Category Archives: Chess in Schools

Does Chess Empower Girls?

The opening speaker at the London Chess Conference 2019 was April Cronin. April is a recently retired primary school headteacher and former Irish woman’s chess champion. She has been running chess in schools for many years where she has served as a role model for girls.  Nowadays she is devoting herself to extolling the benefits of chess in primary schools (age 7-11).  She is therefore uniquely qualified to make observations on what children gain from chess and to make informed observations on gender differences.

April Cronin opening plenary at the London Chess Conference

April’s main argument is that chess empowers all children and encouraging girls to play chess allows them to participate in this most enriching of activities. However, there are certain aspects of the way that girls engage with chess that we should accommodate if we are to give them the best experiences.

She acknowledges that there is a preponderance of boys in the school chess team, at the top boards and as participants in the school chess club. She notes that the after-school club comprises 75% boys. She estimates that at the adult level around 5% are women. 

April says that chess was very empowering in her own life and strongly believes it to be empowering of the children she teaches. Extra-curricular activities have protective effects in terms of social development and staying in school. She says that all children should be given the chance to learn chess at school which can turn out to be “incredibly empowering. Chess is empowering in ways we do not fully understand. 

She notes that kids love chess. The common experience of schools is that chess starts small-scale, perhaps focusing on the less sporty children, but then the chess programmes expand rapidly. Parents are usually delighted because chess is seen as developing the brain e.g. through improved concentration. There is also widespread social approval.

There is a reason chess so effective: simulated decision making. A child needs to make many decisions during each game. They have to evaluate options. No chance is involved – the child is responsible for the result of the game. Whether they win or lose, children enjoy this freedom of choice 

You can hear April Cronin present her analysis in the video below.

Quality Issues

Can quality in school chess be measured? This was one of our debating questions on the first conference day. Sarah Kett, who lead the debating group (pictured above), reports: “The desirability of measuring school chess depends on the context. In Armenia, where all children learn chess for several school years, there is definitely a need to justify the use of taxpayers´ money.” Another key aspect was whether the students should be measured (as is usually done in research projects) or the teachers, respectively their teaching materials and methods.

If the pupils are measured, chess-related measures would be relatively straight-forward (such as ratings, proportion of children in chess clubs, proportion of children to play outside their school, proportion of children continuing to play as teenagers and later as adults) compared to measures ofeducational benefits.

There followed a workshop Quality in Chess in Education with participants from the Educational Commissions in ECU and in FIDE. Vahan Sargsyan from the Pedagogical University Yerevan, who is advising FIDE, differentiated four domains where quality can be evaluated: The quality of the curriculum, the assessment of pupils, the learning environment, and the qualification of the teachers.

The Armenian psychologist stressed that quality cannot be measured once and for all, but should be thought of as a permanent process “plan, act, check, improve, plan, act” and so on. He differentiated between universal standards that apply everywhere, and quality standards that depend on the context. Everyone in the workshop agreed that chess-related outcomes don´t matter and that educational outcomes are crucial.

Karel van Delft has captured segments from the workshop´s key speakers (in order of their appearance) Jesper Hall (ECU), Kevin O´Connell (FIDE), Vahan Sargsyan, Mads Jacobsen (Danish Scholastic Chess) and Smbat Lputian (FIDE).

Judit Polgar Joins the Conference Team

We are pleased and honoured to reveal that Judit Polgar is part of the London Chess Conference as its Honorary Director. She has been consulting us on various aspects of the conference, its programme and its communications. As she will receive a Golden Pawn Award from the European Chess Union in Monte Carlo on 30 November, she will join the conference on the second day. She will be a discussant at the concluding round table “A Century of Women´s Chess: What have we Learned?”.

The best-ever female chess player has strong views on chess and gender. These are well-founded in her experience from growing up in a chess family to a successful career as a professional player. Even though she lead the women´s rating list for 25 years, she never aspired to win women´s titles. Instead she strived to compete with the very best regardless of gender. At her peak she was among the ten best players in the world. In the media limelight from a young age, she has sharpened her views over many interviews (one was just published on chess.com a few days ago) and public appearances.

She excelled as the main commentator of the last two world championships in 2016 in New York and in 2018 in London. The last time she participated in the London Chess Classic was in 2012 when she was interviewed by The Guardian.

Judit lobbied the European Parliament to support the introduction of chess in the education system and her country to make chess an optional subject, and most Hungarian primary schools have introduced it. Since ending her competitive career she has been promoting chess. She built a foundation and developed acclaimed teaching materials with her team. The Chess Palace Programme is already in practice for the seventh school year. Among its special features is artwork contributed by her sister Zsófia.

Judit is also the initiator and organiser of the Global Chess Festival in her home town Budapest on which we reported earlier. Among the many aspects of this wonderful festival is a conference. She has spoken about chess and education at numerous conferences and on other occasions in dozens of countries. She repeatedly visited China, where her curriculum and books are now widely in use.

In 2018 she has accepted the position of Honorary Vice President in FIDE with a focus on chess in education and on gender. “I am very pleased to see both topics united in this conference, so I feel that I must be part of it”, Judit told us when she accepted to be Honorary Conference Director.

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!”

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

Which Workshops for You?

During the parallel sessions of the conference you will have a choice where to go to. Here are brief summaries of the workshops in chronological order.

Saturday afternoon

Chess in Education Strategy This two-part workshop picks up key issues from the first plenary session and addresses how strategic processes can be organised and communicated within organisations and towards stakeholders. (15-16 and 16.30-18)

Chess in Communities Chess projects that are serving social purposes in its immediate surroundings require a different outlook than competitive chess. Three project leaders share their challenges and provide inspiration. (15-16)

Chess in Prisons Chess has been a popular pasttime of prisoners for a long time. Recently it has been picked up as an intervention to educate inmates and young at-risk delinquents. Prison chess leaders come together to exchange experience and develop a joint research project. (16.30-18)

Sunday morning

Large Scale School Chess Events They are a corner stone of promoting and marketing school chess. Presentations on the UK Chess Challenge, Belaya Ladya, Linkes Alsterufer gegen rechtes Alsterufer, Schack4an and the K12 (Super)Nationals will elaborate what makes each of theses events special, and maybe why none has a conference attached to it yet. (9.30-11)

Business Development How can you put your school chess project or teaching business on firmer ground and make it more efficient? Neil Dietsch, who after a long corporate career is running school chess in Alabama, will conduct this hands-on workshop (9.30-11)

Book Presentation: The Learning Spiral Kevin Cripe, a retired teacher who is now running a chess project for disadvantaged kids in Panama, will present and discuss his new book on chess didactics. (10-11)

Teaching Coding and Computer Skills through Chess Strategy games, and chess in particular, provide a great pathway to introduce young students to coding and teach them other computer skills. Boris Raguet, a French teacher and teacher trainer, shows how this can be accomplished. He will be introduced by David Kramaley. (10-11)

Sunday afternoon

Early Years Chess Starting out on chess with preschoolers or first graders comes with special challenges but also with opportunities to use chess to promote basic numeracy, literacy and psycho motor skills. (13.45-15.15)

Making School Chess Research More Relevant Most studies of school chess have concentrated on cognitive benefits and simple comparisons with control groups of children that didn´t learn chess. While their results may be useful for marketing, different research questions and methods are required to improve the quality and efficacy of school chess. (13.45-15.15)

Promoting Social Skills through Chess Initially often targeted at mathematic and logic skills, those who teach chess in schools often find that social skills are promoted equally or even priorily. (13.45-15.15)

Workshops provide ample opportunity to answer questions, discuss and start cooperating

Programme Confirmed

The full programme for the 6th London Chess Conference has now been confirmed and it can be found here.

The theme of The Future of Education in Chess is a very important one and we have experts from all over the world who will be presenting their thoughts and ideas.

We believe this to be our strongest line-up to date and we are sure the weekend will provide plenty of food for thought for teachers, tutors, chess players and, indeed, anyone else interested in the role of chess in education.

Limited places are still available but with just over one week to go we strongly advise you to book as soon as possible. Tickets can be purchased here.