April 28, 2011

Chess in Iasi

Following the decision taken by Armenia to introduce chess in schools as a compulsory study object, the media begins to pay attention to the subject and wonder if this decision would have indeed a positive impact on children's education or not.

Just like with any other topical subject, mandatory chess brings with it positive or negative, but mostly cautious opinions. Where lies the truth, that's difficult to say right now. Kids are bombarded from all directions with an extremely high volume of information and no matter how much their parents would like them to absorb everything, some cuts are needed. We know that chess, as long as you don't turn it into obsession, has strong recommendations for a harmonious development.
The big question is: what should we cut from the curriculum to make chess a priority? Or...should we just add an extra hour?! Russell Hobby, the general secretary of The National Association of Head Teachers in England said: 
"No more compulsory subjects. It's about finding what works with each group of children."

Chess is a game with a long tradition, fascinating people of all ages and from all social classes for decades. Therefore, the next step came naturally: to make it available for everybody. If music, drawing, religion or any other sport is easy to have access to, chess requires someone with at least some basic knowledge. By introducing chess in schools, chess promoters want to make sure that all kids would have a chance to try it and to profit from everything that this 64 squares game has to offer. The other side of the coin would say: what about children who don't like the game?!
Some might argue that with any other subject there will always be someone to protest, to dislike it, so we shouldn't get discouraged and think about the majority. But I believe that the general view on this topic is: depends:)

It depends first of all on the country and its mentality, traditions, culture - "In Armenia the government is knocking at an open door. Chess is already so embedded in its culture, it's bound up in its national psyche and ambitions" - so it doesn't come as a surprise that chess will have its own deserved place next to math or chemistry.

It also depends on the support given by the local authorities or by the sponsors, to push chess forward.

But most important of all: you need people totally devoted to chess, who will work extremely hard to bring it into everybody's houses, to bring it back to the media's lights, to make it part of your consciousness.
For the moment, it is not a question of introducing chess in schools or not, but to make it more and more popular. And when the time is right, this dream of enthusiastic chess lovers will become reality.

I will tell you now how come that Iasi, my hometown, the second largest city in Roumania, became aware of the fact that, besides football and its gossips, something else coexist in peace: CHESS!

It is really refreshing to see that news from the chess world reach the newspapers, to see that media focus on us and our progress...I am proud of my city and of the chess movement which can be easily seen, either you are here or not. How did it happen? Not overnight, that's clear. It followed the steps I was telling you before, small steps, but always forward. Now bigger and bigger ones are made, thanks to a devoted team which never sleeps nor rests!

It all started a few years back, in 1992, when our current chess coach, Vasile Manole, has just started his career as a trainer and organizer. First, it was just a tournament for kindergartens, then he founded a private chess club in 1994, followed by a progressive and continuous chess movement in our beloved city and beyond. Being a project coordinator, with a PhD in Technical University "Gh.Asachi" Iasi, Faculty of Sciences and Materials Engineering and a respected professor, have not prevented him to bring chess to the forefront.
Working day and night, with a strength and dedication which I doubt I would easily find elsewhere, he formed children's characters, he modeled parental thinking, he taught us all that there is much more out there besides football.

This is my favourite picture, children are so expressive!
Iasi and chess in numbers:

  • in our chess club, Politehnica Iasi, there are currently 250 children legitimated; 
  • every year, at least 65 medals are won by our talented players, of which aprox. 20 are brought from outside Roumania;
  • 45 kindergartens have chess in their programs (there are aprox.60 in entire city!);
  • 25 schools have chess as an optional subject and in one school (B.P.Hasdeu 22), chess became mandatory.
To sum up, around 3000 children from kindergartens enjoy playing chess, plus 2500 from schools. And when I am saying that they trully enjoy chess, I know what I'm talking about. I've been teaching chess in the past, in a private kindergarten, and I can tell you we all had a lot of fun! Unfortunately, my schedule didn't allow me anymore to be their teacher, they need stability and continuity in their training hours, so I had to withdraw. This doesn't mean that they were forced to stop playing. In Iasi, thanks to the great popularity of chess, there are plenty of teachers/coaches/trainers who are willing to invest their time and efforts to spread the chess "virus".

I like the look of the little boy from the left, watching
with a bit of envy the trophees of his friends...
"One day I'll be there too!"

Winner takes all:)

Chess is growing exponentially, thus more and more people get involved. I was telling you before about the great, extremely active team, without which I couldn't speak now about the wide spread of chess in Iasi:

  1. Vasile Manole: a model for me in terms of hard work and ambition; he is also our chess club's president and vice-president in the Romanian Chess Federation, since 2010;
  2. Vlad Ungureanu: chess trainer in our club "Politehnica Iasi", President of Chess in Schools Committee, chess teacher and secretary of the Iasi County Chess Association;
  3. Vladimir Danilov: our national women team's coach, member of the Central Trainer's College in the Romanian Federation and chess teacher of course.
Besides working unbelievably hard, they are even playing chess, quite successfully, in the National Team Championship. A full life, devoted body and soul to this game. No wonder that now there are five more clubs in our city, plenty of tournaments, festivals and chess events, organized with different occasions. Not even one week passes by without journalists having to write about us:)

There are so many tournaments organized in kindergartens and schools, usually during their local festivities: intra and inter championships, finals, semi-finals, individual or teams, even international competitions. For example, the school which has chess as a mandatory subject, B.P Hasdeu (22), organizes every year the "Moldavian Cup", with children coming all over Europe to our city for playing chess!
Students have their own competitions as well, not to mention how popular chess became in all districts of our city. The tireless and relentless team is spreading the chess phenomenon to people of all ages and classes:
  • Every year, with the help of our City Hall and Mayor, they organize two editions for chess in the "neighborhoods", with five local phases. The first 10 qualify to the final, a very much wanted and awaited event! This idea had such a big echo that nowadays, the officials decided to introduce different competitions in all neighborhoods: basketball, football and so on; and chess was the pioneer:)

Everyone is tempted to participate.

  • Between 19-25 August, an international tournament takes place: "Mihail Sadoveanu Memorial", which is already on its 26th edition and part of the Grand Prix Series in Balkan region.
  • A big impact has the simul organized every year in October, with the occasion of the City Days celebration. And because in 2008 the city was celebrating 600 years of existence, 600 boards were settled in the middle of the main street, closed for traffic, for an almost Guiness record chess simul! Since then, the tradition continues until today and further: 2009 - 601 boards; in 2010: 602, with a huge success every single time. More than a million visitors come to Iasi during the City Days, an important cultural and religious center in Roumania.

Our club's national women team, involved in the simul:
WGM Iozefina Paulet (left), WIM Smaranda Padurariu (middle)
and me (right).
  • There is also a Grand Prix Iasi, which consists of five tournaments and the final is taking place in December.
  • From now on, children will learn chess in a disciplined way, thanks to the chess manual designed especially for the 1st grade. It is now translated into English and French and it is promoted in the European Union Chess Federation. Soon the second, third and fourth volume will be born, for the second, third and respectively, fourth grade.

Everything can be followed on the website: Asociatia Judeteana de Sah Iasi.

With such a history and experience accumulated over the years (more than 10 National Championships have been organized in Iasi), they went even further and now major championships of international interest will take place:
  1. European Youth Team Championship: 14 - 22 July 2011
  2. World Schools Individual Championship: 28 April - 6 May 2012
It seems that all their realistic objectives, they always took into consideration the economical situation, have been achieved. With the support of local authorities and with their good relations in the mass-media, maybe their next target will be, sooner or later, a dream came true:
  • Chess Academy: the ultimate goal of our chess promoters; A Chess Faculty in the University would also be great, having as the main target the formation of chess teachers, who will be able to teach later on chess in schools.
There is so much more to write about the chess movement in Iasi...I am emotionally involved in everything that happens here, it is about my city, my friends, my family...but I should stop here for the moment:) And maybe one day we will follow the footsteps of Armenia?!


  1. Very interesting and well written, Alina. In our age of fast consumption and longing for instant satisfaction, chess seems to be left to the few who have patience and perseverance. As far as your country is concerned, your modesty omits to give you the credit you deserve for promoting chess - well done!
    Regards Christian

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