Outline of the Conference

The theme of the 7th Annual London Chess and Education Conference is “Chess and Female Empowerment”. The conference examines the involvement of women and girls in chess and presents insights into how to improve the gender balance. The conference will be of interest to women chess players, organisers and educators.  Primary and secondary school teachers will learn how to make chess a more engaging activity through its social and collaborative modes.  The conference will also provide ideas and initiatives for those striving to improve the engagement of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

The Conference will present new findings from two major surveys on women and girls in chess.  A large study conducted by the European Chess Union presents statistics on women and girls in national federations throughout Europe. A study conducted through the US Chess Federation will provide qualitative insights into chess and gender issues. An analysis of online play in the Netherlands will provide details of how boys and girls compare.

The conference comprises plenary sessions interspersed with parallel streams comprising presentations, workshops, discussions, debates and demonstrations. Several speakers will relate their own personal experiences as a woman in a male environment whether playing, arbiting or organising. 

A wide range of issues will be covered including:

  • creating a safe and welcome environment for women   
  • successful women who played chess
  • why do girls give up chess?
  • how to make chess more accessible to women
  • challenges for women officials
  • lessons from other sports

Those expected to attend include:

  • Rita Atkins (Hungary)
  • Julie Denning (England)
  • Chris Fegan (England)
  • Tania Folie (Belgium)
  • Jovanka Houska (England)
  • Sarah Hurst (England)
  • Mads Jacobsen (Denmark)
  • Ilaha Kadimova (Azerbaijan)
  • Ljubica Lazarevic (Serbia)
  • Smbat Lputyan (Armenia)
  • Sean Marsh (England)
  • Carol Meyer (USA)
  • Mikkel Norgaard (Denmark)
  • Alice O’Gorman (Ireland)
  • Malcolm Pein (England)
  • Jonathan Rowson (Scotland)
  • Mike Truran (England)

We will also continue our focus on chess in education with parallel sessions.

In the week which follows, 2nd-6th December, there will be professional teacher training courses at the venue certificated by the European Chess Union. The courses cover Teaching Chess in Primary School (ECU101) and Learning Mathematics through Chess (ECU102). Further details can be found here.

Registration  

The conference fee is £65 for one day and £95 for both days. Female members of the English Chess Federation are eligible for free entry by sending an email in advance to conference@chessplus.net with your membership number. 

Lead Sponsors

The event is lead sponsored by FIDEChess in Schools and Communities (CSC), the European Chess Union (ECU) and the English Chess Federation (ECF).

Photo from Michal Vrba

Chess and Female Empowerment

Join us on 30th November and 1st December

Please save the date of the next London Chess Conference. Our seventh edition will again coincide with the start of the London Chess Classic on the weekend of 30th November and 1st December 2019. The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith proved to be a popular venue last time and so we will be there again. The theme this year is the topical – “Chess and Female Empowerment”. More information on this will follow soon.

We will also continue our focus on chess in education with parallel streams of presentations, workshops and debates. We are also planning side-events including displays and an exhibition. In the week which follows, 2nd-6th there will be professional training courses certificated by the European Chess Union on Teaching Chess in Primary Schools and on Teaching Mathematics through Games on the ChessBoard.

We are delighted to announce that the Conference is being sponsored by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), the European Chess Union (ECU), Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) and the English Chess Federation (ECF).

Please contact us if you want to suggest a workshop session or debate. If you want to give a presentation please send a title and summary (max. 100 words) by 15 September latest to conference@chessplus.net

See also London Chess Classic

Chess Therapy: Launching Research

Launching Research on a Novel Approach against Addiction

Sabine Vollstädt-Klein

People suffering from a substance use disorder often have cognitive impairment in several domains (e.g. a poor working memory and short attention span). Cognitive training has therefore become a part of the range of addiction therapies. We invited Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, the German addiction scientist, to talk about chess-based therapy for substance use disorders at the 2016 London Chess Conference.  She was sceptical at first but after reviewing the evidence on anti-addiction cognitive training and taking into account the positive responses to her lecture and workshop presentation at the conference, she decided it was worth exploring further.

Recently, we caught up again with Sabine at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim. She had some very good news. She has secured funding from the German Research Fund (DFG) to pursue two research projects. This type of funding is highly competitive and allocated on purely scientific merits. She will apply chess-based therapy as an add-on intervention to treatment protocols with patients suffering from alcohol abuse disorder. Patients in the control group will get treatment as usual. Similarly, chess-based therapy will be applied in a larger project on nicotine addiction in which the Central Institute is partnering with several German universities. Sabine expressed her gratitude for the suggestion that chess could be used for therapeutic purposes. 

Sabine became acquainted with chess and chess-based therapies from other participants at the London Chess Conference. She has just returned from Spain where she observed it in action. Chess-based therapy has been developed by the psychologist Juan Antonio Montero and is applied in two dozen institutions in the western province of Extremadura. It is deployed not only with addiction patients, but also with prison inmates, people with Down Syndrome and other conditions. The therapy is not intended to develop chess playing strength but is oriented to improve cognitive functioning. 

“They have very good results but no control group and therefore no robust research to show if and how chess-based therapy works”, she told us. She explains that chess-based therapy has a probable advantage compared with other cognitive therapies against addiction: other therapies tend to be repetitive and boring. Chess offers a more structured and gamified approach.

Professor Vollstädt-Klein is now looking for a PhD student to work on both research projects with her in Mannheim, a vibrant town in southwest Germany. It is crucial that the candidate has the appropriate academic background and scientific training. Only a rudimentary chess knowledge is necessary to deliver the cognitive trainings, Also, because of the need to interact with the patients. the candidate should speak some basic German but fluency is not expected.

Official vacancy advert

Conference in Armenia

FIDE Education Commission Chairman and conference host Smbat Lputian, FIDE Vice Presidents Judit Polgar and Nigel Short, and FIDE Education Commission Secretary Kevin O´Connell (in the foreground – photo: Armenian Chess Academy)

A very well organised and fruitful conference “Current trends and developments in chess education” took place in Tsakhkadzor, a resort town north of Yerevan in Armenia. Most of the speakers were connected with the Armenian school chess programme, which is easily the most ambitious in the world: all children in the 2nd to 4th grade in Armenia have two chess lessons each week. When the scheme was established the President of the Armenian Chess Federation was conveniently the President of Armenia.

As the schools chess programme developed, more and more scientists became involved. In 2018, the Chess Scientific Research Institute was established at the Armenian State Pedagogical University in Yerevan. It comprises 18 scientists from education, didactics, psychology, sociology and philosophy. The Institute’s Director, associate professor Vahan Sargsyan, is also initiating a new scientific journal that will be cover scholarly publications about educational and social aspects of chess. 

The conference opening speech was delivered by Armenia’s Minister of Education Arayik Harutyunyan. Foreign speakers addressed practical angles. Belarus, Iceland and Kazakhstan sent representatives in preparation for the national roll-out of their own national school chess programmes. The character of the conference was more academic than at the informal London Chess Conferences organised by ChessPlus. The conference comprised a single stream rather than parallel sessions of workshops and debates as in London.

Smbat Lputian, the founder and leader of the Armenian school chess programme, is also the Chairman of the Education Commission of FIDE (the World Chess Federation). This newly constituted Commission held their first meeting to coincide with the Conference. The Commission sees its main objective in helping school chess programmes worldwide to raise their standards. Communication is crucial in improving the effectiveness of its mission. The construction of a new website is underway. The former system of FIDE directly providing training courses for teachers and tutors is being revised. The main link to FIDE’s former Chess in Schools Commission is that its chairman Kevin O´Connell has moved over to become Secretary of the new FIDE Education Commission.

All presentations are available in English here. A more “chessy” report on the conference is on Chessbase. There is also a video summary of the conference.

Videos and Presentations

Most presentations and videos from many of them are now available on our presentations page which we added in the menu. This will be continually updated as the remaining presentations are coming in. The videos and presentations are merged in a convenient way as you can see from this exemplary one:

We have also created a playlist of conference videos on youtube. There you also find accompanying summaries of the presentations. All thanks to our many contributors and to the fantastic efforts by our digilent and always helpful videographer Etienne Mensch who joined the conference team this year.

Etienne is Digital Director at a vocational training centre in Strasbourg. He is an International Master and experienced chess coach, among the talents he nurtured is Grandmaster Bilel Bellahcene. He was also Education Director of the French Chess Federation and managed live transmissions of several high level chess events.

Our conference videographer Etienne Mensch (photo: John Foley)

We wish everyone a merry festive time and all the best for 2019!


With only Competitive Chess We Remain Weak

France is the must-watch-country for all chess federations. Bachar Kouatly has devised an exciting turnaround of the French Chess Federation (FFE) to “a broad direction, a transversal direction, not only a narrow focus on competitive chess. Without it, the federation doesn’t exist, but with only competitive chess we remain weak.”

Chess is now helping to improve social cohesion and inclusion, explained Kouatly in his remarkable presentation: “We are a tool in the public policy in France.” The prime example is an agreement with the Ministry of Justice´s Department for Youth Protection. Adolescents at the brink of prison can now learn and play chess. The Ministry is paying the chess teachers and club membership fees.

When Kouatly was elected as Federation President two years ago, Jean-Michel Blanquer was one of his election team. Blanquer has since become Minister of Education and is opening doors for chess in France. The Federation has signed agreements with the national associations of sport in primary schools (USEP), sport in secondary schools (UNSS) and with French schools outside of France (AEFE).

An important meeting with the latter prevented Johanna Basti from coming to the London Conference. She negotiated the contracts with the national institutions on behalf of the Federation and is a member of the new Education Commission of the European Chess Union. Blanquer and Basti believe in the social potential of chess but are not rooted in competitive chess. In the past, the French Federation had been run by school teachers who, perhaps paradoxically, were oriented to competition rather than education. Their commitment to the conventional implementation of chess left no room to develop chess more widely within society.

Bachar Kouatly, who was the first Grandmaster in France and is a successful technology entrepreneur, appealed to chess federations everywhere to bring in more people from the outside: “If you are able to bring other people with fresh blood and fresh ideas who will put you out, it means you succeeded!”

Cooperative Spirit

Cooperation is a big objective of the London Chess Conference. Therefore we are very pleased with the first results of the workshop on Chess in Prisons. We had this topic earlier at the 2015 conference. Soon afterwards Carl Portman, who lead the workshop and coordinated prison chess for the English Chess Federation, published his wonderful book Chess Behind Bars. This summer the Spanish chess club of Villalba 64 started to work in several prisons in Madrid, and Luis Blasco de la Cruz asked us to include this topic in this year´s conference.

This was a well-timed suggestion. The Guardian has recently reported on Carl´s initiative together with Chess in Schools and Communitites. Pilot projects at Wandsworth, one of the most crowded adult prisons, and Isis for juvenile offenders shall lead to the introduction of chess in up to 50 prisons throughout the UK within two years.

We searched for others working in the field and found that the Norwegian, Swedish and French Chess Federations had recently started promising projects. We also knew that David Smerdon, assistant professor of Economics at the University of Queensland, is interested to study the effect of a chess intervention on inmates.

We brought them together at the conference, where they were joined by other activists who are planning to bring chess to prisons in their countries. They created an informal network and have already planned their next steps, which could very well lead to a joint funding application at the EU and a research project.

Please contact us if you are also working with chess in a prison and want to be connected to the network. Good luck to all involved, and we keep you posted.

Participants of the Chess in Prisons workshop (Foto: Aga Sapkovska)


Computers in School Chess

Hardly anyone who is teaching chess today refrains from using technology to find materials and methods. As in previous years, we welcome several exhibitors at the conference who will demonstrate how their products can be used for chess in education.

David Kramaley will introduce you to the learning opportunities created by Chessable, which encapsulates a scientific approach to memorising chess patterns and positions. They create digital versions of leading chess books. Their impressive scope extends beyond school chess and junior chess all the way up to training for ambitious competitive players. Mark Szavin from Hungary will walk you through the exciting features of the latest release of LearningChess, an embedded school platform that supports teachers in the classsroom. Carey Fan is the new CEO of ChessKid which is hugely successful in the United States and is now rapidly expanding in Europe. He will show you how you can deploy Chesskid for lessons in school, with a chess tutor or at home.

Theo Wait is head of Legal & Regulatory Compliance at the open source chess server LiChess which has been making waves in the online playing world due to its dazzling array of features and its rapid growth. Theo will describe how the platform is now poised for the education market. Gideon Segev, a computer scientist at Oxford University will present DecodeChess, a remarkable AI-based programme from Israel that explains chess moves with their purposes and shortcomings in an intelligible way. 

The software will be viewable at desks around the venue.  In addition, there will be in-depth half-hour demonstrations scheduled for Saturday afternoon from 14.00 to 16.30 in Room 2. Second demonstrations will take place on Sunday at times to be announced at the conference.

Before personal computers and smartphones came into widespread use, computer chess was associated with tabletop computers. These have lost their visibility in competitive chess but have never gone out of use in the domestic market and have sold in the millions. The German manufacturer Millennium 2000 has teamed up with the London Chess Conference to find out how its products can be applied in the classroom and what features a scholastic version should contain. Alexis Harakis and Stefan Löffler invite you to debate this question, to participate in an explorative study and to check out the products in the exhibition at the foyer. 

Attendees with a special interest in game design are refered to the exhibition Video Games at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum, £18). 

Chess and Books

by Yaroslav Gaveiko, regional co-ordinator, youth organisation “Restart.lv”

Nowadays, children and teenagers pay less attention to reading books. Inevitably, this has led to a debate about the impact on their intellectual development.  Children and teenagers have less free time for exploring imaginative hobbies and spend almost all their free time on digital activities. Unusual steps are necessary to change the situation. Chess clearly has a positive effect on the development of mental abilities. Our education system must use ever more creative methods for children and teenagers to raise and maintain their thinking skills. Our idea is to pick up where Lewis Carroll left off –  a chess game through the plot of book. 

The Latvian youth organisation “Restart.lv”  conducts a wide range of public-spirited initiatives for children and young people. Of course, Latvia is a small country disproportionally famous regarding chess having produced Aron Nimzowitsch Mikhail Tal, Alexei Shirov not to mention Dana Reizniece-Ozola, our Finance Minister who happens to be a grandmaster. The branch of “Restart.lv” in Jekabpils , a small Latvian city, has developed an interesting  approach which has attracted the interest of children for both reading and chess.

The approach combines in one event books and chess using a large “garden” size set which allows children to be physically active. We successfully implemented in a modern theatrical production with “quest games” based on a book’s plot. We conducted the event in several libraries: to plunge into the fantastical world of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice through the Looking Glass” with children and teenagers.

Lewis Carroll’s Looking  Glass concept is interpreted by literary scholars as an allegory but we using it as an experimental theatrical experience. Within the framework of the “Alice Through the Looking Glass” event, children could play chess whilst enacting the book’s plot. Each child faced the paradoxes so beloved by the real-life Oxford logician.  The kids had to overcome these difficulties and they enjoyed it!

Indeed, there are many different books and films where chess is part of the story. Harry Potter is another source of inspiration for young people. Why not use the synergy of chess and reading, to develop scenarios for future quest games? In our experience, using large chess pieces on a non-standard chess table attracts attention. Children with individual characteristics will be able to complete a specific task and achieve their first successes. It is sweet to feel the taste of victory and socialise in a group.

Chess through the Looking Glass

How to proceed? It is necessary to develop scripts based on books containing the content of the chess game itself. This is an opportunity to effectively present chess and thus stimulate the intellectual environment of young people. Another bonus – the budget does not have to be high.

The ability to participate in a chain of initiatives or in a centralised event will allow children to test out their abilities in a fun game-based environment. Chess should not be heavy but presented in a natural way, enriched by combinations with other intellectual domains such as literature and drama. The objective is that all the participants should feel interested and get an emotional connection. No need to force your child to play chess  just give her or him the opportunity to find the game for themselves. Probably this will encourage more children to play chess.

Playing game and reading books can work together in a complementary way if we have enough imagination. The impact on the younger generation can be quite positive.  

Yaroslav Gaveiko mail

International Day of Human Abilities

An opportunity to promote soft-skills training in school and society

By Giulio Frasson, Centro Studi Podresca

In October 2017, Centro Studi Podresca, an Italian research institute for the development of human abilities, started a campaign for the creation of an International Day of Human Abilities under the United Nations in keeping with their Sustainable Development Goals. 

But what is it all about and what does it have to do with chess?

Society is rapidly changing, there is an ongoing technological revolution, educational systems need to adjust to provide the necessary skills to face the challenges to come. 

The McKinsey Global Institute report of January 2017 stated that “half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055, but this could happen up to 20 years earlier or later depending on the various factors”. Basically, all the jobs that are knowledge-based will be easily replaced by machines, robots and AI. We need to rethink the concept of work and education.

In this framework, the development of  “human factors” becomes crucial. Schools, and also life-long learning programmes for adults, are currently focused on technical skills. But they should introduce a new field of learning – to improve the development of human abilities. 

Human abilities are the personal and relational skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, co-operation, lateral thinking, systems thinking, understanding, ethics, purpose, awareness, and so on, – the things that make us unique and keep us together as human beings. Human abilities are the base on which to build the society of the future. 

The remarkable “Chess in Schools” work, carried out by many national chess federations and scholastic chess organisations around the world already serves this purpose. This movement is perfectly aligned with the activity of other organisations that train soft skills in schools and work environments using other methods. Chess is not only taught for sports and recreational purposes –  it can be and is used as a tool to develop a variety of different personal and social skills such as focus, fair play, patience, co-operation, acceptance and many others, depending on how the activity is designed. There are many practices that have achieved considerable results in this field that should be better known and disseminated.

Centro Studi Podresca has been conducting scientific research into Human Abilities for 30 years and has developed a comprehensive method to train human abilities. Despite the fact that many good things are done, awareness on this topic needs to be raised significantly. The typical attitude towards human abilities is that they are part of one’s character and therefore are fixed.  The importance of social confidence and self-esteem for the quality of life is largely underestimated. Even where there is sensitivity, there is little knowledge on how to train these factors.

An International Day of Human Abilities established by the United Nations would be the most appropriate means to increase understanding and actions on the importance of developing skills to express ourselves and interact correctly with others in our daily lives. An International Day can stimulate much-needed debate and communication on a topic. It can lead to  the organisation of international summits of experts; conferences can emerge on the national and local level. It is an opportunity to provide information activities in schools, which is what happens with other topics that have international days named after them.   Hopefully, we will see reforms to educational systems and to the funding of innovative projects such as chess projects.

In this initial phase, the aim of Centro Studi Podresca is to gain support from authoritative governmental and non-governmental bodies, as well as from private citizens, towards a common document inviting the United Nations to designate a specific day to the promotion of human abilities. We would like the chess world to be part of this social enterprise.