Gareth and Andrew's gambit is putting chess back on the map - Nick Freer

The oldest surviving complete chess sets date back to the 12th century and were found on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland and, in slightly more recent times in 1882, the Edinburgh Chess Club became not only the oldest chess club in Scotland but one of the oldest clubs in the world.

Skyscanner founder Gareth Willams and Andrew Green are tyring to get more people into playing chess in Scotland
Skyscanner founder Gareth Willams and Andrew Green are tyring to get more people into playing chess in Scotland

While Scotland has a clear history of playing the game, arguably chess has lost its way in this country against its continuing popularity in many parts of the world. Enter stage left Gareth Williams and Andrew Green Williams the co-founder and longtime CEO of online travel site Skyscanner and Green the nation’s only full-time chess coach.

On Sturday an online chess tournament was staged by Green with the backing of Williams and saw more than 600 Scots kids from Dingwall to Dubai play in competition for prizes totalling £10,000, the largest prize fund of its kind anywhere in the UK.

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The aim of the game, so to speak, is to get more kids into playing chess in this country. Securing government funding would help. Most European countries receive public funding for chess in schools and the lack of funding is one of the factors at the root of the problem in Scotland.

Nick Freer is the Founding Director of corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

The benefits of the game to kids are well proven. Research points to the educational benefits of chess, including around cognitive and emotional skills, maths and problem-solving. And with chess increasingly played in an online environment without language barriers, it’s never been easier or cheaper to get into the game – no need to keep replacing the chess sets in the school cupboards when a bishop and a few pawns go missing.

From a campaign point of view, it has been great to work with Andrew, Gareth and the team to get the story out there and featured in the national media. The mainstream UK press hasn’t taken much of an interest in the game, to the extent that when the World Chess Championship took place in London in 2018 there was relatively little coverage of the event.

We brought in social media agency Sunshine Communications to support the campaign, and the Jenny Emslie-led outfit who have offices in Edinburgh and London have done a great job of amplifying the story via social channels.

Unsurprisingly, the kids were the real stars of the show, not least a ten-year-old from Edinburgh who has been putting fabled Grandmasters to the sword in competition play. On a personal level, I was pleased to get our daughter into playing the game under the expert tutelage of Andrew Green himself. With kids spending so much time on devices these days, chess can certainly be seen as ‘good gaming’ in comparison to many of the so-called shoot ‘em up games available online.

Some say The Queen’s Gambit has helped to put chess back on the map, and perhaps the Netflix series has made chess cool to those who didn’t previously see it in this light, but it’s great to see Andrew Green and Gareth Williams put real building blocks in place in the hope that they can help to grow the game here.

Nick Freer is the Founding Director of corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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