Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, a legend in the world of chess, has just completed another visit to South Africa as a guest of Pretoria-based chess-in-education project Moves for Life (MFL). The objective of MFL is to improve maths and science performance in schools by introducing chess to as many schools as possible.
When Kasparov and his wife, Dasha, were first brought to South Africa by MFL in November 2011, they were shown schools where MFL had introduced its chess programme. The schools ranged from the topmost in the country to a privately run preschool in a squatter camp. The Kasparovs expressed their fascination with all they saw.
International research over many years, in many countries, has shown, without doubt, that playing chess improves school performance across the board, not only in maths and science. Further, the younger children start, the better. The MFL MiniChess programme starts with five-year-olds. At that age, brain analytical processes are still in the early formation stages and so the logic and analytical processes of chess make a major impact on a child’s ability to think in a problem-solving manner, which is useful for all other school work as the child’s school career progresses.
MFL also has a MasterMoves programme aimed at older children. Kasparov has said that, over the last number of years, he has felt a strong urge to bring chess to as many children as possible across the world. He referred to “my beloved game” and said: “I would like to see a chess set in every home in Africa.”
With that target in mind, the Kasparov Chess Foundation: Africa (KCFA) has just been formed in South Africa. The KCFA is based in Johannesburg and has formed a direct link with MFL. Kasparov has said that he wants to use KCFA to replicate the MFL approach in other African countries. He has said he needs to collaborate with MFL because he is not African and would not wish to prescribe to Africans. Further, he is unable to be in Africa for a sufficient number of days in any year to carry out all the legwork required.
MFL was very pleased to be able to convey an invitation from President Jacob Zuma for Kasparov to meet Zuma at his home. Zuma, himself a keen chess player, 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. Kasparov and Zuma then played some chess for the large press contingent that had assembled at The Presidency.
While in South Africa, Kasparov played two simultaneous games, each 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. I was amused to see some, who had no chess boards or chess books to sign, just say: “Sign my shirt.” He did. Kasparov seemed particularly charmed to shake the hands of very small children and said: “Welcome to the game of chess.” Many mothers and fathers brought their children to be photographed with Kasparov. Bodyguards 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. My fellow trustees and I felt quite guilty that 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 in their schools. The intention is that the MFL and KCFA partnership will be the route.
Before flying back to Moscow, the Kasparovs expressed their appreciation for the reception they received in South Africa. Certainly, many South Africans were inspired by having met the enthusiastic couple.