Why should Canada invest more in teaching children to play chess? | So Good News


Chess has been in the news a lot more than usual recently. First, there was the success of the Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit. This made checkerboards the new toilet paper as retailers and manufacturers struggled to keep up with demand. Now there is a cheating scandal that has rocked the chess world.

But among those headlines, the latest chess news for Canadians is the quieter story of Quebec teenager Sean Rodrigue-Lemieux, who recently won the world under-18 chess championship: a first for a Quebecer and second for a Canadian.

Unlike the cheating scandal and the fictitious portrayal of chess The Queen’s Gambit, Rodrigue-Lemieux’s story is undeniably good and realistic. This should inspire and motivate us as a nation to invest more in chess, the achievement of which will lead to Canadian success in international competition.

Success at the highest levels of chess costs money. Investing in chess as a sport and a compulsory subject in schools would be money well spent.

The large room was filled with people sitting at the tables playing chess.
Participants will compete in the 44th Chess Olympiad in Mamallapuram, India on July 29, 2022.
(AP Photo)

Chess as a sport

This year, Sport Canada provided nearly $7 million in funding to hockey in Canada. He gave an additional $1.5 million to individual hockey players through the Athlete Assistance Program. But Sport Canada isn’t just generous to hockey. It’s giving away more than $300,000 to the bowlers; $5.2 million for curling; $200,000 for surfing; more than $1 million for cricket; almost 700,000 dollars per ringgit; about $250,000 for skateboarding; and more than $500,000 for archery.

What will chess get from Sport Canada? Nothing.

According to Sport Canada, chess is not eligible for sport funding for the simple reason that it is not a sport. But chess meets all the criteria for being a sport, except one: it doesn’t count as physical activity. It’s just a board game like Monopoly or Scrabble that requires mental effort but not physical effort.

Sport Canada’s position on chess may be shared by many Canadians, but it is misguided and inconsistent with the position of many other nations for at least two reasons.

First, in 1999, the International Olympic Committee recognized chess as a sport. Chess was even featured as an exhibition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. There was an attempt to include chess in the 2024 Paris Olympics, but this was rejected.

When the time comes and chess is played in the Olympics, if we don’t fund chess now, Canada won’t be ready to compete.

A man in a gray suit moves a piece on a chessboard.
Magnus Carlsen competes in the 2018 World Chess Championship in London.

Second, when chess is played at the highest level, the sport is a physical affair that contrasts with Canada’s laid-back stance. Magnus Carlsen, the greatest chess player of all time and reigning world champion, told the BBC in 2014: “For me, chess is first and foremost a sport, secondarily an art and a science.”

Carlsen attributes his two wins against former world champion Vishy Anand to his superior athleticism rather than his chess game. The games were long and, according to Carlsen, “decided by physical force in the fifth and sixth hours.”

Investing in chess

The smartest way for Canada to invest in chess is to follow the example of other countries such as Spain, Armenia and Georgia that make chess a compulsory subject in elementary or high school.

The case for introducing chess into the school curriculum is usually based on the benefits of improving mathematical skills. But this is not the only benefit of chess.

Chess is a perfect example of an interdisciplinary activity. The greatest chess players in history had one thing in common: they saw something more serious in chess than a game. The first official champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, declared chess a science and wrote a treatise on the principles of this science. The next champion, Emanuel Lasker, saw chess as an ideal model of human struggle.

A woman and three young children sit around a chessboard table.  The woman holds a chess piece in her hand, while the children raise their hands.
Teaching chess at school helps children see the connections between all the other disciplines they learn at school.

Another champion, Alexander Alekhine, thought that chess was art, an opinion confirmed by one of the world’s most famous artists, Marcel Duchamp, who abandoned art to focus on chess. Computer scientists often turn to chess to test artificial intelligence. And the former world champion Garry Kasparov mastered all these concepts and wrote a book saying that chess is an example of all aspects of life.

Teaching chess in Canadian schools would teach children to see the unity of all the other disciplines they learn in school. It challenges their minds and even their bodies to learn, compete and have fun. With chess in the spotlight, we must not miss this opportunity to promote the enthusiasm for chess that exists in Canada.


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