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Chess: when every child wins

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There is much more to chess than studying moves, being competitive and winning

Chess is a fascinating analogy about how you can reach your potential after overcoming limits and threats. Whether you feel like a pawn, knight or bishop, here’s how to become the best version of yourself by capitalising on your strengths and making your current situation work in ways that promote your sense of self-development.” So says PsychologyToday, a widely read magazine which publishes content written by clinicians, experts and researchers from across the fields of behavioural science and psychology.

In Cyprus, the view is shifting from chess simply being considered a game where intelligent children win tournaments to a wider – and much more important – role.

President and founder of Arion Chess Club, Panayiotis Dyonisiou is at the forefront of the change. “In 2017, ten children were members of the club,” he says. “The initial goal was to teach them how to win tournaments. they would then go abroad and represent Cyprus in international championships, at various age groups.”

This soon changed. “We started to incorporate books and two grandmasters from the Netherlands changed our perspective. These opened up a different view. They were talking about the development of cognitive skills and how chess would help children gain mental skills, social skills and others which had previously not even been considered.”

In the past, chess was thought to help with mathematics, but it has now been proven that it is also helpful in many other subjects, such as learning a new language or music. This was not even considered before, Dyonisiou adds.

After looking at the new approach of the two grandmasters, Dyonisiou radically switched the approach of teaching children about the mental game. “Now the sole purpose is to develop the children, where self-discipline is important, as is concentration, as well as the development of social skills. We care about the process and progress which is then measured by tests.”

Self-discipline? “Even if a child doesn’t win a match, they will learn from it,” says Dyonisiou. “They will understand they have to take responsibility for their own moves, as you cannot blame anybody else. You make the move, you take responsibility for it. These small victories matter.

“It is not our role to criticise, but to encourage them.”

Are the children able to follow instructions, and can they concentrate for hours during a match? Will they remain calm under pressure? The answers to these questions matter to this club founder, and not only to him.

“Chess is a game which requires concentration, patience and perseverance. This type of persistence can be beneficial in all areas of life,” private institute STEM education Cyprus reports.

“Two prominent virtues of chess are fairness and honesty. The international chess community promotes civil behaviour and respect for the opponent and punishes players found to have cheated. Chess is a civil game with an ethical code that predisposes players to play respectfully with other individuals.”

Dionysiou explains the teaching of these basic values requires time and – last but not least – educating parents along with their children. Parents need to understand that a long game played by their kids also means they should have time to relax afterwards.

ann chess tournamentApart from private schools such as the English School, the Junior School, the American International School in Cyprus and others having chess clubs after official school hours, these institutions now collaborate with the Arion Chess club by hosting events, an exercise that also includes the University of Cyprus. The schools’ involvement ensures more and more students gain interest in this mental sport.

Playing chess is not only an indoor activity as the clement weather in Cyprus allows several tournaments to be held in parks; the idea is to develop a healthy mind in a healthy body.

Which brings us back to the parents. During these events, parents are invited to watch their offspring, as it is often helpful for them to gain an understanding of how much mental effort goes into a game which may last several hours.

The rising popularity of the mental game has been aided by other factors, Dyonisiou adds. The television series The Queen’s Gambit got people interested in the game, and Covid saw many children and adults begin to play online. These developments are not contradictory to what the new chess philosophy advocates, but are an addition. Cypriot kids get to play chess in the premises of the club once a week, and also have the opportunity to play online with other suitable partners from various countries twice a week.

Competition will always be a part of any sport. While many companies opt to promote sports with a huge numbers of followers such as football, at least one has invested in chess and has in the last couple of years done a lot to promote it on the island. That company is Freedom Finance Europe, headquartered in Cyprus.

Executive director Evgeniy Tyapkin explains why: “Like any other sport, chess allows people to recognise their strengths and constantly improve their achievements. However, even if a person doesn’t choose chess as a profession, it helps to build character and develop important general skills, such as the ability to analyse situations, make quick decisions and compete fairly.

“We believe that supporting and promoting chess culture and education is important for the creation of a modern community of intellectuals who will ultimately contribute to a thriving business environment in the country. For us, it is a long-term commitment that involves time and effort from all parties. We are happy to expand our cooperation for the sake of our children and the prosperity of our society.

“We believe that chess helps people to choose winning strategies not only in the sport, but also in business and life in general. People who are successful in chess often achieve high results in other spheres. That is why we consider chess education to be very important for children and for any society. We aim to expand the network of chess schools across the country, to create an inspiring environment for raising new champions, and also promote chess playing across all age groups.”

They have already done much to achieve this. In May 2023, Freedom Finance Europe in cooperation with the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and the Cyprus Chess Federation, organised the fourth and decisive round of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in Nicosia. The tournament was the first top-level chess competition ever held in Cyprus.

More events are planned for the next few months.

From April 26 to May 2, Cyprus will hold the second Paphos International Open Tournament, which will be organised by the Cyprus Chess Federation with the support of Freedom Finance Europe.

Other events the company plans to organise jointly with the Cyprus Chess Federation this year include the Cyprus Youth Championship, the Cyprus Speed Chess Championship, the Cyprus Blitz Championship and other special events.

His concluding remark: “Together we can make 2024 the Year of Chess in Cyprus and the Year of Cyprus in Chess.”

SCHOOLS GUIDE 2024
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