Checkmate: Calgary high school students help kids learn about chess

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“What we’re really trying to do is make chess more accessible and make kids more interested in chess,” said Saim, 16.

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Calgary high school student Muhammad Saim has been playing chess since he was 10, but recently noticed that several of his peers haven’t had the opportunity to learn the centuries-old game.

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Despite his resurgent popularity, Saim discovered that many people had preconceived notions about chess, believing it to be a pastime reserved for people from the upper class.

That’s why high school student Sir Winston Churchill created Checkmate, a student-led group dedicated to making chess more accessible to disadvantaged youth in Calgary.

“What we’re really trying to do is make chess more accessible and make kids more interested in chess,” said Saim, 16.

“I grew up playing chess for quite a long time, I keep it very close to my heart. . . . We want to provide a way for children to play chess on their own, because most of the time there are financial barriers preventing people from accessing chess games or resources to help them learn more.

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One of Checkmate’s first initiatives is to donate chess sets to agencies and youth shelters in the city, starting with the Trellis Calgary Bowness Club last week on International Chess Day, July 20. This week they’re bringing games to The Alex, the Children’s Cottage Society and the YES Center.

Saim and his friends also aim to provide volunteer chess teachers to these organizations and coordinate a program in schools across the city to help spark interest in the game.

Chess has seen a resurgence of interest over the past year, thanks in large part to the popularity of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, which followed the rise of fictional child prodigy Beth Harmon to stardom in the male dominated chess world. Chess.com, a popular website for gamers, reported a five-fold increase in registrations after the show was released.

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High profile streamers have also started playing the game on online platforms such as Twitch, opening up chess to a younger demographic.

“With the release of these shows and many internet personalities watching chess in a more entertaining way, it makes people more likely to play it,” Saim said.

Saim also touted the ability of chess to instill in young people a more general set of life skills, including problem solving, analytical thinking and sportsmanship.

Chess donations by Checkmate are funded in part by the #RisingYouth grant from the federal government.

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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