The UK’s largest chess event took place on Sunday 16th July in London’s Trafalgar Square. Now in its third year, the annual open-air chess festival saw over 14,000 people attend the free event organised by the charity, Chess in Schools and Communities, to promote and raise awareness for the game we all love.
After two previous years of scorching 30+ degree temperatures, the 2023 event took place under cooler conditions and thankfully remained rain-free, not that we’re convinced any of the 350+ chess boards would have been vacated for anything less than a deluge.
The highlight of the day was the living chess displays which have been the centrepiece of previous events. With actors taking the place of the pieces, they re-enacted some of the best games played by UK players, with GM David Howell on hand to commentate on the re-enactment of his game against Ivan Sokolov from the 2009 Staunton Memorial.
ChessFest also offered a ‘Challenge the Chess Master’ where the masters had two and a half minutes to the public’s five, with prizes to those who managed a win or a draw. The number of masters were steadily increased throughout the day from the scheduled four to nine to cope with the long queues that formed. It was a veritable who’s who of the chess world with GM David Howell, GM Gawain Jones, GM Luke McShane, GM Ravi Haria, GM Stuart Conquest, IM Andrew Martin, IM Harriet Hunt, IM Richard Palliser, IM Tom Rendle, IM Callum Kilpatrick, IM Malcolm Pein, WGM Katarzyna Toma, FM Tim Wall, FM Jonathan Pein and FM Akshaya Kalaiyalahan all taking turns. Even titled players, like GM Jonathan Roswon and IM Gavin Wall, who had turned up to spectate were co-opted into pitching in!
At the other end of the spectrum, one of the UK’s brightest prospects and the World U8 Rapid & Blitz champion, Bodhana Sivanandan challenged the USA’s own prodigy, 9-year old, Megan Paragua, in a match played live on the internet from Trafalgar Square and broadcast on the giant screen with commentary for the public. Although, ahead in both games, Bodhana lost the match 0.5-1.5 but captained a team of London Juniors to a win in a match played against ChessFest Liverpool – who were having their own outdoor festival at Liverpool ONE – Chevasse Park.
New for 2023, was the interactive chess puzzle competition organised by ChessKid starring the star of the online platform, FunMaster Mike (FM Mike Klein). All children attending ChessFest were given new accounts to ChessKid and given 10-minutes to solve as many puzzles as possible on their mobile phone or device. Hundreds took part, with the giant screen showing a live leaderboard. If the results are anything to go by, the future of UK junior chess is looking bright with some awesome scores being recorded.
To cap it off, Chess in Schools tutors were offering children and adults a free chess lesson in the Teaching Zone. Lessons ranged from how the pieces moved to the ultra-advanced nuances of the Accelerated Dragon. A total of 35 tutors provided close to 500 lessons throughout the day.
ChessFest also took part in Nottingham on Saturday 15th July and in Hull on Sunday 16th July, with the juniors from Hull emerging victorious in their online challenge game against London.
ChessFest will be back in 2024 and will be looking to build on this year’s success by bringing chess to more people across the UK.