In fractured times, peace can be found in the unlikeliest of places. The battlefield football match between British and German soldiers on a Christmas day in World War 1 is a glorious example how peace, albeit temporary, can be achieved from a competitive game. Today, bridges are being built and peace is being made over chessboards.
In 2005, The International Educational and Cultural Services, Inc., a non-profit organization, established the Chess for Peace initiative. Started with the help of 12th World Chess Champion and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Anatoly Karpov and launched by former President and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev, the Chess for Peace features an annual tournament for hundreds of children from dozens of countries. Hailed as a success, it spawned other international tournaments, which promote peace and coexistence just as much as winning the tournament.
Over a decade since the Chess for Peace initiative was launched, Anatoly Karpov is still promoting peace through Chess. As part of Israel’s 70th birthday celebrations, Anatoly Karpov along with ex chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand took on over 50 children in simultaneous games. Anand took on 29 players and Karpov took on 25 opponents to help promote coexistence.
It isn’t just global disputes that Chess is seeking to resolve. On a local level too, Chess is being used to break down barriers and build relationships. This week saw the The Cops and Kids Program chess tournament in Chicago. Comprising of 140 students from 14 CPS schools, and 40 officers from different districts, Chicago Public School students took on Chicago Police officers, bridging the gap between the community and the police.
Chess builds critical thinking skills amongst the kids and boosted the self-confidence of many of the children. As well as having its therapy benefits, the children got to meet and build relationships with the police, which will hope to be continued and strengthened once the tournament has ended.
The Chess world has not been without its intense rivalries. The Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky competition excited a world in the midst of a Cold War. When the two played each other in Iceland in 1972, it was billed and publicized as a cold war confrontation, and maybe, just maybe the two meeting like that meant that the US and the then USSR did not have to meet on the battlefield.
So, in the fractious world we live in, with so many wars, it is not such a bad thing that all we are saying is give Chess a chance.