Chess leaders excited for future
Jul. 10, 2014
Pacific Daily News – Sports
Guam Chess Federation president Leon Ryan was surprised when he was asked to make a presentation at a recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations chess event in Macau, but he came prepared.
Among the crowd, aside from representatives from a couple other chess federations, was Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, one of the most famous and most highly regarded chess players in history.
Earlier this year the regional federations had been asked to submit plans for growing chess in their area, and Ryan’s response caught the eye of Kasparov, who heads the Kasparov Chess Foundation, an educational nonprofit that aims to grow the sport around the world.
Ryan took the stage and laid out the four-year Guam chess plan.
The plan includes a detailed budget and a set of goals and commitments, among them establishing the Guam Chess Learning Center, building club teams in schools, organizing and funding the annual Guam International Open Chess Tournament with a large enough cash prize to incentivize top players from around the world to come and preparing a women’s team for the 2016 Chess Olympiad.
After describing the plan and the situation on Guam — where chess growth has sputtered, according to Guam Chess Federation member Dave Sablan — Ryan took a chance.
He scanned his audience, searched for the words and put himself and his organization out there.
“I told them, ‘This is what it takes to develop chess here,'” he said. “If we don’t get the resources we need for our federation to develop a chess program here, I told them I have no business being in the organization because we’re not going to go anywhere.”
Then he asked for $300,000.
A legend in his sport, Kasparov invited Ryan to his hotel room to discuss the presentation. To a chess fanatic like Ryan, this was like a soccer fan being invited to meet with Pelé.
Ryan, Kasparov and two others were in the room. There, Ryan was offered $100,000 to be spread over four years to help grow chess on Guam.
In addition, wealthy former Filipino congressman Prospero Pichay, president of the Philippine National Chess Federation, pledged $10,000 for each for four prize funds for four annual tournaments.
“Last year it was $5,000 and, man, we worked so hard to raise that money,” Ryan said. Money will go fast
The money from the Kasparov Chess Foundation, though significant, will go quickly. Guam Chess Federation is moving to immediately establish the Guam Chess Learning Center. The long-term plan is to build a permanent structure, but in the short term they’ll likely rent.
They will also need supplies, including boards, pieces, computers and chess timers.
The Guam Chess Learning Center will focus on six dozen kids, Ryan said, with the goal to make them a generation of world-class players.
“If we make use of that with a surgical approach, targeting kids who have a desire to be world-class players, I think that’s the way to go,” he said.
Reaching kids will do more than just improve their chess skills.
Sablan said if the sport can grow in schools, it can help improve the student’s thinking skills. They hope to target elementary school students.
Originally the plan was to be in 15 schools this year, but they’ve been held up because of a lack of chess knowledge among teachers.
“But we’re working on it,” Sablan said. “I’m just an average chess player, but I enjoy helping these kids. … It’s going to be like soccer. Instead of physical, it’s the mind.”
Ryan said Kasparov was swayed by his commitment to growing youth and women’s chess, but added the donation may have been in part to help net his vote.
Kasparov is planning to run for president of FIDE later this year, and Guam’s vote counts as much as the other 181. Ryan said the Guam Chess Federation was planning to side that way regardless.
Change is afoot
The Guam Chess Federation has already started to see a change from its membership since the commitment of funds was announced last week, and it’s raised their hopes for an international tournament in Norway this fall.
“Before they weren’t that interested, now they are really motivated to improve their game,” Ryan said. “Hopefully we’ll make history there. You never know.
“You might beat a grandmaster.”