ABU DHABI // Before yesterday 12-year-old Khalid Al Ameri had never heard of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.
Now the pupil from British International School-Abu Dhabi (Bisad) can say he has met the world’s youngest-ever world chess champion.
Soon he hopes know much more about all the Russian’s moves thanks to the launch of the Kasparov Chess Foundation at his school.
The foundation – which has been active in the US for 10 years, in Belgium for two and in South Africa since last year – was launched in Abu Dhabi by Mr Kasparov himself.
“I believe chess can help children between the ages of 6 and 9 improve their cognitive skills,” the grandmaster told an audience of teachers, principals, parents and pupils from both public and private schools in the capital.
“We have enough experience throughout the world to see the positive effects of chess for kids in Grades 1, 2 and 3.
“And Abu Dhabi, it’s an ideal place to start for the emirates and the rest of the Arab world.”
Mr Kasparov’s foundation provides instruction books and training to help children ace the strategic board game, and also hosts international competitions. It was launched here with the support of the Emirates Elite Foundation.
“Chess shaped not only my life but my character,” said Mr Kasparov, who held the championship title from 1986 until his retirement in 2005.
“The biggest challenge of modern education is not to get them to memorise data and all the diagrams but to teach them to swim in the ocean of information – how to navigate. And chess is a perfect way to help them learn.”
The impact of the game on learning was tested in a study involving 3,000 pupils at 100 New York schools. Research found those involved in chess achieved higher grades in English and maths.
“Chess in classrooms can also dramatically reduce absenteeism like we have seen in many deprived neighbourhoods near Johannesburg and Sao Paulo,” he said.
“It’s something that brings children in and I am convinced that if you do one hour a week it will not be treated by children as an
The Bisad chess club already has 120 active members and vice principal Alan Wilkinson said they plan to begin training teachers to launch the programme in the classroom.
“Everything points to chess helping children develop their mental abilities, so we certainly want to put it in the curriculum,” he said.
The school also plans to promote chess to neighbouring schools so they can start a league. “We do not want to monopolise this and that is why we invited the other schools to the talk, so that they can start similar activities,” said Mr Wilkinson.
“Ultimately, we would like to see a chess league within the city.”
Young Khalid said the talk inspired him to learn more about the game. “I started playing a few years back after seeing my parents play,” said the Bisad pupil. “It’s great that we can use the game to help us do better in maths and learn better.”
That is also the hope of young mum Jennifer Titchener, whose son is only in his first year at Bisad but already knows how to play.
“His grandfather taught him the game last summer and he has been very keen to continue,” said Mrs Titchener.
“Chess, despite its benefits, is not a game of choice like it was back in the 1950s,” she said. “By introducing it into the curriculum
it will open up opportunities for many more children.”
Mr Kasparov’s ultimate dream is to take the game high-tech for the next generation.
“If we can progress with our plans, one day I envision a ‘Chess Facebook’ for kids,” he said, “where they do not only play but communicate with each other, emphasising the other important element of chess as a great communicator and social tool.”