Visiting grandmaster captures students’ interest in chess

Grandmaster Nigel Short, foreground, left, at a chess tutorial for Chess Club students at John Gray High School on Friday. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

A group of John Gray High School students crowded into the campus’ small library on Friday, just after lunch, to learn about chess from a master – a grandmaster, in fact.

Nigel Short, a vice president of FIDE, the world chess federation, made a short visit to the school to promote the game, give students a quick tutorial and talk about plans for the Cayman Islands to become a federation member.

Using a marked chessboard, Short set up several scenarios of game situations and invited the students to suggest potential moves. After several quick answers from the group, he encouraged them to slow down a bit and strategise.

“Think before you touch,” he said. “Think before you open your mouth.”

“Chess is a difficult game,” he added. “It’s a difficult game for me and I’m a hell of a lot better than you.”

Short, 53, became a grandmaster at 19. He’s been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world (1988-1989) and even sat down across from Garry Kasparov in 1993 for the world title, which Kasparov won.

Short was in Grand Cayman nearly two years ago promoting the game on a goodwill mission. This time, as a recently appointed FIDE vice president, he said his goals were somewhat different.

“I wanted to expand chess in the English-speaking Caribbean, which had been one of the neglected areas, sort of a last frontier,” Short said.

The Cayman Islands was the last of a five-stop tour that took him to Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Kitts and Nevis. The Cayman Islands, led by Cayman Islands Chess Federation President Shaun Tracey, is in the process of applying for FIDE membership and hopes to be admitted by the end of the year.

Tracey said a chess programme was implemented in the government schools last year and drew interest from 600 students. But the private funding used to start the programme ran out and the grandmaster player leading it left the island as a result. Now he’s seeking government assistance for the $70,000 it takes to bring chess to the schools.

“We had a meeting yesterday with the governor, the minister of education and the sports minister,” Tracey said. The group was receptive to his pitch for support, he said.

John Gray Principal Jonathan Clark said learning chess is a benefit to students.

“As children, we learn through play,” he said. “It teaches them to concentrate for long periods of time.”

Short said it goes well beyond that.

“Calculation, strategy, concentration, thinking ahead, taking responsibility for your own actions and the consequences – you play a move, you can’t take it back – all of those things are important [in chess],” he said. “And, it’s a lot of fun. That’s why I think it’s a potent learning tool.”

He said he hoped his enthusiasm for the game would rub off on the students.

“If you’ve got enough enthusiasm, then you explore further,” he said.

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