The next generation of Cayman chess players got a boost from a master of the game this week. Nigel Short, a Grandmaster who has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world, came to George Town and participated in a pair of fundraisers for the Cayman Chess Club’s Chess in Schools program.
Mr. Short, a three-time winner of the British Chess Championship, demonstrated his skill against 27 adults in Monday’s Grandmaster Corporate Challenge at the Kimpton Seafire Resort and then played against children in Tuesday’s Grandmaster Junior Challenge at the George Town Public Library.
The aim was to enhance the love of chess and to help fund a chess teaching program at all of Grand Cayman’s government schools.
In his opening remarks Monday night, Mr. Short said that he was thrilled to be a part of the growth of the local game.
“I think this is a very exciting initiative. I’ve been around the world, I’ve traveled to quite a lot of places, 111 countries, and I’ve played chess in most of them. It’s great to be here at almost the birth of chess activity in the Cayman Islands.”
Mr. Short engaged his challengers in a simultaneous exhibition, moving around the inside of a square of tables and making one move on each board in succession. He beat 25 people and took two draws at the Kimpton Seafire.
Dart’s Lyubomir Dimitrov was one of the players to manage a tie. Mr. Dimitrov said he played the French Defense and that Mr. Short offered a draw after taking a poisoned pawn. Mr. Dimitrov had come into the evening hoping to last 40 moves against the Grandmaster, and he was pleasantly surprised when the offer for a draw came after only 14 or 15 moves.
“It’s incredible playing one of the strongest players in the world,” he said. … I would’ve given myself a 99 percent chance to lose. You have to make the right moves from that point until the end of the game, which is just too difficult. I’m not a professional player.”
Paul Robinson of the Public Library Service was not so fortunate. Mr. Robinson’s king was checkmated in just 14 moves. He said it was nerve-wracking to sit across from Mr. Short.
“He knew how to trap me very quickly,” he said. “No matter what you study, he knows a whole different way of beating you. He has so much knowledge. He sees everything and you have no chance. It was an honorable loss. But the important part is the kids. They come every Saturday, due to Shaun Tracey and Carlo Lee [of the Cayman Chess Club], and it’s great to have a Grandmaster coming to play them.”
Ian Wilkinson, president of the Jamaica Chess Federation, was one of Mr. Short’s most distinguished challengers on Monday night. He said he had high hopes for the future of the game in Cayman. Mr. Wilkinson, the author of “Excitement Galore: Chess in All its Glory,” said he has witnessed a profound transformation in the last decade as 40,000 new players rushed to learn chess in Jamaica.
“Chess is fantastic as a transformational tool,” he said. “I have seen where children who were supposedly troubled become much better students. They become more respectful for their teachers and their peers. Their self-esteem develops. Their literacy and their numeracy improves. In Jamaica, for example, we have created a chess industry out of teaching chess.”
The Cayman Chess Club has set $50,000 as a target for its program, which will provide equipment, practice and competitions, as well as a dedicated chess teacher who will instruct students at nine public primary schools and two public high schools. The program is already more than halfway to its funding goal, thanks to help from Mr. Short, and students got a chance to match wits with the Grandmaster Tuesday.
For Mr. Short, it was a harkening back to his own youth. He had a draw against Lajos Portisch and a win against Viktor Korchnoi in simultaneous exhibitions before his 12th birthday, and he eased around the square playing children of varying ability at the George Town Public Library.
Some, it seemed, did not fully grasp the rules of the game as they faced off with the Grandmaster. But some delighted in saying “check” to Mr. Short before ultimately succumbing to his skill.
There’s still a long way to go for chess in the Cayman Islands, and Mr. Wilkinson said he hopes to be back many times and wants to be a part of forming a local chess federation. “I came here specifically not necessarily to play him, but to be a part of the Cayman experience,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “This is truly a historic day for Cayman. It’s going to be evident in the future that what is happening here today is absolutely marvelous for the country. This is the start of a blossoming chess culture.”