Russia-bound to make their moves
Miki Perkins
April 7, 2009

ON THE plains of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, which straddles the vast steppe region of south-eastern Europe, chess is everything.

The head of this tiny republic is also the president of the World Chess Federation, and has spent much of his considerable fortune promoting chess to his people. President Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov has decreed chess compulsory in primary schools and has built a “Chess City” complex to host international competitions in the suburbs of the capital, Elista.

Kalmykia is the only place in the world where chess is on prime-time television.

This week seven students from the Geelong Grammar chess club will visit Chess City to learn from the world’s best.

History teacher Justin Corfield, who is going with the students, first played chess when he was seven, under the guidance of his father.

He says chess teaches students to think strategically, to concentrate, to learn from their mistakes and plan their future direction.

“It requires a logical mind and a certain amount of determination — unlike computer games, a chess game usually lasts for some time,” he said.

The Australian group will spend a week in Kalmykia playing chess with local students under the tutelage of chess master Stanislav Erendzhenov, a reservist for one of the Russian teams in the recent Chess Olympiad.

Geelong Grammar chess captain Jack Walker, 16, was taught to play at the age of five by his grandfather, who told him it was a game taught to princes and kings to sharpen their war strategies.

“It has given me the skill to interpret different situations, look ahead and consider the variables in life,” he said.

“History always shows post-World War I Russia to be a dark and a scary place. This is a chance to see what it’s like in real life.”


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