Author: Glen Reneau, Tournament Director
Chess has come a long way in Belize, since it was first played in British Honduras during WWII. Chess was played long before the recently re-constituted Belize Chess Federation (BCF) got started in Belize in 2008. Its roots and playing origin goes far back to 1917. It was a much loved game in the 60’s, 70’s, 80,s and 90’s.
Being a player, administrator and researcher of chess, I did some research on chess in Belize, in the 1980’s. I found out that the game was first played by Ernest Burgos, Richi Cantean and Ignacio Reyes in 1917. No recorded games were left for us to peruse. At least I found none in my research. My research took me to Punta Gorda where I found out that chess was played there in 1943. Again, no recorded games were left for posterity‘s sake. While researching in Corozal Town, I found out that chess was first played there in 1949. The scribbled recording associated with a game dated 1949 did not help at all. I tried to decipher the text but to no avail. I sought help in 1989, but again was unsuccessful. However, I was able to confirm games played much later, and was able to follow the recordings. My travels took me west to Benque Viejo, and I found out through my research that the game was first played there in 1953.
There are no records of the Garinagu and Mestizos playing chess in our archives. I did speak to a learned Garifuna gentleman, and he told me that he didn’t know of any his forefathers playing and recording any chess games. Neither did I come across any Mestizos’ involvement in chess through my research.
The first known high school where chess was played was at Saint John’s College. It was a much loved game played by the Jesuit fathers and some students during the 1960’s. I was fortunate to have met several of them.
During my research of the period 1965 to 1985, I found out that several groups of players throughout the country played the game recreationally and competitively.
One of the earliest chess clubs to have been formed in the old capital was the Belize Chess Club, formed in 1963. Leading members were Manuel Esquivel (former Prime Minister of Belize), Gwendolyn Lizarraga, Lester Young, Dr. Leonard Pike, Antonio Cervantes, Karl Mahler, Ward Borman and Bruce Minnick. The members were a mixture of old and young adults.
In the year 1967, the King’s Chess Club came into existence. This club came about because some of the older members who used to frequent the Belize Chess Club, situated out at the Barracks, were being out-matched by the younger players, and the general feeling was that they, the younger ones, were getting better. So, three of the younger members, namely Robert Hinkson (now deceased), Santiago Montejo and William Reyes decided to form their own chess club known as the King’s Chess Club. This club’s existence lasted up to the year 1983. Shortly after that, the Belize Chess Federation came into existence. It received international recognition from FIDE, the world governing chess body. Also, it received local recognition, as the executive founder, the late Ricardo Aguilar, received special honors from the Governor General of Belize during his active years of service to the Belize chess community.
A few other chess clubs (like the Queen Square Chess Club) got started and opened their doors to members. They were short-lived for various reasons. One in particular kept its doors open right through to the late 1990’s; it was the Golden Scissors Chess Club. Two of its founders, Santiago and Cruz Montejo are still with us today. Its other founder was the late Honorable Remijo Montejo.
The advent of competitive chess came about during the mid 1960’s, and was a notable aspect of individual chess players seeking recognition in the chess arena.
The first high school chess tournament was held at the Pallotti High School in 1968. During this time, individuals from St. Michael’s College, St. John’s College, Belize Technical College, Wesley College, the Belize Teachers College, and the Belize Vocational School would challenge each other. And there were some serious clashes of the minds going on in those days. Literally war!
The early 1980’s was a quiet period for chess in Belize. This is not to say that chess activities were not ongoing, but they were not heavily noticed, since the country just got its Independence from Britain, and there were some uneasy feelings pervading the country. Also, chess, being sedentary in nature, did not receive any great appeal from mainstream Belizeans.
It was during this time, while I was employed with BTL, that I visited high schools in every district town and San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, teaching and conducting seminars.
On February 11, 1987, the Belize Chess Federation came into existence. Its motto reads, “For The Benefit Of All People”. Its executive founder was Ricardo Aguilar. The game of chess, acronym for Clearly Historical, Educational and Scientifically Suited for all, has taken root as a national sport and a recreational alternative to the host of societal problems affecting our youths. Founder, Mr. Ricardo Aguilar, envisions chess as a powerful social organization through which direct impact can be made on community development.
The former BCF organizational structure administers two semi-autonomous bodies, namely the Belize Chess Foundation and the Belize Chess Institute. The function of the Foundation is to coordinate the sale of life membership cards. The goals of the Institute include the teaching of chess to the general public, and the maintaining of a library to ensure that chess books are easily available to its members.
The success of the BCF has been the result of dedication, tenacity, commitment, patronage and sponsorship. The first Patron, Froylan Gilharry, Jr.; second Patron, 64 Squares, National News Magazine; and Brothers Habet have contributed financially and morally. With the advent of the BCF, a lot of chess activities got underway. It was like a shot in the arm for chess aficionados throughout Belize. The Belize Chess Institute played its leading role, and continues its chess activities right up to the CODICADER Games held in El Salvador in 2008. Then in the ensuing months there was an abatement of activities.
During the heyday of the Belize Chess Federation, it published a quarterly journal magazine known as 64 Squares. Its founder was the late Heliodora Valentina Alamina de Aguilar, mother to the executive founder of the BCF. This magazine was the forerunner to the National News Magazine. It did capture a sizable reading audience. A lot of chess news that was current and contemporary was written in those magazines.
Shortly after the BCF came into existence, a youth team was sent to Cuba to play in a tournament. A team was also sent to Merida in 1986, and one to Cancun in 1989. Later, a team from St. John’s College was sent to Puerto Rico to participate in the Caribbean Games. Mr. Manuel Bautista, Belize’s first official to FIDE, attended the 61st Chess Congress held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (Novi Sad).
The BCF did participate in the World Youth Chess Festival for Peace in Warsaw, Poland in July of 1991. The Belize Youth Chess Association Coordinator Mr. Cruz Montejo was very instrumental in coordinating activities for the youths in Belize during the active life of the BCF.
Our Women’s Representative and Chairman of the Chess Foundation, Dr. Isabel Tun attended many international activities on behalf of the BCF.
During the period 1987 to 2008, the BCF conducted over 150 chess tournaments throughout the country. This number includes the high schools. The Belize Chess Foundation did fundraising for the BCF tournament activities.
( To be continued in the next issue of the AMANDALA)