Chess in Schools in the Alsterufer tournament

3/4/2013 – Over fifty years ago chess loving school teachers in Hamburg, Germany, created a giant tournament. It started with 160 students and reached a record of 3600 in the giant tournament hall. One team traditionally plays against remote opponents – this time it was a class from Wembley, England. The event was supported by Barcleycard, which is getting involved in Chess in Schools.

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The Alsterufer tournament

This event, which was first held in 1958, is called "Rechtes gegen Linkes Alsteruferturnier" (right vs left bank of the Alster). That has geographic reasons. The Alster is a river and lake that runs through the city, and there is a sporting rivalry between schools on each side of the dividing line.


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The first edition of the Alsterufer tournament mobilised 160 students from Hamburg schools. This number kept growing, until in 1988 a record of 3600 students was reached. The tournament was and is staged by the Hamburg school authorities together with the Hamburg Chess Federation. The teachers are used to keeping track of the whereabouts of their pupils, and so we know today that a total of 92,534 have participated in the event; the Chess Federation is used to keeping scores, so we know that the left bank is leading in the overall score, which is currently 22,563:21,907.

This year the flu decimated the attendance, as many chess playing students were sick in bed and could not come to the giant Congress Center where the event was held. A total of 2608 made it, and the atmosphere was as enthusiastic as ever. There were also guest teams, like this one from the the Twickenham Preparatory School in London.

The battles are under way, with teams from different schools playing each other

The Twickenham Preparatory School team, who were trained by GM Daniel King and
(probably as a consequence) won their match against the strong Hamburg Johanneum

Hamburg vs Wembly – the Barclaycard challenge

A recent innovation of the Alsterufer tournament is that one of the schools plays against remote opponents via the Internet – specifically using the services of Playchess.com. This time it was the Barham Primary School in Wembley (London) that took on the Hamburg school team. The encounter was organised by Malcolm Pein of London Chess Classic fame and supported by Barclaycard in England.

The team playing the Internet match does it on the stage in the hall

The moves from Hamburg are relayed to London using the Playchess software

The opponents from the Barham Primary School in Wembley

Malcolm Pein and Barclaycard CEO David Chan follow the action (eagle eyes will
spot German GM Helmut Pfleger in the background to the left of Malcolm)

The Barham Primary School chess kids – the team lost their match to the Hamburg
Genslerstrasse School, trained by Björn Lengwenus (see below)

Barclaycard CEO David Chan, who is a supporter of Chess in Schools

Chess in Schools with Fritz and Chesster

This year's Alsterufer event was very special for the chief organiser, Björn Lengwenus – who was running it for the thirtieth time! He is a pioneer for chess in schools in Hamburg, and his school in the Genslerstraße has become a model for this enterprise. Björn is also the brains behind the program Fritz and Chesster, which is used to teach elementary students the rules of the game.

You can read about the award-winning Fritz and Chesster series here, and follow the links at the bottom of the report for further information. It is a chess adventure, designed to teach young children how to move the pieces and then to advance their chess skills, move by move. The program contains mini-games, brain-twisters and other attractive diversions.

Chesster's flea circus

The tin can alley

In the end the students know everything they need in order to adopt chess as a hobby, including openings, tactics, diversion, interruption, removing the defender, recognizing mates, key squares, endgames, the use of chess clocks, and lots more. A good percentage of children who have gone through the program wind up playing in their local chess clubs and in regional chess tournaments.

Björn Lengwenus with the Minister for Culture in Lower Saxony, Dr. Bernd Althusmann,
whohas helped initiate a Chess in Schools program in his state south of Hamburg

Althusmann being lobbied for Chess in Schools by Garry Kasparov last September

The beauty of the Lengwenus Fritz and Chesster method is that it provides three years of instructional material and requires no prior chess training of the teacher. Hundreds of them have already experienced the delight of learning chess together with their students. The school authorities of Hamburg and Lower Saxony are already using it quite vigorously, and international companies are interested in promoting the method on a far wider scale. Fritz and Chesster, which is currently Windows based, will soon be available for all platforms – Mac, browsers, iPad, Android, etc. Stand by, the revolution is coming!

Try Fritz and Chesster on your children, nephews, nieces. It is billed as suitable for eight year and older,
but we have experimented with four and three-year-olds – with extraordinary results

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