Jamie Ritblat: Bringing Chess to Young People Across the UK

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    Delancey Real Estate’s founder and chairman Jamie Ritblat oversees one of the company’s longest running sponsorships, the Delancey Schools’ Chess Challenge, the world’s largest youth chess tournament. This article will look at the work of UK Chess Challenge and Chess in Schools and Communities, two UK organisations created to encourage children to play chess – a game that has been shown to have many benefits for young people.

    Thanks to Jamie Ritblat’s support, which started in 2011, the UK Chess Challenge has grown to become the largest chess tournament in the world for children. Over the span of the organisation’s lifetime, some of its participants have developed from beginners to full England internationals. Totalling £348,000, with a similar amount of resources directed from his businesses, Jamie Ritblat’s donations have enabled more than 500,000 5-to-18-year-olds to participate in this unique event, which attracts young people from every corner of the UK.

    Run by Sarah and Alex Longson, UK Chess Challenge is a family-run organisation launched with the aim of inspiring a generation of children, building their confidence, resilience, empathy and critical thinking skills by helping them to learn and play chess. A member of the English Ladies international team and former British Ladies Champion, Sarah Longson serves as the organisation’s Head Coach, personally overseeing classes. Meanwhile, former England Junior international team member and FIDE Master Alex Longson manages the organisation’s back office processes, as well as writing bespoke material for UK Chess Challenge. In addition to presenting chess tournaments and competitions, UK Chess Challenge also offers group and one-to-one coaching services.

    Jamie Ritblat has also been  a sponsor of Chess in Schools and Communities, a UK charity created with the mission of improving children’s social development and educational outcomes by introducing them to chess. Founded in 2009, the organisation teaches in more than 200 schools each week, supporting 1,500 more nationwide. All of these schools are state schools, primarily those falling within the Index of Multiple Deprivation’s bottom quartile. Jamie Ritblat’s support has largely been directed towards three deprived London boroughs, namely Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham, where his encouragement and funding has engendered participation in the game across all sections of the community in schools, libraries and community centres.

    Chess in Schools and Communities is committed to empowering children through chess, the world’s oldest game. Recognising the importance of extra-curricular activities in helping young people to develop soft skills and increase social mobility, the organisation supports schools across the UK, providing teaching, training, equipment and more. 47,500 children will benefit from the scheme this year, with 97% of school staff attesting that chess has helped to improve the thinking skills of their pupils.

    Playing chess has numerous cognitive benefits for children and young people, giving the brain a rigorous, exhilarating workout. Exercising both sides of the brain, chess helps to boost logic, critical thinking and creativity, requiring players to think through different scenarios and keep one step ahead of the game by strategising potential moves and alternatives, along with predicting the outcomes of each possibility. A study by the American Chess School in Pennsylvania suggested that children who play chess score approximately 13% higher in critical thinking and 35% higher in creative thinking when compared with peers who play computer games.

    Chess also helps to increase memory and concentration, with studies revealing that young people who play chess regularly benefit from improved visual memory. Chess also encourages children to maintain concentration, incentivising them to focus while playing.

    A game of problem solving, strategy and foresight, chess requires opponents to think through changing variables and formulate plans based on different possibilities, helping to hone very  valuable life skills. It also requires participants to use cognitive functions such as thinking, analysis, decoding and comprehension, all of which are skills required for reading. According to Brain Blox, studies show that children who play chess score 10% higher in reading tests than children who do not play chess, on average.

    In addition to the cognitive benefits, playing chess coaxes children away from their digital devices and encourages them to connect with others, which has been shown to have a positive impact on overall brain health – building human connection via healthy competitive play.

    To win a game of chess, the player must have the ability to predict multiple possibilities and outcomes, helping them to formulate a successful plan. They must visualise various different scenarios, plotting where they need to position their pieces to block, trap or capture their opponent’s piece, with the ultimate goal of capturing their opponent’s king. In order to achieve this objective, patience and planning are crucial, with the game imparting life skills that are not only crucial in the game but very valuable in the wider world.