institutions.

 

His depression lasted fifteen years and it was only when he took control of his recovery and eschewed medical input that he felt he made significant strides. The standard treatment model for mental illness places emphasis on medication. Julian feared that this model takes responsibility away from the patient and can make them feel disempowered. Instead, he prefers developing life skills and strategies ranging from a common-sense self-assessment, with inevitable trial and error, to submitting to the more scientific Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. These skills and strategies are also pertinent on the chess board. According to Julian, recovery from long-term mental health issues has strong parallels with chess. He cites planning, problem solving, self-awareness, emotional stamina, stubbornness and patience.

Mental illness is by its very nature difficult to manage for the individual concerned. Julian advocates adopting a strategic approach. He counsels against impulsive, short-term measures as personal experience suggests these will probably not suffice. Playing chess can provide individuals with scenarios to hone a different kind of thinking. Being able to develop, harness and sharpen thinking skills is integral to chess and essential to recovery. The parallels are abundant and useful discussion may well yield further areas of overlap.

Julian’s view is shared by many but remains controversial given current scientific practice. Julian is not dogmatic about his view that chess presents a microcosm of life itself – he is more concerned to create a dialogue and get a debate going.

Over the last decade Julian has been rebuilding his life. He holds down a job as a social worker in the mental health field. He took a degree in creative writing at a local university and is now working on a Masters. He is writing a therapeutic autobiography and is playing chess happily once more.

Julian will be attending the conference.

Chess mediated counselling

Fernando Moreno is a school counselor based in Maryland near Washington DC, the US capital. He has for over a decade been developing chess as an instrument of psychological counseling. His approach focuses on improving the social and emotional skills of his students and consequently their academic performance. For new migrants, he supports their adaptation and integration by increasing the involvement of the family in their new school. His innovative technique is to present real life situations as carefully chosen chess positions. The chess position models in some way the decisions that they have to make.

The children that Fernando supports did not start life with many prospects. His school has the lowest income population in the district with 95% of the pupils receiving free school meals. Furthermore, three quarters have limited knowledge of English. Many of them received little schooling in their home country before immigrating. The families may have experienced war, poverty, violence or persecution.

Chess does not have any bounds: it is played in every country. Fernando relates to the newcomers by telling them about chess in their culture. He tells stories of the players and refers to a chess library illustrating games from Central America (El Salvador, Mexico), South America (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia), Asia (China, Vietnam), Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa), Spain and Russia.

Fernando tells the newcomers that their move was not a free choice but was due to external circumstances. He correlates this narrative with chess: if you learn the rules of the game then you can move your own pieces according to one’s own plan. He teaches the children the new rules of the environment, how to take appropriate measures to improve and feel better at the new school, and how to get on with their new teammates.

BigBoardChess with Fernando is a noisy, boisterous affair. Playing and talking at the same time gets across his messages more powerfully. The key to the therapeutic effectiveness is a synchronously shared experience. He can sense the feelings and thoughts of his students and this creates a positive atmosphere of trust. They talk through the student’s decisions about their life situation. Fernando recommends using a large floor standing chess board because this results in more insightful conversations, perhaps because body language is more evident.

This is pioneering work and some may question whether it is possible to replicate Fernando’s therapeutic approach because it depends so much on his interpersonal skills. However, he points out that it is not necessary to be a strong chess player – only to play at the same level as the pupils. It is even a bonus if the pupils can beat him sometimes. He can explore decision making in circumstances of inexperience and ignorance. They learn together to find the best chess moves as they might do in real life.

Fernando will be presenting his approach at the conference.

Top diagram:  Fernando is introducing parents to chess.

Providing chess services – the Newham model

wales,sirrobin300
Sir Robin Wales is the Mayor of Newham and a supporter of chess in schools and communities.

The London Borough of Newham has taken the lead in providing services for its citizens through a partnership with Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC). Newham is one of the poorest districts in not only London but England and has one of the highest ethnic minority populations. The London Olympic Park and Stadium were located at Newham as part of a regeneration plan. Chess is known to be relatively most effective in improving the educational attainment of children from deprived families and those whose parents were born abroad.

Newham wants to ensure that its children and the wider community are able to access supervised chess sessions. This could only happen as a result of political support. In the last Council the Newham Labour party election manifesto included the promise that “Every Newham child a chess player”. The Council has contracted CSC to provide chess services. Through the partnership between Newham Council and CSC, over 1100 children in 21 Newham schools receive a weekly timetabled one-hour chess lesson. In addition there are another 150 children playing chess in either breakfast, lunchtime or after school chess clubs. This contract is a model that could be adopted by other local authorities.

As part of the contract, CSC also runs community chess clubs in five Libraries. These are popular with over a hundred adults and children playing regularly. Two more Libraries wil join the project in 2016. To continue the community ethos, CSC runs a Newham team in the London Chess League which gives an opportunity for adults to play at a higher level.

Children are also encouraged to be involved in competitive chess. CSC supports the Newham primary school team in the EPSCA (English Primary Schools Chess Association) tournament at the under 9, under 11 level. Newham is to host the 2016 under 9 East of England zone.

This academic year CSC started a five tournament junior grand prix series in Newham, running from September 2015 to February 2016. This gives the juniors of Newham a chance to play tournament chess within three miles of home. The Newham/CSC project has produced some very strong juniors who regularly compete in and win age group tournaments in Essex and Kent. Towards the end of the academic year, CSC hosts a Newham primary school team championship, which this year attracted over 200 children. In summer 2016 CSC is looking to hold an adult chess congress in the Borough.

Richard Harding, the CSC project co-ordinator said “The partnership between Newham Council and CSC gives opportunities not just to its young people,but the whole Newham community to learn the fantastic game of chess”.

Newham Councillor Ken Clark will be the opening speaker at the conference.

In the photograph at the top, Newham children are playing an online match against a team from Sunrise, Florida. The match was organised with the support of the both Mayors.

Chess in Prisons: a big deal

Kajetan Wandowicz writes:

I was somewhat surprised one Saturday to receive apologies for the absence of one of the regulars when I arrived for my weekly chess club at HMP Bristol. “He says he’s very sorry he can’t make it today,” said the guard, “but his sister is visiting.” Don’t get me wrong: it is of course good manners to excuse non-attendance but, after all, it was only a leisurely, drop-in, voluntary chess club session. I never even made any assumptions who would be there and who wouldn’t, much less expected regular participation.

This must have shown in my face as Chris looked at me and said, “You know, it’s a big deal for them. Most men have told their families not to visit on Saturdays because they’ve got chess. He’d never miss it if his sister wasn’t flying back home to the States tomorrow.” I’m sure you can imagine how much of a testament to our little chess club that was. Weekends are naturally more convenient for families to schedule visits, with no work or school to arrange around. Weekday visits are not only trickier to schedule, but they also carry higher cancellation risk. But Saturday is chess day.

I started thinking about prison chess a couple of years ago. Sometime around November 2013 thinking turned to planning, planning turned to excessive e-mailing, lobbying, shameless gate-crashing and all other sorts of prodding which the prison decision-makers had to endure. This in turn led to meetings, and meetings led to us finally starting to work together in January this year.

Theoretically, chess can have huge benefits in a prison – intellectual rigour, channelling aggression, positive attention focusing, cheap and inclusive, teaches social rules, decision making, logical thinking. If the above looks strangely familiar to every single reader, that’s the point: our pitch to prisons can pretty much be a carbon copy of our pitch to primary schools that we all know so well.

The benefits of chess for children, which we always communicate to schools, are directly transferable to this environment. Well, perhaps except boys playing with girls. And even more, actually: whilst we do go to some tough schools, children generally don’t struggle with drug or alcohol abuse. Anyone who’s read John Healy’s brilliant The Grass Arena will have seen what prison chess can do to combat these.

The bottom line is that many many prisoners are there precisely because of their unfortunate inability to make sensible decisions, either through not thinking before making one or through mis-evaluating potential outcomes.

Thanks to CSC’s support, the project is now developing. We’re getting close to securing some key partnerships with other organisations interested in prisoner welfare. Since May, chess clubs have started in one more wing, and we’re hoping to team up with a local charity to open a free chess school for prisoner’s children. As with our chess programme in primary schools, the prison school’s numeracy course has weekly chess.

KajetanWandowiczKajetan Wandowicz grew up in Poland and tried living in France, Cyprus and Spain before discovering that the food and the weather were much better in England. He lives with his fiancée in Bristol, where he teaches 16 CSC classes and a weekly library club.

Inspiring teachers to introduce chess

SeanMarshSunderlandSean Marsh runs chess projects in Teesside in the north east of England bringing many children into chess. He reflects on the factors which inspire teachers to offer chess.

1) Concentration. To play chess well – or to solve chess problems – children must learn how to improve their concentration and to remain focused and ‘‘on task’’ throughout a full game. It is very noticeable how games between the children start to last longer as they progress through their weekly lessons. Generally speaking, children have a strong desire to win when they play games and they quickly understand how paying attention during the lesson input leads to improved results over-the-board.

2) Discipline. It is not always easy to maintain discipline during a game of chess, in which mistakes – large and small – will occur on a regular basis. Yet self-discipline is an important characteristic if one seeks success. Through chess, children learn to live with the responsibilities of their actions. One bad move can undo a lot of hard work, but children learn how to deal with disappointments and – even more importantly – how to recover and come back stronger next time. 

3) Good sportsmanship. Fortunately, chess retains a certain degree of etiquette missing from various sports and games with a higher profile. Children are encouraged to shake hands before and after each game, regardless of result. Bad sportsmanship can lead to reduced opportunities (losing a place on the school team, for example) as children must, at all times, remain perfect ambassadors for their school.

4) Impact on Literacy and Numeracy. Chess in Schools and Communities recently collaborated with the Education Endowment Foundation (‘EEF’) to assess the impact of regular chess. The fact that the EEF should feel inclined to conduct a serious study on the impact of chess lessons should provide ample indication of the growing status our of our curriculum. Chess is traditionally linked with mathematics but I strongly feel the impact on other academic areas is consistently underrated. An easy example would be to highlight the creative and imaginative skill required to visualise a desired position a few moves down the line; such skills are transferable to other academic pursuits, such as writing stories, for instance.

5) General Learning Skills. Chess lessons offer a perfect combination of the three key types of learning: auditory (listening to the tutor), visual (watching the action on the tutor’s demonstration board), and kinesthetic (working in the pupil workbooks and playing games).

6) Opportunities. Chess is an absolutely ideal game for breaking down boundaries. Time and again it comes as a great surprise to teachers when they find particular pupils excelling in our lessons and tournaments. With everyone starting from the very beginning, previous classroom ‘‘pecking orders’’ and the like are rendered superfluous. Additionally, children who do not excel at sports have the opportunity to represent their school for the first time, thus boosting their confidence and pride.

7) Fun. Apart from the academic side of things, anyone who witnesses our chess lessons will develop the distinct impression that the children are having a lot of fun! Believe me, when children are having fun yet remain fully engaged by the tutor, the scope for even more learning grows considerably…

Batsford Book of Chess CoverSean, author of a recent Batsford book From Beginner to Winner will be speaking about chess in the Teeside community at the conference.

The remarkable impact of chess and logic

Suppose you divided school children into two groups based upon academic abilities. The smart children are given extra language lessons; the not-so-smart group play chess. All the other classes are shared. Who does better when it comes to the academic results? A remarkable finding from Hungary is that the chess group eventually outperforms the bilingual group in their thinking skills.

The Pipacsvirág Elementary School in Telki, Hungary gave the smart children the privilege of a bilingual education in 2007. They were given extra English classes for 10 lessons per week. The search was on for an activity which would stretch the other group. It needed have an impact on educational and personal development without exceeding the school budget.

After some exploration of the options, the school decided to introduce a chess and logic programme. As is well known, children regard chess more as play than study and are generally willing to engage. However, this activity was not regarded as sufficiently educational. Hence, it was supplemented by a set of logic exercises which have been cleverly integrated into the chess exercises. The school has developed the classroom materials over the intervening years in conjunction with chess education experts and psychologists. Perhaps the key to the success of the programme is that it is taught by the regular teachers who know the children well.

When the chess and logic programme started in 2011, all the children in third grade were tested on logical thinking, creativity and motivation. The bilingual children scored much higher reflecting the basis for the grouping. Four years later, after the chess and logic programme had been implemented during each year, the same children were tested again on a wider range of attributes:

  • logical thinking
  • verbal skills
  • complex thinking in natural sciences
  • creativity
  • attention

The majority of the pupils in the chess and logic learning group performed above average in the tested areas. Furthermore, fewer pupils performed lower than the average compared to the bilingual classes. The school has concluded that, based upon this evidence, the teaching of chess has a very positive impact upon children’s primary school attainment.

This was not designed as a scientific study but shows how introducing chess into the curriculum can make an educational impact. This outcome  was completely unexpected. Chess had not been introduced for the Gifted and Talented children as it is in many schools – it was introduced for those children who needed development, who were having difficulties at school. It was never an experiment with the expectation that chess was going to reverse the categorisation of educational groupings.

Two children from that first class have gone on to outstanding performances this year. One pupil won the Hungarian national mathematics competition, the school having obtained first place in team competition and another pupil won the European junior rapid chess championship. Imagine if these had been the really smart children..

sarloseWe will  hear more about the chess and logic programme at the conference from Erzsébet Sarlós .

Reaching out to Roma children

In the Roma culture children are usually removed from school at an early age before they reach secondary school. They may have a basic grasp of numeracy and literacy but they do not benefit from the wider educational opportunities. The children who stay at home with unemployed parents in impoverished conditions have limited chances in life. This is a particularly serious issue in Eastern Europe where there is a significant proportion of the populartion who are Roma.

A project in Hungary is trying to address this problem. The Ministry of Education has selected the Chess and Logic programme developed by Erzsabet Sarlos and her team to make school lessons more interesting. They have found that when children play chess at school, their motivation to remain at school increases. The effect is greatest when children are introduced to games-based learning from the age of 6 or 7.

sarlose
Erzsébet Sarlós

The mayor of a Roma town is leading the introduction of the programme in the local school. Teachers do not need to be a chess player or a logician. The teachers undergo a well-designed 60-hour training course and are provided with the classroom materials. The programme is in its early stage but they have noticed improvement in the behaviour of the children. There is a high incidence of fighting among the community as a way to resolve differences. Chess teachers emphasise the need to respect one’s opponent and to accept defeat in good spirit. The morality of chess may be more important than the logic.

Top photo: Roma children in Hungary

Pub chess – recapturing a tradition

The most common place to play chess in England is in a pub. This is not because pub regulars decide to take up the noble game. It is because most clubs hold their league matches in a pub. Typically they will occupy a dingy room upstairs, the landlord glad of a little extra custom. The clubs usually have little choice as to where to play.

We should of course welcome chess in pubs. The informality of the surroundings promotes social interaction. Other members of the public can observe chess being played expertly with clocks. Many people approach the boards to watch and often enquire about getting involved. Pubs bring chess out into the wider community.

A drunken knight
A drunken knight

The Kings Head pub in Bayswater, west London lent its name to a famous chess club. The aptly titled Drunken Knights club plays in the Plough near the British Museum. My local club in Kingston-upon-Thames plays at the Druids Head pub in the historic market square. We are not alone in our quest. A board games club meets there as does the local Philosophy discussion society. Pubs are the new community centres. They need us because they are losing custom to drink-at-home, pay-TV lifestyles.

Clubs are moving to pubs not just from choice but because there has been a shift in community infrastructure. The places where clubs once met are rapidly disappearing or have become unaffordable. The other traditional places where clubs met were in church halls, community centres and in workers or veterans clubs. All of these are under threat of closing. The unstoppable economic force is the increasing rent. The population density in London must be amongst the highest in the world and this is driving up the price of space.

There was a time when there were places where members of the public could congregate for convenience or social reasons – promenades, bandstands, station concourses etc. These have virtually all been privatised. Public space owners and councils have leased the space to commercial enterprises. If you sit down anywhere you are expected to buy at least a drink.

Church halls are disappearing along with the churches as the nation becomes more secular and mall shopping has replaced Sunday worship. Working Mens clubs are disappearing as industrial activity dwindles in the 24/7 service economy. Veterans clubs disappear as the memories of war fade. We are instead seeing a boom in new building developments – luxury apartments being the investors’ favourite.

Society is always changing and chess must adapt. Gone are the days when a typical chess club might have a hundred members meeting several times a week in a well-furnished community club. Membership of clubs has reduced to a quarter of the level 25 years ago. The lower level of membership cannot sustain rental payments any longer. Clubs are moving to pubs because the publican is hoping that the players will buy some beer.

JulianOlga
Julian Way and Olga playing as a pair.

This exposes the risk of pub chess: the publican may eventually find that chess players are so engrossed in their chess that they do not buy as many pints as a regular customer. Also some players may feel that alcohol may impair their cognitive processes. The net result is that the economic justification for accepting the chess club is disproved with unfortunate consequences.

There is a depressingly familiar pattern: another event provides more profit for the pub especially around Christmas and New Year. A wedding or birthday event could take priority at any point during the year. Or the landlord comes along and announces an increase of the rent at short notice. Hence there is a phenomenon of pub-hopping as clubs move from one disaffected publican to a fresh one and the process goes through a repeat cycle.

But let’s not dwell on the possible downsides. Traditionally pubs are places to relax and spend leisure time of which playing games was a regular element. The factor which makes chess expensive is that chess players like silence. It is the demand for a private room without noise which creates our problems. Hence the answer to our problem is that we need to revert to the social approach to games playing. There must be more tolerance of noise. Players play for fun rather than for glory. Casual games are proving very popular. At Kingston we alternate serious chess nights with casual chess nights. The Casual Chess club meets every day in the British Film Institute café just off Tottenham Court Road and people of all levels turn up to play.

The first law in England which mentioned pubs was in 1495. Its purposes was to restrict the popular games which were distracting men from their duty of practising archery. In England, people have always enjoyed beer and games in the pub and this tradition is going to make a comeback.

Workshop with Mads 2013

Scope of the Conference

The conference will cover the following topics through presentations, workshops and debates. For an annotated and detailed list, go to our Programme page on the menu.

CHESS IN COMMUNITIES

  • Chess in Prisons
  • Chess in Communities
  • Chess with Refugees
  • Chess in Informal Learning Places

CHESS IN EDUCATION

  • Early Years Chess
  • Chess and Maths
  • Training Education Professionals to Teach Chess
  • Chess Teachers’ Qualification Needs and Certification
  • Inclusion and Integration in School Chess
  • The Role of Families in School Chess
  • Chess for Children Diagnosed with ADHD
  • Teaching Scholastic Chess
  • Youth Counselling with Chess
  • Chess in Camps for School Students
  • International Exchanges in School Chess
  • Lobbying for School Chess

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

  • Social Investing in Chess
  • Working with Volunteers in Chess
  • Social Opportunities for Chess Federations
  • Chess for the Visually Impaired
  • Chess for Old People
  • Chess against Addiction
  • Chess against Depression
  • Chess and Football

If you wish to present contact us at
conference@chessinschools.co.uk