Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, and seven-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan have one thing in common: chess helped them plan and make plans.
Reeves uses these skills to navigate the grim world of politics: “Strategic thinking is essential in both politics and chess,” she said. “So I definitely feel like continuing to play chess if I can to keep myself nimble in the Labor campaign as our next government. Always think two moves ahead.”
Bodhana, who started playing chess a year ago during lockdown, needs to apply her newfound Machiavellian skills more broadly, but knows the game is helping her hone them.
“I love playing chess because it helps me recognize patterns, focus my attention, and helps me strategize and calculate moves in advance,” she said. “Also, I like the way the chess pieces move on the board, especially the knight.”
Bodhana is one of thousands of people expected to attend ChessFest, a free event taking place in London’s Trafalgar Square and Liverpool on July 17th.
More than 50 chess coaches will be giving free lessons to children and adults, with British grandmasters taking on all-comers in rapid and blindfold chess, and a range of activities designed to show that chess is for everyone.
The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of the most famous match in chess history between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky during the Cold War and the 26th anniversary of Garry Kasparov’s defeat by the computer Deep Blue.
Both games are played on a giant screen in Trafalgar Square on a live chess game with 32 professional actors playing the roles of the chess pieces.
The organiser, UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), is working to bring the game to communities it wouldn’t normally reach, taking the game to schools, libraries and prisons.
“Chess is an inexpensive, high-impact educational opportunity,” said CSC executive director Malcolm Pein. “It knows no boundaries of age, gender, creed, ethnicity or disability and can be played anywhere, anytime. Play encourages the intellectual and emotional skills that are critical to a child’s continued development.”
Reeves, who started playing at the age of seven and became a British girls’ chess champion at 14, agrees. “I believe that helping kids play chess can help build any kind of confidence and set them down the path that they’re ultimately passionate about, and that’s why ChessFest is so brilliant,” she said.