Belize National Chess Olympiad and the National Youth Foundation

David Coombs and his Chess Club playing a championshipThe 2013 National Chess Olympiad, organized and sponsored by the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation supported by Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge was another exciting and dramatic event in the life of the young chess players of Belize.  160 chess players, 50 volunteers working as coaches, tournament directors, puzzle directors and mentors travelled from the North, South East and West, some leaving home at 3.00am to arrive by 7.30 to start the big day.

The 28 players from each district had to compete in a district tournament to qualify for the National Olympiad and we consider them all winners before they even arrive in Belmopan.  Some players have actually started their own chess club at school with minimal guidance, assisted by weekly visits from a travelling chess coach they have worked hard to raise their level of play to reach the national final.

More than Chess….

Dance Celebration in BelizeThe day is not just about chess, we had kite making with Mr. Hyde, the expert and kite enthusiast who had enough materials for 100 kites prepared.  A big thanks to the Taiwanese embassy for sponsoring the kite making again this year.  Puzzles are always a favorite activity, we keep the children busy with fun activities throughout the day, also posters were created with a wildlife theme of ‘Only capture in chess, leave Wildlife free’.

The grand opening ceremony is a blast of sound and colour, with a marching band, a local Garifuna traditional drumming group accompanying the 38 teams as they march in with their hand made banners.  They all receive a participation medal, presented by the leading volunteers from each district to start the day off with a show of unity.

Belize Chess for Children organized by age groupOrganized by Age Group

Then the chess begins, each player playing in their age group and 5 hard fought games.  The whole tournament is controlled using the international ‘swiss’ program that pairs players according to well established rules.  675 games were played and at the end, although the individual section winners were clear, we had a tie in the team competition, 15 point each for the Undefeated Kings from Orange Walk and the Sho Time team from Stann Creek.  So the two teams selected one player to play a rapid 5 minute game to decide the winner, a dramatic playoff resulted in Sho Time winning the team trophy.

What chess means to the players

Belize Chess Players at their competitionThere were lots of interviews during the day, the players describe why chess is such a great activity, it is fun, develops all kinds of positive social skills and as studies all around the world have shown, chess is really good for academic development.  One of our very active players said this of chess, (note, he uses some Creole in his description);

Errol Lock
“Actually the students themselves started the chess club. We had no teacher that actually knew chess. We had a chess book but when I was in standard five, I didn’t understand chess like how I do right now. Until Mister Coombs come and teach, I went into one of the classes and watch how he teach and how he moves and I get the moves them. He comes and teach us and then the advance players just teach the rest and let the others play from standard one—they start develop; watch how the older kids play and understand the game and so now they stat play. I never had no patience. If people tell me something I get vex. But now that I play chess, I ease down cause you have to think good then play. You learn to develop patience and kindness.”

More information can be seen on the website or on the Facebook page Belize National Youth Chess Foundation. Donations for this program are appreciated and required to keep this program alive in Belize.