London Chess Conference 2018

John Foley (Conference Director) and Bachar Kouatly

The 2018 London Chess Conference (8/9 December) was the best yet according to those who attended previously. We had over 100 chess and education experts from 25 countries interacting intensively for a weekend. There were 50 contributors as speakers, debate hosts, workshop facilitators or demonstrators. The theme of the Conference was The Future of Chess in Education and the programme was incredibly varied (credit Stefan Löffler). The presentations and videos (credit Etienne Mensch) can be retrieved from the conference website. The Conference presentations can also be viewed on the ChessPlus YouTube channel. The event was sponsors included CSC, ErasmusPlus, ECU, Chessable, DecodeChess and Millennium Chess Computers.

ChessPlus Conference Team

Distinguished attendees included Bachar Kouatly, the Deputy President of FIDE and President of the French Chess Federation; Hou Yifan, former women’s world chess champion, the highest rated woman in the world and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University; Lord Mark Price, until recently the Minister for Trade and Industry; Jesper Hall, Chair of the Education Commission of the European Chess Union; Malcolm Pein, Chief Executive Officer of Chess in Schools and Communities; John Claughton, former Chief Master of King Edwards School, Birmingham and now Development Officer for the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association; Anastasia Sorokina, President of the Belarus Chess Federation and Director of the forthcoming Minsk Chess Olympiad 2022; Boris Bruhn, President of the German School Chess Foundation; Jerry Nash (USA), Secretary of the Education Commission of FIDE; Jorge Nuno Silva, Professor of the History of Games and Mathematics at the University of Lisbon; Alexander Kostyev (Moscow), Founder of the International Schools Chess Union and the European School Team Chess Open Internet Championships; Professor Fernand Gobet, cognitive scientist at the University of Liverpool, and a host of others.

Hou Yifan and Lord Mark Price

The opening speaker John Claughton reminded the audience that the traditional purpose of education was to give young people a broad appreciation of a wide range of subjects and develop their character. He lamented the current focus in England on a narrow range of examinable subjects. The arts and creative subjects are losing out thereby creating an unbalanced education. Jesper Hall described how the European Chess Union was developing teacher training standards for chess teaching in schools. Bachar Kouatly explained that chess is being funded by the French government for social purposes in primary and secondary schools and also in young offender institutions. Malcolm Pein outlined how he would like to see the new FIDE Commission manage chess in schools, emphasising that they should be linking projects together rather than undertaking any content development. Graeme Gardiner drew attention to the benefits that chess had for the children who had learning disabilities.

Prisons Workshop

The attendees were spoiled for choice during the subsequent debates which covered the topics “Should after-school chess be taught by volunteers or professionals?”; “What is the future of chess clubs?”; “How should we relate to parents and teachers”; “Do schools teach the right subjects?”; “What can table-top computers add to the chess classroom?”. These were followed by more detailed workshops on “Chess in Education – Strategy” at which senior executives from chess organisations explained their strategies and plans; “Chess in Prisons” where there was considerable interest in combining knowledge from different projects; and “Chess in Communities” showing how chess could develop in a geographical area, examples being East Paris (Jérôme Maufras) and Teesside (Sean Marsh).

Boris Raguet

The second day started with a fascinating set of parallel workshops. “Large-scale school chess events” was very well attended to hear speakers from Germany, England, Sweden and Russia explain how they organise their major school-based competition events. “Business Development for School Chess Projects and Professionals” was a masterly overview of running a chess business from Neil Dietsch. In “The Learning Spiral: a new way to teach and study chess”, Kevin Cripe described how psychological theory can be deployed in an innovative way to assist the way in which children learn chess. Those who attended “Teaching Computer Programming Skills through Chess” were impressed with Boris Raguet’s demonstration of how children are programming chess moves using Scratch and then controlling robots to push the pieces around a large chessboard.

Eva Gyamarthy

In the second set of keynote speakers, David Smerdon suggested that the extensive chess “big data” can help economists get to grip with some important issues such as gender gaps in the STEM subjects. Lord Mark Price gave a personal account of how teaching his daughters chess had reminded him of how wonderful chess is for children and had prompted him to write a book: The Foolish King. In “Chess and Intuition”, Fernand Gobet reported on recent research that experts can assess a position reasonably accurately very quickly without having to do explicit analysis, with the implication that experts have rapid perception in other domains.

Anastasia Sorokina, Aga Sapkowska and Sean Marsh

The final set of workshops covered “Early Years Chess”, “Promoting Social Skills through Chess” and “Making Chess Research More Relevant”. The Conference final summing up was done by Sean Marsh (CSC, Deputy Conference Director), Jerry Nash (who is now FIDE Education Commission Secretary) and Kerry Turner, an education researcher from the University of Hull. John Foley observed that a frequently mentioned pedagogy is “transversal” education – using chess in other subject lessons.

Bachar Kouatly said this was more than a Conference – he compared it to a Gathering – people with a common interest in chess and education coming together to exchange ideas, share best practice and co-operate. There is nothing else like it in the chess world. We know from previous conferences that significant projects have arisen as a result of having met at the London Chess Conference. Bachar was only half joking when he said that he came to London to find out what was happening in France. For example, Boris Raguet gave a fascinating demonstration of teaching computer programming using chess and demonstrated a robot moving around on a large chess board.

Alexis Harakis demonstration

This year the conference was held at a new venue, the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith. The foyer provided a very agreeable meeting place for participants to socialise between sessions. For the first time, we also had exhibitors in the foyer which proved to be of immense interest to the participants. Exhibitors included Chessable (UK), DecodeChess (Israel), Lichess (Internet), Millennium Chess Computers (Germany) and Rochade Kids (Germany).

Rita Atkins

Running parallel to the Conference were other important events. The ECU Academic Advisory Board met immediately before the Conference to be updated on events in the European Chess Union and to share recent research. The Erasmus CHAMPS project Multiplier Event also took place during the Conference (details here). This project on Chess and Mathematics for Primary School was founded originally back in 2014 when the conference theme was Chess and Mathematics. There was also a meeting between academic researchers who were joined by live link to the Chess Research Institute in Armenia.