Grand Master Garry Kasparov, a legend in the world of chess, has just completed another visit to South Africa as the guest of Pretoria based chess in education project, Moves for Life. The objective of MFL is to improve maths and science performance in schools by introducing chess to as many schools as possible.
When GM Kasparov and his wife Dasha were first brought to South Africa by MFL in November 2011 they were shown schools in which MFL had introduced its chess programme. The schools ranged from the topmost in the country to a privately run pre-school in a squatter camp. The Kasparovs expressed their fascination with all that they saw.
International research over many years, in many countries, has shown without doubt that the playing of chess improves school performance across the board, not only in maths and science. Furthermore, the younger that children start the better. The MFL MiniChess programme starts with five year olds. At that age brain analytical processes are still in early formation stages and so the logic and analytical processes of chess make a major impact on the child’s ability to think in a problem-solving manner, which is then useful for all other school work, as the child’s school career progresses. MFL also has a MasterMoves programme aimed at older children. Garry Kasparov has said that over the last number of years he has felt the strong urge to bring chess to as many children as possible across the world. He refers to “my beloved game” and said: “I would like to see a chess set in every home in Africa.”
With that dramatic target in mind the KCF: Africa has just been formed in South Africa. KCF:A is based in Johannesburg and has formed a direct link with MFL. Kasparov has said that he wants to use KCF:A to replicate the MFL approach into other African countries. He said that he needs to collaborate with MFL because he is not African and would not wish to prescribe to Africans, and also that he is unable to be in Africa for sufficient days in any year to carry out all the legwork required.
MFL was very pleased to be able to convey an invitation from the President of South Africa, President Jacob Zuma, for GM Kasparov to meet President Zuma in his house. President Zuma is himself a keen chess player and he complimented Kasparov on his interest in South Africa. In turn Kasparov thanked the President for his interest in chess and for his declared support for chess to be brought to as many schools as possible. GM Kasparov and President Zuma then played some chess for the large press contingent that had assembled at the Presidency.
While in South Africa, Garry Kasparov played two simultaneous games, each one against 25 opponents. One was in the SciBono science museum in Johannesburg and one in the civic hall in the township of Khayelitsha near Cape Town.
After each game the chess master was mobbed by people looking for autographs. For those who had no chess boards or chess books to sign, I was amused to see some just say: ”sign my shirt.” He did. Kasparov seemed particularly charmed to shake the hands of very small children and say: ”Welcome to the game of chess.” Many mothers and fathers brought their children to be photographed with Kasparov. Body guards had to be deployed to control any crowd surges.
The programme of events was such that between the large events there were always news reporters from newspapers, radio and TV, and journalists from magazines, wanting interviews. I and my fellow trustees felt quite guilty that GM Kasparov did not have much time to relax. We promised him that next time he comes to South Africa we will take him to see real wild animals, and also to experience the sensation of walking in the bush where animals roam. Already people in other African countries have made contact with MFL enquiring how they can introduce chess into their schools. The intention is that the MFL and KCF:A partnership will be the route.
Before flying home to Moscow Garry and Dasha Kasparov expressed their appreciation for the reception that they had received in South Africa. Certainly many South Africans were inspired by having met the enthusiastic couple.