Jamaicans Encouraged to Play Chess


As Christmas approaches, a number of youngsters may be wishing for gift-wrapped packages of popular electronic games such as Wii, Play Station, or X-box under their Christmas trees.
But there is one board game, which not only provides hours of entertainment, but exercises the mind and brings a sense of satisfaction for both the victor and the loser.
This is the battle of wits known as chess. “The game of chess is a battle of wits so to speak, where two persons try to outthink each other. It is a board game in which each person starts with 16 pieces – 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 bishops, 2 knights, a king and a queen,” President of the Jamaica Chess Federation Attorney-at-Law Ian Wilkinson, explains in an interview with JIS News.
He says that “the objective of chess is to checkmate the king and you do this using various strategies, tactics and techniques. This is how you get to use your pieces. Once you checkmate the king, which is priceless, it is the most valuable piece, the game is at an end and you win”.
The word checkmate in the English Language means to defeat someone or put them in a position where they are helpless.
Mr. Wilkinson states that contrary to popular belief, one does not have to be brilliant or bright to play the game of chess.
“Even though chess is a thinker’s game, it’s not very hard. A lot of people sometimes think that only brilliant or bright people have to play chess. It’s not so at all”, he affirms. “I keep telling people that chess makes you brighter or better, it’s not the other way around. Clearly, if you are very gifted in terms of a good memory that is going to help, not just in chess, but with anything…however playing chess helps to make you into a better thinker”.
Far from being just a board game, chess is actually a competitive sport with its own Olympic tournament, which occurs every two years under the auspices of governing body, Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE).
At the recently concluded 38th Olympiad in Dresden, Germany, Jamaica recorded its best ever performance. “We tied at 64th position with a number of other countries and so we did exceedingly well because we are amateur players”, Mr. Wilkinson informs, noting that the country finished some 50 places above Caribbean neighbours Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados. “The highest we were supposed to finish based on our rating is 104. We created a bit of a stir as we beat countries with International Masters and Grand Masters,” he boasts.
In the game of chess, apart from World Champion, Grand Master and International Master are the next two highest titles that a chess player can attain.
Two of the teams with such players that Jamaica defeated were Palestine and Yemen.
Mr. Wilkinson notes however that if Jamaica is to continue to develop local talent and improve upon future performances, then there are a number of things that must be put in place. “We need sponsorship, we need a steady programme, where we have a full time coach,” he says, pointing out that “we could even get someone very good from Cuba, which has a lot of Grand and International Masters and strong chess players”.
He notes further that Jamaica needs “an infrastructure to be put in place so that there is a steady feeding-tree of players into chess and therefore it is going to be viewed as a real national sporting event and not just something that people do by the way”.
An official headquarters is needed, he says, in addition to funding to increase the exposure of players by allowing them to travel to international tournaments or to bring players to the island.
Mr. Wilkinson emphasises that it is not a coincidence that Jamaica’s best performer at the Olympiad, Jomo Pitterson, who went undefeated, travelled and competed against a number of high quality players in the past couple of years.
“Jomo travelled in 2007 and played chess and he beat Grand Masters and drew with International Masters. He performed very well and he was Jamaica’s player of the year in 2007. It’s no surprise that in 2008, he was our best performer at the Olympics. Jomo had a lot of exposure; he was playing top notch players,” he remarks, noting that players often have to pay out of their own pockets to play abroad.
Despite all the constraints, Mr. Wilkinson says that game of chess in Jamaica is in the healthiest state that it has ever been. “In fact, I like to call this period the golden age of Jamaican chess,” he gushes, while highlighting that since he became President of the Federation, there has been a significant increase in membership.
“When I first became president in 2003 I remember a tournament was held and the total number of participants in that tournament was like 35. That similar tournament we held in 2007 and the total number of participants was approximately 200, so it has gone up significantly,” he says.
In the meantime, Mr. Wilkinson says that if persons need another incentive to play the game other than having fun and developing one’s intellectual capacity, they would be wise to take note of the health benefits to be derived. “Tests have shown that children or people who play chess hardly ever suffer brain diseases later down in life, degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” he informs.
He cites a test of 4,000 to 5,000 chess players, done a few months ago in Spain, and “only two or three, believe me, showed any signs of Alzheimer’s or any such illnesses and they did similar tests with thousands of other people that did not play chess and if you saw the numbers. A whole lot of people showed signs of the aforementioned diseases.”
Based on these findings, the Chess Federation President says: “they made the correlation that when you play chess you use certain parts of your brain, which normally help to retard the development of those diseases”.

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