chessfest crop

As England is in the grip of Euro 2020 football fever, another ‘fanzone’ is set to promote chess on an epic stage in central London, as ‘ChessFest’ — Britain’s biggest-ever outdoor chess event — comes to Trafalgar Square. 

FM Tim Wall, from the UK-based charity Chess in Schools and Communities, looks at the myriad different activities that visitors can take part in, and explains how the organisers are hoping the event will help to show that ‘chess is coming home’ to London.

If the home of chess in the 19th century was the famous London salon, Simpson’s in the Strand, where moustache-twirling masters deployed swashbuckling King’s Gambits, then ‘ChessFest’ is bringing chess home to its roots — but with an ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ theme that is more ‘Queen’s Gambit’ than Howard Staunton.

After more than a year of chess players having to either play or watch chess online, chess players in the UK are eager to get back over the board — so the idea of an outdoor chess festival, where everyone from beginner to grandmaster can take part — seemed a very fitting way to restart public chess activities in the capital.

With the rapid rollout of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities saw that there could be the opportunity to safely stage an outdoor event in central London.

So now, on Sunday 18th July, from 11am-6pm, ChessFest is being staged on Trafalgar Square — just a few hundred metres away from the old-time chess mecca, Simpson’s in the Strand.

ChessFest will be the first major public chess event in the UK since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020, as Chess in Schools and Communities’ traditional London Chess Classic — normally staged at Kensington Olympia in early December — was unavoidably postponed in December 2020 due to Covid restrictions.

The charity is hoping ChessFest will encourage a whole new audience of budding chess players (many of whom will have taken up the game online during lockdown) to enjoy an afternoon of chess over a board, with friends and friendly banter.

Inspired by ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’

ChessFest, sponsored by XTX Markets, is also being staged to commemorate one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’, who starred in a chess game of her own in the classic ‘Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There’ — first published 150 years ago, in 1871.

An ‘Alice’-themed chess game will be re-enacted on Trafalgar Square on a giant chessboard, with 32 professional actors each playing the part of a chess piece. 

As part of ChessFest, Chess in Schools and Communities will be taking 120 children from schools where it teaches children on guided tours of a ground-breaking new exhibition running at London’s V&A Museum, entitled, ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’.

Chess activities for everyone

There will be a mesmerising range of other chess activities for visitors to take part in and watch on Trafalgar Square. 

As well as casual games for the public and simultaneous displays by grandmasters, there will be free lessons from professional chess tutors for everyone from absolute beginner up, and the chance to play in the Unofficial World Giant Chess Championship — all free for everyone who wants to come along.

Adding to the fun, there will also be an Inter-City Chess Challenge match via live video link-up from Trafalgar Square, where a team of schoolchildren will represent London against a team of schoolchildren from Liverpool in northwest England, where a satellite ChessFest event will be staged in the city’s Chevasse Park.

Among the other attractions on Trafalgar Square will be a ‘Battle of the Prodigies,’ which will match up London’s Shreyas Royal and New York’s Tani Adewumi in a live internet match.

After what seems to many of us like a far-too-long break from OTB chess, ChessFest could also be just the ‘shot in the arm’ that we all need to get out there and play some chess again. It certainly looks set to be a great day out and a giant advertisement for our game.

For any readers in the London area who wish to take part, feel free to just turn up — no pre-registration is required. Come with your friends, and enjoy our very own chess ‘fan zone’. 

For more information:   

Chess Mentor

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