Giant chess board bid to fight child obesity

Jason Kouchak enjoys a game of chess with Sciennes Primary pupils Tom and Abi Hossell. Picture: Greg Macvean
Jason Kouchak enjoys a game of chess with Sciennes Primary pupils Tom and Abi Hossell. Picture: Greg Macvean
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In the constant battle to get children off their smartphones and into the great outdoors, it’s a great move.

A large outdoor chess set to get kids interested in the cerebral hobby – while enjoying some fresh air – is proving a huge hit.

Unveiled yesterday, the all-weather super-size board could be the first of many across the city – and a new pawn in the fight against childhood obesity.

The board is the brain-child of chess enthusiast Jason Kouchak who has already provided a similar board for London’s Holland Park, has plans for another in Paris, and hopes one day to see kids from rival
 cities battle it out. He said: “We’re trying to get kids off their iPhones and their computers and outside where they can interact with each other face to face.

“The aim of the chessboard is to inspire and educate children.

“I saw these giant chessboards when I was in Europe and the children using them were all laughing and having a great time and I thought it was a shame that we didn’t have anything like that in Britain.

“After I set one up in London, I thought ‘why not introduce it in other cities?’”

The game, which will be available to use free of charge, sits alongside an existing chess table in the Meadows. It is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland.

Former Edinburgh University student Jason, 38, is believed to have donated the lion’s share of the £2000 cost of setting it up. Edinburgh City Council also helped pay for it.

Princes Street Gardens had been considered as a location for the board but the Meadows was opted for because of its close proximity to schools – including Sciennes Primary, which has a very successful club with around 80 members.

Children from the school were on hand to pit their wits against each other yesterday morning helped by Scottish Grand Master Colin McNab.

Classical pianist Jason said: “Giant chess brings an element of etiquette and interaction back into the game, and you can’t learn that playing chess on your phone.

“The purpose of this giant chessboard isn’t just to play the game, but for the players to interact with each other.

“It’s really tangible.

“A lot of great athletes, people like Lennox Lewis, use chess both as a means of relaxing and as a way of having some mental exercise.

“I really hope these chessboards take off and that people in other cities decide to set them up too.”

The weather-proof chess pieces, which were made in Scotland, will be kept in the park warden’s store room overnight and will be set out each morning from April to October.

Jason plans to unveil a third chessboard in Paris in October. He added: “I hope that at some point in the future we will be able to have children from the three capital cities competing with each other.”

The council’s environment convener, Lesley Hinds, said: “This giant chessboard is a fantastic addition to the facilities at the Meadows. I hope it will help bring the game to a new generation of players, as well as give seasoned players an exciting new way to bring the game to life.”

Chequered past of ancient game

Chess is thought to have originated in the fifth century AD in north-west India where it was called “chaturanga”.

In the sixth century it spread to Persia and a little later the Arabs learnt the game.

Chess entered Europe in about the tenth century and became popular in the UK during Medieval times.

There are references to Edward I gambling over chess matches and one of the first books printed in English was Caxton’s The Game and Playe of the Chesse, published in 1474.

By the 17th century it was being played by the same rules as today. The first chess tournament was held in London in 1851 where the winner was a German called Adolf Anderssen.