Check Mates

If you’ve been immersed in Netflix lately, you’ll have likely heard of The Queen’s Gambit, a series whose protagonist reaches chess-master heights despite all sorts of perils and pitfalls. A female chess prodigy who, to all intents and purposes, had a pretty rough start in life. The wonder of her imagination and will, along with gumption and determination, make for a beautiful narrative, conveying strength and stamina as she ups her game (figuratively and literally); the story unfolds alongside her mastery of the game of chess.

Photography: Oliver Doran / www.shoot.je

With the series taking the world by storm, chess has seen a huge rise in popularity. Coupled with the fact that online games of all descriptions are super-accessible (and most of the globe has been on lockdown for vast periods) and you have the perfect form for chess players of any age, level or ability to get involved.

In Jersey, chess has a popular following and for this article, we’d like to tell you about the youth team who have basically been handing out check-mates like smarties. We had the chance to catch up with Paul Wojciechowski and a few of the young chess players who have been gathering wins and obliterating obstacles across the board.

Paul Wojciechowski, Treasurer of the Jersey Chess Club is super-proud of the recent success, and the youth team as a whole… and we can totally see why.

“We started our youth training 10 years ago and are seeing the success of those efforts. Several juniors have played in the British championships for their age category over the past few years. Jem Gurner played this year in the British on-line championships and 26 juniors were invited to play for Jersey in the first Celtic Online Youth Championships. This is the first time our juniors have been invited to play against teams from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Several juniors have played in online International events and played over the board in the senior team in InterInsulars against Guernsey, some winning against their older opponents. Jem Gurner played in the Island team in the Small Nations Tournament held in San Marino in 2019 and he has also recently won the Island Championships and is the current Jersey Champion!

Our juniors are lucky to be given the chance to play in international tournaments and represent their Island.  Getting the e- mail and call from The organiser of the Celtic Nations tournament was a great moment for me as they recognised the strength of our juniors.

But it’s not all about the big tournaments and winning. I also get great satisfaction when the juniors I coach solve some of the more complex positions over the board, or you can see how much they enjoy playing. After all chess is meant to be fun.

I have to say that none of this would have happened without the time and effort put in by certain members of the club and the sponsorship we currently receive from FIDE (The world chess Association) Grant Thornton and SaSo strategic partners.”

Introducing Jem Gurner, (17) the current Island Champion… When we met Jem, he was totting up his online game stats, predominantly wins of course. We overheard the number of games he’d played; six thousand five hundred. And that was on one site alone! Jem, you see,  likes the fast-paced games of chess, where the players have to react with purpose and skill within a ten minute time frame. Yep, that’s right, ten-minutes to wrap a game of chess… Jem is something of a ninja at it. He’s also a highly intelligent mathematician, budding statical analyst, tech genius and well, anything else he sets his mind on to be honest.

“Lockdown has changed things a lot in terms of being able to access competitions that we probably couldn’t have otherwise attended. I’ve had the opportunity to practice and compete against some brilliant Russian players which raises my game and confidence. I have trophies from many Jersey junior tournaments and was at the time the youngest Jersey player to represent the Island in the inter insular, back when I was 10. The most recent trophy I earned and of which I am the most proud is the trophy for Jersey Chess Champion. In the 2019-20 league I achieved 10 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss against Jersey’s strongest players. Having started competing with adults in the 2nd division 8 years ago I was delighted that through my practice and dedication I was able to win the 1st division last year.

I’m inspired by the teaching of Grandmaster Simon Williams, popularly known as ‘the GingerGM’. The first openings I learnt were from his DVDs and online videos. Whilst showing moves he is also very entertaining, which I think is the main reason I enjoy his work. I am also a fan of Tiger Hillarp-Persson. I have met him in the Jersey International Tournament and he has provided excellent coaching on some of my games. I now play his opening, ‘the Tigers Modern’ and frequently look at his games to try to emulate the plans he goes for in various positions.

In terms of how the game helps me outside of playing; chess aids my ability to solve problems and think logically, which is definitely helpful in my school work. Chess has also helped me find a new group of friends of all ages who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Introducing Gus Weber (9) The UK Chess Challenge online Megafinal winner, he coolly came first out of a staggering 247 entrants; a spectacular young player with the presence of someone way beyond his years. Gus’ face lit up whilst talking to us about chess.

“I started playing chess when I was four years old with my Mummy and Poppa, Daddy doesn’t really play. My Poppa used to play without his Queen so that I’d have a chance. As I got better, he needed to play with his Queen again! I love playing against my Mummy and my sister – because I love to beat them!

My sporting hero is GM Andrew Tang, who is best known for playing very fast bullet chess online and streaming whilst playing. I love watching him play! He also has the world’s fastest brain. I also like watching world champion Magnus Carlson. I love the fact chess is such a difficult game to master. The hardest thing is trying to work out what the opponent will be doing lots of moves ahead.

I used to love the UK competitions, because we would have a weekend away with Mummy and Daddy, and stay in the Premier Inn! Now, all the matches are online, but I like that too. Because some people live stream, sometimes I still see the people I play.

At school, my favourite subject is maths and I think chess has helped me with that. Not many of my school friends play, so at school in break times, I usually play football. Through chess, I have made friends with Jem, and other older boys. Everyone is very nice, and gives advice and help with how I can play better. I like to play quickly – Paul and Graham say I play too quickly, but I hope that speed puts my opponents off their moves, so they can’t think. Some people prefer slow chess matches. I definitely like the fast games!”

Yasmin Forbes (12) is three-time Hampshire Girls Champion in the U8, U9 and U10; something of a silent assassin on the chess board. Yasmin is one cool chess queen; this young JCG student is a player to be wary of, that’s for sure. With her extremely modest demeanour and highly intelligent conversation, Yasmin casually dropped into our chat that her Great Uncle was a famous chess Grand Master – the game is definitely in her genes. What a joy to see some girl power from a young lady with wit, grace and prodigious skills.

“My dad originally got me into chess, he kind of played a lot when he was growing up. Aside from my dad, I really look up to Magnus Carslon, he’s a good chess player and speaks lots of different languages. Judit Polgar is also very inspiring – I love her story that her big sister was better than her but she took up chess and ended up being the best player ever! I think chess helps you think ahead and think about the consequences of your actions. It’s definitely great for making friends too, I made my best friends through playing chess, including my two very best friends. As maths is one of my favourite subjects, I know that doing chess notation helps with maths coordinates.

I normally love playing chess face to face, but most recently we have been playing online for practice and our competitions. It’s good as you’re always guaranteed a game online. I do really enjoy competing and am proud of my trophies, of all of them, I’m most proud of my first one; it was a huge gold trophy which was almost as big as me!”

We asked Yasmin if she’d share any of her chess secrets with us and in clever form, she responded with ‘I can’t tell you that as it wouldn’t be a secret anymore!’ – good point, Yasmin… we’ll take you and the rest of the team up on those chess lessons though!

IF YOU’D LIKE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE LOCAL CHESS SCENE CONTACT PAUL VIA THEIR WEBSITE WWW.JEREESYCHESSCLUB.COM OR EMAIL HIM AT PAULMWOJ@GMAIL.COM – YOU NEVER KNOW, YOU COULD BE THE NEXT JEM, GUS OR YASMIN! CHECK MATE!

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