Category Archives: Scholastic Chess

Clearer Objectives in Scholastic Chess

International co-operation and a stronger commitment towards education is the way forward for school chess. This is the main conclusions of the fifth London Chess Conference which brought together eighty activists and researchers from 24 countries during the first week-end of the London Chess Classic, that was sponsored by Chess in Schools and Communities, the European Chess Union and benefiting from Erasmus Plus mobility grants.

Networking during a coffee break (photo: Leila Raivio)

Most attendees accepted that a distinction must be made between scholastic chess that is oriented towards school curricula and delivered by regular teachers who have been trained on chess didactics and how to integrate chess with the school curriculum from competitive school chess that is mostly an after-school activity delivered by chess tutors or teachers with the goal of finding and nurturing chess talent. It was noted that whilst most research scarcely details the method and content of chess instruction, future studies must look at precisely how chess is taught and how it is connected to the school curriculum.

Conference Director John Foley with Grandmaster Maurice Ashley who works in schools in St. Louis and New York City (photo: Leila Raivio)

Another flaw with existing research studies is in their design. One cannot prove a causal effect without having both an active and a passive control group. “Chess instruction is not a magic bullet but has a good placebo effect”, said Professor Fernand Gobet who has been warning against this flaw in the study design for fifteen years. He reckons that most studies were conducted by chess proponents who were satisfied to produce a positive result irrespective that the basic design is inadequate. Three-group-designs are standard in video games as well as on music instruction and cognitive training, which Gobet and his PhD student Giovanni Sala have systematically reviewed. Their verdict is that cognitive effects of these several types of intervention are close to zero. If anything, chess is doing slightly better, said Gobet, and encourages us not to focus only on cognitive effects: “Decide what you want to reach in scholastic chess and customise your tools!”

“Chess is not a magic bullet but has a good placebo effect”, said Fernand Gobet (photo: Lennart Ootes)

In order to move ahead, scholastic chess organisations should not only focus on their impact but also what their learn during projects. The value of formative evaluations was argued in a lecture and workshop by Jakob Rathlev from the Danish Scholastic Chess Association and Professor Brian Kisida from the University of Missouri professor who advises the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St. Louis.

Professor William Bart´s several suggestions to improve the state of research found a mixed response. While a centre for scholastic chess research would be a very useful resource, it is not likely to materialise in the near future. More practical would be the establishment of a Journal of Scholastic Chess. The consensus is to start with the creation of an international network of scholars and key activists engaged in networking and project building. The next step will be to create a map of knowledge on which to base a future research agenda. Progress on this front as well as on the CHAMPS (Chess and Mathematics in Primary Schools) Erasmus Plus project that was launched at the conference will be reported at our sixth edition during the London Chess Classic in December 2018.

Planning is underway for our sixth conference in December 2018 (photo: Leila Raivio)

Conference Now Full

We have reached the maximum number of registrants for the 2017 Conference.  We thank all those who registered and we look forward to seeing you at the Hilton London Olympia at the weekend.

This is a highly professional and international event with  72 people from 24 countries. Participant statistics: 85% have experience of teaching chess in schools, 30% women, 30% British, 12 chess tutors, 8 professors, 8 international masters, 8 teachers, 6 Doctors, 5 from each of Slovakia, Spain and USA, 2 grandmasters.

We are grateful to those organisations who have made this event possible: Chess in Schools and Communities, European Chess Union, Erasmus Plus CHAMPS project.

Debating Scholastic Chess

Scholastic Chess is the core theme of the 2017 conference and also of the six debates that we are running on Saturday afternoon 15.30-16.30. The debating format is called World Café and has been developed to share knowledge and to encourage action. Each debate is hosted by an expert who has proposed a debating question. The host keeps the discussion going and engages the participants to contribute. All six debates go on at the same time in the same big room. After thirty minutes everyone but the host will be invited to move on to a different debate. Originally we intended to have everyone switch after twenty minutes, but this may have been too hectic.

Three topics are following up on the crucial distinction between education oriented and competition oriented school chess: The Dutch chess psychologist, coach and author Karel van Delft asks what Separates Scholastic and Competitive Chess? The question put up by the London Chess Conference Programme Director Stefan Löffler is how should the Scholastic Chess Movement Organise Itself? Yonne Tangelder, a school chess coordinator at the Norwegian Chess Federation, wants to know, what is the best age for scholastic chess?

Tal Granite, chess coach and founding director of the Chess Institute of Canada, picks up experiences and insights on the Social Benefits of Scholastic Chess to supplement his lecture on the following day about Chess and the Hidden Curriculum. How can Chess Promote Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom? is the topic of Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, an addiction scientist at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and the University of Heidelberg. Jesper Hall, the Swedish chairman of the European Chess Union´s Education Commission, argues for a code of conduct in scholastic chess and in junior chess and what it may entail.

Pick the two debates that interest you most!

Making More out of Evaluations

Very few school chess projects are properly evaluated. Evaluations are often mistaken for marketing tools losing out on the potential of evaluations to provide valuable learning and insight as well as to keep projects on track to get the most out of them.

Jakob Rathlev is not only a board member and until recently chairman of the Danish Scholastic Chess Association but also division head at the Danish Institute of Evaluation where he specialises in the evaluation of education programmes. His talk is entitled “What Everyone in Scholastic Chess should Know about Evaluation” (2 December, approx 14.00). Later on the same afternoon (2 December, 16.30-18.00) there will be a workshop, in which Jakob will guide you to plan an evaluation of your current or next scholastic chess project.

Dansk Skoleskak board member and evaluation specialist Jakob Rathlev (photo:

He will be joined by Brian Kisida, a professor in the Department of Economics and the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. Brian has conducted numerous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of education programmes for the U.S. Department of Education and others. Brian works closely with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of their scholastic chess programming.

Maybe nobody has as much experience managing diverse scholastic chess projects as Alessandro Dominici from Italy. Alessandro will share what Erasmus Plus, educational foundations and the public sector expects from evaluations and on how to manage their monitoring tools.

The line-up of this high level workshop will be completed by Anna Harazińska, who is the school chess co-ordinator at the Polish Chess Federation. She will share what their ambitious scholastic chess project, the role-out of chess in primary schools across Poland, has learned from its pilot phase.

The Impact of the London Chess Conference

It is useful to retread the history of the conference themes. The inaugural conference on Chess and Education in 2013 uncovered a considerable number of projects that had arisen independently around the world. It became clear that many teachers, pedadogues and tutors were working in parallel on the same issues. In the previous few years there had been an upsurge of chess activity in schools not restricted to after school clubs but also within the school timetable. To need for co-ordination and leadership in the field was recognised with the creation of the Education Commission of the European Chess Union in autumn 2014.

The connection between chess and mathematics was recognised by many educationists. Such was the level of interest that the theme of the next conference was Chess and Mathematics. This brought together experts in chess, games and mathematics in 2014 for a seminal conference. The mathematicians were positive about games as a teaching tool. It cannot be ignored that chess also brought an element of fun into the classroom. We began see that teaching chess in new ways, more specifically oriented towards educational purposes, could be productive for subjects such as mathematics.

Chess is part of our social history but the social benefits of chess have often been overlooked. Our theme in 2015 was Chess and Society. Major conflicts that year caused people to flee to Europe in large numbers. We heard about how chess, which crosses language and culture barriers, was being used for refugee integration projects, with Roma communities in Eastern Europe, with excluded children, with prisoners, for children with ADHD and Aspergers, for older people and so on. People attending the conference found spirited fellow travellers with whom they could share their ideas and enthusiasm.

The quest for new methods of teaching chess for these educational purposes led to the 2016 theme of the Didactics of Chess. Finding the best way to teach chess is a considerable challenge. The Soviet Union produced a cohort of grandmasters from the 1930s. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the methods of the Soviet chess school were spread throughout the world. A highly structured training programme with focused study from a young age was the key to their success. However, this approach is unsuitable for general education where the purpose is to provide a balanced set of mental skills. Speakers at the 2016 event explained the value of teaching games in general. Other games than chess, such as go, backgammon and bridge, can also be valuable for intellectual development. One of the objectives of teaching games is for the children to become fully engaged in experience so that they achieve the full cognitive benefits. It is not necessary to play chess to a high level to obtain the benefits. This implies that we should deconstruct and isolate those elements which give rise to specific problem solving opportunities.

The theme of the 2017 Conference is Scholastic Chess. The purpose is to explore, explain, connect and co-ordinate the way in which chess is used for educational purposes in schools. The term “scholastic chess” implies the scholarly nature of the approach to chess i.e. it is chess for educational purposes. Sometimes the term is used as a shorthand to refer to chess in schools but it is necessary to distinguish between two forms of chess in schools: scholastic chess and competitive chess. The traditional approach to chess in schools has been to get the children to compete, with educational attainment being a hoped-for by-product. The modern approach is to adapt chess so that it is easier to teach and easier to learn and delivers educational benefits. Scholastic chess is taught by regular teachers rather than relying upon chess experts.

Connecting partners for co-operation in scholastic chess is one of the motivations of the London Chess Conference. We have never been particularly interested in featuring speakers who promote teaching competitive chess in schools. We strive to attract experts and educational activists who are open-minded about didactics and are prepared to learn from others and develop together. This spirit of co-operation has attracted the Education Commission of the European Chess Union to use the event as meeting venue. At this year´s Conference they have an important gathering with the recently formed Academic Advisory Board.

Grand projects have been also born at our series. The biggest Erasmus+ sponsored school chess project CASTLE (2014-2017), which has recently been successfully completed, was first presented in a side meeting at our inaugural 2013 edition. The partners of the recently approved Erasmus+ project CHAMPS (CHess And Mathematics in Primary Schools) first met together at our conferences in 2015 and 2016. Their new project will be officially launched at this year´s edition. The partners will not meet only among themselves but also with stakeholders such as the ECU Education Commission and with specially invited experts.

Co-operation was also key to a “chess in education” wiki. This was proposed by Kevin O’Connell, chair of FIDE Chess in Schools Commission. Luis Blasco de la Cruz, a school chess activist and IT professional from Madrid, is now co-ordinating the development effort. Luis will present the current state of the project and hopes to find contributors at our conference.

Our keynote speaker, Professor William Bart from the University of Minnesota will make the constructive proposal that there should be international centre for scholastic chess research to improve its quality, push its relevance and pool resources. Bringing together teachers and social scientists who study the effects of chess in education has always been a part of the London Chess Conference. The research statistician Giovanni Sala joined the psychology department under Professor Fernand Gobet at Liverpool University where he has been evaluating the impact of chess. Reinaldo Golmia Dante, an associate professor of education from Brazil, whom we connected with our conference speaker and neuroscientist Michelle Ellefson, is shortly starting to work with her at Cambridge University. We look forward to learning more about their exciting project and earlier school chess research in Brazil.

The ECU recently launched its new certification scheme for School Chess Teachers. The first training course was held in Madrid in July and the second course will be held in London in mid-October. The course was conceived and developed by Jesper Hall and John Foley who first met at the London Chess Conference and who are both on the Education Commission of the European Chess Union. They will present the course concept at the Conference.

Many other events happened as a result of connections made at the London Conference e.g.  Chess in School conferences  in Poland and Norway, and the Baltic Summer Chess Camp. If you made some special connections please let us know.

Join us to find and meet the best co-operation partners for your project! We are happy to include your call for partners in the programme.