by Jonathan Bryant
"Are you doing this again next year?"
Around 2pm on Friday 4th
December, the first day of this year’s
London Chess Classic, I was standing just by
the lifts in the foyer at Olympia. This was
a couple of hours before the first pawn
would be pushed in the Grand Chess Tour
event, but I wasn’t there waiting to welcome
people as they arrived. I was saying
There was just one school left to go. As
the doors of the lift opened and the teacher ushered her
group inside one young lad - he must have been 8 or 9 -
turned back and asked me his question. "Are you doing this
again next year?"
Next year? I was going to be doing it
every day the following week! 'It' being organising the five
hours of chess activities that Chess in Schools and
Communities (CSC) had offered free to schools across
By the time we were done 101 schools had visited,
bringing 1718 children with them. The kids played a total of
4141 games of chess in 31 separate tournaments across the 6
playing days. We awarded 24 trophies to schools and 272
medals (133 Bronze, 78 Silver and 61 Gold) for individual
achievement. 43 CSC chess tutors worked 151 shifts between
them to make it all happen.
The CSC schools’ events are probably the
London Chess Classic’s biggest secret. They’re a huge part
of the festival, but because the children go home before
most of the grown-ups arrive a lot of people don’t know that
they were ever there. On coming across 300+ school kids
playing in the East Hall one afternoon, GM Keith Arkell said
that although he’d competed at the Classic since the
inaugural event in 2009 this was the first time he’d had an
inkling that anything like this was happening.
So who comes along? Mostly it’s junior
schools, although we had half a dozen or so seniors too. A
lot of our visitors are from London schools and already
signed up to a CSC programme of curriculum time chess
classes. This is far from universally the case, however.
Three-quarters of the schools this year were London based,
but the remainder came from Oxford, Birmingham, Liverpool,
Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and even Teeside. Thanks to
Kajetan Wandowicz - CSC’s hyper-enthusiastic coordinator of
activities in South West England - as many as a dozen
schools travelled up from Bristol and Bath. The split
between CSC schools and those who weren’t already receiving
our chess lessons was about 60:40. A much greater proportion
of children would have come from our existing schools
though, because while non-CSC schools tend to bring members
of their chess club, CSC schools usually take the whole
class of children that is learning chess with us. This year
several CSC schools brought 50-60 children but non-CSC
groups could be as small as 3 kids.
The days themselves were jam-packed for
the children and festival staff alike. By the time schools
arrived at 10am the CSC tutors had already spent 90 minutes
preparing for the day ahead. There was a lot to get ready
but it was very much the calm before the storm. Once the
children get to Olympia there wasn’t much time to take a
breath. The morning was all about chess training. A chess
lesson for the children followed by a simul - a chance to
play against the CSC chess tutors and warm up for what was
As you might imagine these sessions were
very demanding to lead. We knew which schools are coming,
but had little idea of the strength of players within each
group. Some of the children had only begun learning chess in
our programmes a few months earlier; Others were much more
experienced and one or two even had grades. Our tutors had
to weigh up their group very quickly and adjust their
lessons accordingly. The second part of the morning was the
Chris and Danny show which was held in the main auditorium.
GMs Ward and King - ably assisted by Lateefah Messam-Sparks
who deputised for Daniel on the Wednesday - have been
running their interactive chess show for years now and this
time around it was more popular than ever.
The highlight of show was the children
getting a chance to get up on stage and play using the sets
that the world’s elite would be using later in the day. The
boards were already hooked up to the giant display screens
at the back of the stage so everybody could follow along.
Imagine Carlsen playing Caruana with live Grandmaster
commentary battling to be heard above several hundred
children in the audience screaming out advice and
encouragement for their classmates. Not exactly standard
tournament conditions, but it was a lot of fun. After a
short lunch break it was time for the main event of the day:
the afternoon tournaments. For many of the children it would
be their first ever organised chess competition. We divided
the events by year group so we had up to six different
tournaments running at once. Make no mistake, they were
competitive - we awarded medals to the highest scorers in
each year group and trophies to the best performing school -
although that wasn’t the real point. We worked hard to
ensure the emphasis remained firmly on taking part and
enjoying the experience.
To end the day each school got a group
photo, the children who came along on the Wednesday being
particularly fortunate to get a Super-GM gatecrashing their
pictures. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was a great sport.
Photographer Ray often got the children to leap in the air
as he took their picture. After doing this a couple of times
I heard him say "Maxime, you don’t have to jump too". Elite
chess player or not, MVL just shrugged and carried on just
the same. We squeezed in one last surprise as the children
made their way to the lifts to start their journey home: a
chess-themed goody bag for everyone. Several schools told us
that five hours of chess simply hadn’t been enough and their
kids had played with their new pocket sets all the way back
I’m very proud of what we
achieved with the schools events at the
Classic. “It's been such fun”, “A fantastic
opportunity” and “The best party bag ever”
were three of the children's comments that
stand out. I have to end by thanking the CSC
staff who worked so hard to ensure a fun
time for the children and a stress-free day
for the teachers who accompanied them. Not
forgetting all the cleaning up the tutors
did at the end of the day to make sure that
you’d never know we were there. Like I said,
the schools events are the Classic’s biggest
secret. And what of my young friend who was
getting in the lift that first Friday
afternoon? I told him that we’d come back in
2016 if he would. He promised me he’d be
back for sure. I feel exactly the same way.
Organising a week of schools’ events for CSC
at Olympia next December? You try keeping me
All the children had a fantastic day and
have already asked if I can book for next year.
… the children had a great day.
… thank you for providing the children
with an inspiring opportunity. I know they absolutely loved
it and were all bursting with joy on the way back to school.
We were delighted to be able to join the
tournament … staff and pupils thoroughly enjoyed the day. A
bronze medallist was an added bonus!
We greatly enjoyed the day - "It's been
such fun" - "A fantastic opportunity" - "The best party bag
ever" being three of the children's comments that stand out.
Although disappointed to be so close to winning medals but
sadly, this year, unsuccessful (only 1 point away for two of
them), the children did us proud and were very good sports.
… we look forward to next year!
… thanks again for organising such a
brilliant day. The children really enjoyed themselves and
have become avid chess players.