ChessFest Fun in Trafalgar Square

by Tim Wall
7/11/2023 – Whatever your idea of a traditional chess event is, it’s probably nothing like London’s ChessFest. While in most tournaments, the action takes place behind closed doors, accessible only to knowledgeable insiders and connoisseurs of the game, ChessFest turns all that upside down. This is chess writ large in the open air, performed in full public view, with mass participation the central goal. If you are in or anywhere near London, you should definitely pay ChessFest a visit. | Photos by Andrew Moss

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London’s annual chess party gets bigger and better in 2023

On Sunday July 16, for the third year running, thousands of chess players, from newcomers to grandmasters, kids to grandparents, and everyone in between will throng on to Trafalgar Square, London’s iconic central space, under the watchful gaze of Admiral Nelson on his column, and the Four Lions underneath, for a massive chess party in the open air.

ChessFest is organised by UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities, with the support of XTX Markets, a leading London-based algorithmic trading firm. The action takes place from 11 am to 6 pm, and all the activities are completely free and open to the public. 

At the centre of the carnival are live chess games, played out by 32 professional actors, dressed up in costumes as the pieces. The games will feature top British GMs Mickey Adams and David Howell, who are set to replay their favourite victories on the giant board and explain some of the finer points.

Crowding around will be chess fans – not just experienced competitive players, but also total newcomers, from schoolkids and soccer parents on a day out in central London to curious tourists eager to see the spectacle.

Elsewhere, there’s a Casual Chess Zone for hundreds of games, a Teaching Zone, where you can get a lesson from a professional chess coach, and the Challenge the Chess Master tent, where you can pit your skills against the UK’s top players in a blitz game.

Mickey Adams and David Howell will be joined on Trafalgar Square by a host of other leading UK players, including GM Gawain Jones, GM Ravi Haria, GM Stuart Conquest and IM Harriet Hunt.  

A key draw for young chess fans will be the Puzzle Rush Challenge with's Funmaster Mike, (aka FM Mike Klein), and a giant 12 metres by 7 metres screen will broadcast all the action on the square. There will also be ten giant chess sets for players to play blitz on, and a blindfold chess exhibition.

ChessFest is the brainchild of the CEO of Chess in Schools and Communities, IM Malcolm Pein. It first took place in July 2021 after the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, supported the concept and gave CSC the chance to use the whole of Trafalgar Square for a day. 

The event came out of the twin goals of popularising the game and organising an event safely during the Covid pandemic. The answer – to hold a chess party on the biggest public square in London – surpassed all expectations, with some 6,000 people taking part in 2021, rising to 11,000 in 2022.

Pein believes this year’s event will be bigger and better again. “The aim of ChessFest is to show that chess is for everyone, for all the family – children as well as adults,” he says. “Thanks to ChessFest, we’ve been able to reach out and introduce the idea of playing chess to thousands upon thousands of new people.” 

“Whatever your age, gender, ethnicity or background, and even if you are a complete beginner, we want to show that chess is for you.”

To attend ChessFest, simply turn up on Trafalgar Square on Sunday 16 July, from 11am to 6pm. Entrance and participation is completely free.

Useful links

ChessFest 2022 – pictorial memories

The main component of ChessFest was live re-enactments of two very famous games that are celebrating anniversaries: Game 3 from Fischer-Spassky, Reykjavik 1972 is celebrating its 50th birthday, while Game 6 from Kasparov-Deep Blue happened 25 years ago! 

The moves were given a dramatic interpretation by professional actors, accompanied by commentary and a 2D chess position being relayed on the giant screen

A raft of top players were drafted in to give lessons and simuls, including WGM Katarzyna Toma, warming up for Chennai...

GM Stuart Conquest showing his skills.

London’s iconic Trafalgar Square, at a shade over 52 acres, was perfect for a mass participation outdoor chess event - and plenty of sun! 

The Mayor of Westminster, Labour’s Hamza Taouzzale, made the ceremonial first move to kick off ChessFest (left), seen flanked on either side by ChessFest commentators, Chris Ward and Malcolm Pein, while (right).

 All day the fountains helped to keep the simul givers relatively cool.

With provision for over 500 people to play at a time and free chess lessons given by Chess in Schools and Communities’ tutors, both the Casual Chess and Teaching Zones were full from start to finish. Some visitors came a fair way, but can you spot yourself or any of your club mates?

Executive Editor, Chief Executive of Chess in Schools and Communities, and ChessFest supremo, Malcolm Pein, donned a mask to give a demonstration of blindfold chess...

... while Editor Richard Palliser mainly gave simuls, but also briefly held court in the Challenge a Chess Master tent.

Video impressions from last year's ChessFest

Tim is a FIDE Master, journalist, chess coach and FIDE International Organiser from Newcastle upon Tyne, England. From 1999-2016 he worked as a journalist and editor in Russia and Azerbaijan for such publications as The Moscow Times, The Moscow News and Caspian Business News. In February 2018, he organised the Northumbria Masters, resuming a series of international tournaments in the North East of England that he began in the 1990s.