Double Rooks with Carl Jacobs
"Jamaican official tells of move to revive Caribbean chess"
(Trinidadian Guardian - 18 January 2006)

Efforts are being made to revive chess competition among countries of the Caribbean. According to Ian Wilkinson, president of the Jamaica Chess Federation, the intention, to begin with, is to hold three tournaments every year, one every four months, in Barbados, Jamaica and T&T respectively. Wilkinson, a promiment Jamaica attorney and one of the country’s strongest chess players, made the disclosure during an interview with Double Rooks which follows this introduction.

A graduate of the Norman Manley Law School, Wilkinson, 40, qualified to practise law in 1989. He has been teaching at the School in Jamaica for the past 15 years. He has served on the council of the Jamaican Bar Association for almost ten years and was re-elected JCF president for a second two-year term last year.

Wilkinson’s development as a chess player has been remarkable since he learned the moves as “an old man” six years ago. He was non-playing captain for Jamaica at the Bled Olympiad in 2002 and returned as playing captain to the Mallorca Olympiad, Spain, two years later.

Although he has beaten a number of top players including national masters, Wilkinson cites the draw he obtained against GM Nigel Short in a simultaneous exhibition on January 7 as probably his best result.

Wilkinson has also made chess history in the region by being the first West Indian to write a chess book, “Magnificence in Bled - The 35th Chess Olympiad.” The book which took nine months to complete speaks a bit about Jamaica and Jamaican chess, but, says the author, it mainly chronicles the events of the Bled, Slovenia, Olympiad with annotated games by all the Jamaican players and those from Barbados, T&T, and other countries around the world, especially those of the prizewinners.

“It also highlights the fact that Trinidad’s reserve player Ravishen Singh won a Silver Medal for his sterling 7/8 performance on board five and curiously, in using a cricketing analogy, mentions Brian Charles Lara’s epic rcord Test innings of 400 n.o. at the Antigua Recreation Ground against England in Antigua and Barbuda on April 12, 2004.”

DOUBLE ROOKS: How is chess organised in Jamica?

WILKINSON: Chess is organised in Jamaica through the Jamaica Chess Federation, the national governing body, that is run by a council chaired by a president. The JCF stages the national championships for men and women annually and also organises the national junior championships and an annual competition for teams from schools across the island.

The JCF is responsible for sending teams to the biennial Chess Olympiad and also runs a number of open tournaments which it is hoping to franchise to private entities.

There are several other organisations, primarily clubs. These include the Liguanea Chess Club run by NM Geoffrey Byfield; Five Star Chess Club run by FM Warren Elliott; Chess Enterprise run by candidate master Adrian Palmer and Kaspablanca Chess Club run by candidate master Markland Douglas.

Q: Fide representative Allan Herbert has commented on the lack of competition among Caribbean countries. What is your view?

A: It is very disappointing and unfortunate that there are no regional competitions among English-speaking countries of the Caribbean. For example, the Caribbean Open event has not been held for some time. We propose, for starters, that three international competitions be held per year, one every four months, in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, respectively.

With the involvement of players from other countries, for example Cuba, these events would provide excellent opportunities for our players to get exposure to strong international opposition and thereby develop and hone their talents.

Q: GM Nigel Short is now visiting the Caribbean. Do you know for what purpose? What discussions did he have with the JCF?

A: GM Nigel Short, world championship finalist, formerly number two in the world and reigning Commonwealth champion, said that he was visiting the Caribbean to assist in th development of chess in the region, particularly as he is the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Chess Association, a position to which he was elected in August, 2005.

While in Jamaica from January 6 to 12, as a guest of the JCF, GM Short discussed the future of chess in the region and particularly what the governing world body, FIDE, could do to improve the quality of chess in the region. He felt that FIDE should take greater interest in developing programmes.

GM Short also gave a wide-ranging speech on his chess career and had an informative press conference during which he highlighted the problems with world chess including corrpution.

GM Short conducted a simultaneous exhibition on 33 boards, winning 28 games and drawing five. He also had a three-hour workshop with the Jamaican men and women Olympiad squads discussing among other things, chess strategy generally and for the Olympiad.

Q: How is the Jamaica Olympiad team selected?

A: The national team is selected based on a combination of factors. Firstly, a selection index is used to select a national squad by the first of January each year based on the performance of players over a period of time, usually the preceding six to 12 months. Selection of the final team for the Olympiad is strongly influenced by the results of the national championships.

Q: How does the team prepare for this premier event?

A: The team prepares for the Olympiad by having coaching sessions headed by an official coach, doing exercises and playing practice matches and in tournaments.

Q: Who are the players on the team?

A: The team for the men’s Olympiad will be finalised later this month. Record seven-time national champion NM Shane Matthews and defending national champion FM Warren Elliott are likely to be among the final six players to be chosen. The women’s squad is headed by four-time defending women’s national champion WNM Deborah Richards and the final team should be Richards, Zhu Hui, Vanessa Thomas and Camille Casserly.

Q: What success has Jamaica had in international tournaments?

A: Jamaica has had some success at international tournaments. For exmple, NM Sheldon Wong, regarded by some as Jamaica’s best-ever chess talent, performed excellently at the 15th World Junior Championship at Groningen, Holland, in 1976. Wong, although he nver won the event, stayed with the leading pack and was awarded a brilliancy prize for his second round win against the Iraeli Nir Grinberg.

In 1991, former national champion Neil Fairclough won the Caribbean Open held in Jamaica and, in 1993, NM Jomo Pitterson won the Barbados Open Junior Tournament. Of note is that in 1984 at the Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece, NM John Powell, a former JCF presidemt, won a silver medal on board four with a score of 7/9. In 1990, at the Novi Sad Olympiad in Yugoslavia, Christine Bennett won a silver medal on board four with a 6/7 score.

Q: What contribution does the Government make towards the development of chess in Jamaica?

A: The Government makes no direct contribution to chess development although each year the Sports Development Foundation gives to the JCF what can be regarded as a stipend, sufficient to purchase a few sets.

Q: What plans does the JCF have for the new year?

A: The JCF has some ambitious plans for 2006. They include:

(a) Obtaining a lot of chess equipment - sets, clocks and demonstration boards.

(b) Implementing a programme to attract more female players.

(c) Organising the Jamaica Open Tournament in October 2006, properly to attract international players.

(d) Laying the foundation for at least one new international tournament next year, 2007.

(e) Launching the inaugural islandwide chess league competition for clubs.

(f) Establishing assoiations in most, if not all, of Jamaica’s 14 parishes to assist in the nationwide teaching and administration of the sport.

(g) Getting chess on the curriculum of a number, if not all, schools.

(h) Producing more chess literature.

(i) Increasing the popularity of the sport by planning and implementing a more aggressive public relations and marketing chess campaign.

Q: Any final comments?

A: If the countries of the region work together seriously, chess will devlop and improve rapidly with tremendous socio-economic, biological and educational benefits for the citizens of the respective countries in particular and the region in general.

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