One of the "burdens" that has consistently influenced the contributions of Double Rooks over the years is the need to have more of our young people playing and enjoying the Royal Game. The manifold benefits that could be derived from such a "movement" are now a matter of widespread international experience, supported and encouraged by experts not only at the higher levels of the game but also by an increasing number of recognised educationists. As the world's most mentally absorbing sport, chess, even at its most basic level, provides an arena for both intense competition and immense entertainment. That alone, of course, should be enough to promote its popularity. But beyond that level, the game is also beneficially unique for the mental discipline and positive modes of thinking it encourages among its devotees, particularly the young.
A number of studies performed in different parts of the world over several years have confirmed this. One experiment conducted among fifth graders in Belgium demonstrated that the group of chess-playing students experienced "a statistically significant gain in cognitive development" over a control group. "Perhaps more noteworthy, they also did significantly better in their regular school testing, as well as in standardized testing administered by an outside agency which did not know the identity of the two groups," the report observed. Similar results were gained from another study conducted by Dr Albert Frank among students of Zaire, aged 16-18. The researcher found that the chess-playing group "showed a significant advancement in spatial, numerical and administrative-directional abilities, compared to the control group."
Persuasive endorsement for this view has also come from GM Susan Polgar, four-time world female chess champion and a well-known chess educator. In a media interview, she pointed out that some 30 countries across the globe, including Brazil, China, Venezuela, Italy, Israel, Russia and Greece, have incorporated chess into their schools' curriculum. "Chess," she says, "has long been regarded as a game that can have beneficial effects on learning and development, especially when it is played from a young age." The game, she adds, helps to strengthen a child's mental clarity, fortitude, stability and overall health. "Many schools are now finding chess as an inexpensive but essential way of helping kids grow mentally," she concludes. "In this technologically driven world, chess helps in the synthesis and growth of certain areas of the brain and mind where many children can benefit as they grow older."
Indeed, evidence of the enhancing impact of chess on young minds can be found right here in T&T among the 126 members of Grant Memorial Presbyterian School Chess Club, actually the largest chess club in the country. Since it was formed three years ago, the club's members consistently score higher than 70 percent in their term exams while 60 percent achieve above 90 percent. "There is no doubt about it," says a proud David Martin, founder and president of the GMPSCC.
In the context of all this, it seems somewhat unfortunate that Trinidad and Tobago as a whole is yet to wake up fully to the contribution that chess could play in the creation of a thinking society. Sponsorship for major chess events, particularly among juniors who will help to shape the next T&T generation, is not as forthcoming as it should be. Also, for a variety of reasons, a comprehensive programme for taking the sport into the nation's schools is yet to be implemented. Still, in all of this, Double Rooks would be foolishly presumptuous to claim that chess is the answer to many of the country's social ills, including the problems of crime and violence. We would certainly advance, however, that in the effort to build a saner, more intelligent, more progressive, more cohesive society, the sport of chess and the mental benefits it confers particularly on the young can play a significant part. More advanced countries have recognised this; why can't we?
NEXT WEEK: T&TCA plans for chess-in-schools.