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Fight with all you’ve got, don’t give up
The secondary school students of Tobago who attended the recent launching of the chess-in-schools programme in Scarborough were pleasantly surprised to hear from a youngster who related the many benefits he had gained from his years of playing the celebrated mind game. The students had been regaled with the rhetoric of speakers hailing the special advantages to be derived from playing chess, but beyond that they also heard from an 18-year-old scholarship winner who happens to be a living example of the disciplining and mind enhancing values of playing chess.
Rafael Guerrero, UWI student of actuarial science, won the appreciative applause of his youthful audience by recalling the success he was able to achieve with the help of chess, especially about the role the game played in helping him harness the hyperactivity of his early years. The students who will be engaged in the venture, RHAND’s Scholastic Chess Challenge, could hardly have heard from a more inspiring example of the shaping influence of chess than young Guerrero whose achievements in the sport is matched by his success at school.
“I must say that chess has played a positive role in shaping me into the person that I am today,” he said.
Young Guerrero’s parents, in fact, were somewhat shocked when he developed a keen interest in the centuries old board game. He was then considered “wild and extremely hyperactive,” especially with his involvement in swimming and football. “But I believe chess helped me to focus and direct my energies in a positive direction.”
The game, he said, has taught him to be disciplined and patient, to find creative ways of solving problems and thinking strategically and to develop a spirit of never giving up. In addition, chess helped to sharpen his academic skills so that he was able to win an additional mathematics scholarship in the CAPE examinations when he was seventeen.
Guerrero got hooked on the popular mind game at the age of ten when a T&T Chess Foundation coach visited his school, St Monica’s Preparatory. After this, he joined a group of young chess enthusiasts who attended the Foundation’s training facility at Brabant Street, Woodbrook, twice a week. Several other members of this group also became prominent juniors and excellent students.
Significantly, young Guerrero learned his first lesson about chess and life when he played in his first tournament, the National Schools Competition of 2003. He was just a novice with only a few months’ experience but keen to test his skills. Playing on the lowest of the four boards, he lost his first two games and “it was the worst feeling ever” as it sorely dented his competitive spirit.
After he was dropped for the third round, Guerrero said he felt like giving up the game altogether. However, his friends and parents encouraged him to continue. “I went on to play in the remaining rounds of the tournament, winning the rest of my games and helping my school to place third.”
“From then,” he added, “I learnt that, like in all other sports and life in general, you have to accept defeat and disappointment and rise above it.
“If I had resigned from chess then, I would not be here today telling you of my trophy cabinet holding more than 30 of the cherished trophies which I won from various tournaments,” he noted. Among them is the prize he received for winning the National Under 14 Junior Championship. This title gave him the opportunity to represent T&T in countries such as Guatemala and Colombia. Later he also played in tournaments in Barbados, Cuba and Miami. His greatest foreign achievement, however, was placing second in the Pan American Under-20 Scholastic Championship held in Dallas, Texas, in 2008. At 14, he was the youngest participant in that international contest and the trophy he won there is the largest and most treasured in his collection.
Guerrero was happy to note that many more young people were now playing chess, including girls several of whom were making a name for themselves. He told his youthful audience: “I sincerely believe that now is an opportune time for all juniors to take up the game and hone your skills so that you may represent Trinidad and Tobago and benefit in your academic and personal development as I did.”
Chess, he observed, was a creative way for them to release their youthful energies and be competitive in a spirit of sportsmanship.
In closing, Guerrero left with his student audience two pieces of advice which he had received from his chess coach. One, if you feel you have a good move, sit on your hands and find a better one. Two, when you are down on material, when your opponent has more pieces than you, fight with all you’ve got, don’t give up.
Four of Tobago secondary schools were represented at the launch of RAND’s Scholastic Chess Challenge held at the Ministry of Education conference centre, Scarborough. Each of these schools was presented with chess sets and demonstration boards to be used in the programme. The equipment was received by four teachers: Jovani Campbell for Bishops; Joel Peters for Pentecostal Light and Life; Diandra Sucre for Goodwood High School and Omari Martin for Scarborough Secondary.
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