Sunday 31 August 2008

London International Chess Tournament: A Campaign

London has, at various times, been the absolute centre of the chess world. It's high time there was another world-class tournament in the city, in the style of the GLC tournaments of 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986. These featured an amazing collection of top chess stars, including Karpov, Korchnoy, Spassky, Larsen, Short, Portisch and numerous others. They were fantastic events and are greatly missed.

The Staunton Memorial tournament, which has been running very successfully for six years, has ensured we can still see top stars in our country. However, the invited players are from England and Holland; it's a fabulous event but there is still plenty of scope for a truly international super-tournament.

The main obstacle is the usual one: money. If sufficient funds are available then there is nothing to stop the tournament going ahead.

Grandmaster Raymond Keene been the driving force behind the vast majority of major British chess events for over 25 years. He recently wrote to Boris Johnson and Kate Hoey - the two people who could provide the required backing - but has so far failed to obtain a reply.

Here is a copy of his letter (sent on 19 May 2008):

Ms K Hoey MP
House of Commons

Dear Ms Hoey

First of all, may I congratulate you on your new appointment as sports commissioner in Boris Johnson’s mayoral administration. This is a splendid example of cross party co-operation for the benefit of Londoners which we can all unreservedly support.

Now may I briefly introduce myself. I am a chess grandmaster; I write regular chess columns for “The Times”, “Sunday Times”, “Spectator” (where I have worked for Boris Johnson when he was editor) and the “International Herald Tribune”. I am also a director of the Brain Trust Charity which has close links with the ‘Disconnected Mind’ appeal of Help the Aged. I have also written 130 books on chess and thinking – the world record. I was awarded the OBE in 1985 for services to chess and charity.

Recent evidence has confirmed something which I have long believed, namely that chess is an extraordinarily -even uniquely - effective remedy and antidote in the fight against Alzheimer’s and related dementia illnesses. The “Sunday Times” (18 May 2008) reported that in the UK there are 700,000 victims of such illnesses, of which a staggering 15,000 are actually below the age of 65, with some in their 40s. I enclose an article I have recently written for “The Times” about this which encapsulates some key quotations and cites the relevant research.

Chess is easy to learn and relatively inexpensive to promote. The UK Schools Chess Championship has around 70,000 entrants each year, and staging a game of chess between 2 players requires far less space and effort than putting on football, rugby or cricket. I should add that I regard competitive chess as a sport - a Mind Sport - and although its status is not completely clear in the UK, a very large number of governments around the world do regard chess officially as a sport. In fact, there will even be a trial chess event at this year’s Beijing Olympics. However one defines chess, this should not be a barrier to reaping its benefits. Chess is one game where there is no discrimination of any sort, whatever your faith, physical ability or disability; there is no bar against playing the game - it can even be played by the blind, and regular events are organised for blind players. There is also no obstacle to male and female players competing against each other. One of the world’s most respected and feared grandmasters is in fact Judith Polgar from Hungary.

Perhaps you may recall that from 1980-1986, the GLC funded a Major International Grandmaster Chess Tournament in which great names such as Spassky and Korchnoi participated. These were world class events followed avidly by every chess enthusiast on the planet. Meanwhile, in 1986, the GLC with myself as organiser even staged the first half of the world championship between Kasparov and Karpov, with the second half in Leningrad as it then was. This was the first time in the history of the World Chess Championship that two Soviet citizens had contested a title match outside the USSR. The prize fund was donated to the victims of the Chernobyl disaster and much good was achieved for Anglo-Soviet relations. The match was funded by the GLC, opened by the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, and closed by Former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan, thus maintaining the principle of political neutrality which chess has always espoused. For these events, we bussed in numerous groups of schoolchildren at no cost to themselves, to fire them with enthusiasm for the game, for which The Grandmaster Competition acted as a magnet and centrepiece. Recently a plastics firm donated 250,000 free chess sets to UK state schools, the kind of initiative which I hope would grow from re-creating the world famous star events we used to hold in the capital.

Indeed, I am writing to you now to suggest that we should revive the tradition of the Annual London Grandmaster Tournament. I am sure by the standards of many other activities that we could achieve gigantic value for a relatively modest outlay and we could associate this with a London-wide programme, which would also have national reverberations - to encourage more people to take up chess and thus arm themselves with an invaluable weapon in later life with which to combat dementia disabilities. I am also confident that the media outlets for which I write regularly on chess would be only too happy to offer their support in order to spread the word as widely as possible. Other papers such as the “Financial Times”, “Guardian”, “Observer”, The Independent”, “The Daily Telegraph”, “The Sunday Telegraph” and “Evening Standard” also publish regular chess columns and I know that they would all co-operate to assist in spreading the word.

Might I suggest that we could meet so that I can outline my plan for reviving the old GLC initiatives in this respect as well as outlining possible cost implications? My preferred route would be to invite you to lunch at Simpsons in the Strand so that I can explain at leisure. Simpsons, of course, started life as a chess club in 1828 and it is packed with memorabilia, including a chess board and pieces on which many of the great champions have played. I very much look forward to hearing from you so that we can progress this idea if you feel, as I do, that there is enormous merit in it.

With very best wishes.

Yours sincerely

International Chess Grandmaster

If YOU would like to help with the campaign to establish a new London-based top Grandmaster tournament then the first step would be to contact Boris and Kate and let them know. They both welcome the views of the general public and if enough people were to make their desires known then there is surely a chance that chess will be taken seriously.

There are several ways to contact them....

Boris Johnson
Mayor of London
Greater London Authority
City Hall
The Queen's Walk
More London

Telephone: 020 7983 4100
Minicom: 020 7983 4458
Fax: 020 7983 4057
By email:

Kate Hoey
The House of Commons

Telephone: 0207 219 5989
Fax: 0207 219 5985

Drop them a polite line; if a significant number of enquiries are received by them it is sure to dislodge a reply eventually.

Incidentally, GM Keene now has a new website:

No comments: