First-time provincial schools tournament shows chess’ popularity

Over 220 scholars, representing unions and schools from throughout the Eastern Cape, took to the chess boards at East London's Stirling High School over the weekend, to compete for 36 places in the South African Individual School Championships, one of the country’s top tournaments for juniors.

Three players from each age group from the province are set to battle against their provincial counterparts in Bloemfontein in July for top honours.

Tracy Mace, vice-president of the Eastern Cape Chess Union and president of the Buffalo City Chess Union, says that the province and the Border region in particular, is increasingly becoming more competitive at chess.

“It’s the result of a joint effort by the provincial government who financed the weekend’s tournament, schools which have shown support for the players and the game, as well as parents who have given selflessly of their time. But most of all, it’s the passion for the game from all these groups that is making the game grow,” says Mace who organised the weekend’s tournament.

“We are also seeing improved numbers, support and results,” she explains.

“The increased number of girls is encouraging – almost a quarter of the players in this tournament were girls. Having girls-only teams certainly has paid off and increased girls’ interest in the game.”

“We are seeing a new generation of players who come from areas who haven’t featured before. Over 60% of the players from the weekend’s tournament were from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she adds.

“For example, Mdantsane scholars took two medals with Cathcart taking a further four. Middelburg scholars also performed well.”

The tournament included competitors from all eight regions with scholars and managers travelling from as far as Matatiele in the north and Humansdorp in the south.

Mace says there is wide recognition for chess and the benefits for scholars who play the game. Teachers understand that the game can help scholars socially, emotionally and academically.

“You can use chess skills beyond your school career. 

Another benefit is that it requires minimal equipment and “as a union, we are only too happy to help those schools who don’t the means or skills.”

“For some areas, it is another activity that is keeping the kids off the streets and what’s more, you are never too old to play chess unlike the other physical sports.”

Mace ends by saying that chess is one of the nine priority sports, targeted by government, for development.  “This is certainly making a huge contribution to the increasing the awareness of the game.”

ast year, over 100 players from the Border region attended the SA Junior Chess Championships in Durban.  This year, the union expects to a bigger group to Kimberley in January 2015.