Silent Chess and snow leopards (part one)

by ChessBase
11/11/2012 – Recently the ICSC (International Committee of Silent Chess) staged its 2012 Championships. Over 170 people from some 30 countries gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Christopher Kreuzer, himself a participant, sent us a two-part illustrated account. In part one he reports on the opening ceremony and provides video footage of an historic blitz game played by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

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Chess and snow leopards (Part one)

By Christopher Kreuzer

In September and October 2012, several England deaf chess players, representatives and officials travelled to the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan to take part in the tournaments and Congress being held by the ICSC (International Committee of Silent Chess). The event took place from 27 September to 6 October, with the main tournament being the 15th ICSC World Individual Chess Championship (an event held every four years). In addition to the Championship and the Congress there were seven other championship titles being contested, plus the 4th ICSC Open Individual Chess Tournament.

At Istanbul airport: Phil, Barry, Lewis and Des

Those who travelled there from England were myself (Christopher Kreuzer), Lewis Martin, Barry David, Desmond Masterson, Phillip Gardner, and Michael Freund. Phillip and Michael were there as part of the ICSC committee, while Lewis had qualified as the England representative in the main event. Barry and I were there to compete in the Open, and Des was representing England in the 2nd ICSC World Individual Deaf-Blind Chess Championship. We flew from London Gatwick via Istanbul.

Russian national team at Sheremetyevo-2 airport before flying to Almaty. Moscow

Victoria Aliyev, Olga Gerasimova, Julia Botalova

Our hotel and playing venue for the next ten days was the three-star Altyn Kargaly health resort/sanatorium on the outskirts of Almaty, set in pleasant grounds with foliage turning to beautiful autumn colours. The weather varied from hot sunshine to rain and cold overcast clouds, partly due to the nearby snow-capped Zailysky Alatau mountains.

Around 175 participants were present from some 30 countries

Other countries represented, along with England, included Scotland, Israel, Germany, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Spain, Belarus, Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the host country Kazakhstan.

The opening ceremony took place on Friday 28 September, with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov doing the honours. Much like at the Olympics, the representatives from each country lined up with their name placard, here carried by a boy or girl dressed in traditional Kazakh costume, and with a representative carrying the country flag.

Several speeches were made, translated simultaneously into Kazakh and International Sign Language (and vice-versa) for the benefit of the players and the watching officials. The Kazakh national anthem was also played. A report appeared later on the FIDE website. Other officials present included the Kazakhstan Deaf Chess Association President Burul Begakhmet, and ICSC President Michele Visco.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov speaks, with sign language translation...

... and in the end greets the participants in sign language

Traditional Kazakh song and dance – with sign language translation (left)

Later that day, the players and representatives assembled in the hotel in the playing hall for the expected first round start time of 15:00 (already put back from the original time of 14:00), though it soon became apparent that the event would not start on time. Lewis Martin, the second-youngest player in the event at 21 years of age, had been drawn to play top seed GM Yehuda Gruenfeld of Israel in the first round. The FIDE President was on hand to make the ceremonial first move in the Gruenfeld-Martin game, but in a surprise development he challenged the grandmaster to a blitz game. A large crowd gathered to watch this impromptu contest, which eventually ended in a draw.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov playing GM Yehuda Gruenfeld

Videos of the historical game

You can't see the clock times, but Michele Visco (to Gruenfeld's right) is signing the times to those who can't see the clock. Right at the end, you see Rafael Pinchas (the current ICSC Secretary-General, from Israel, like Grunfeld) leaning in and tapping him on the shoulder, possibly a signal to tell Gruenfeld to diplomatically offer a draw? Complete speculation! Still, you get an idea of what it was like.

Deaf Chess

Deafness does not impair or provide a disadvantage for a deaf chess player over the board, but different competitions and societies exist because in many countries Deaf people (the capital 'D' is important) form a distinct culture with their own language and identity. This led to the formation, within the wider Deaf culture, of national and international Deaf chess associations and tournaments. These include the Scottish Chess and Draughts Association of the Deaf (SCDAD), founded in 1902 and the oldest deaf chess association in the world, and the English Deaf Chess Association (EDCA), founded in 1972.

The International Committee of Silent Chess (ICSC) was founded in 1949 in Copenhagen (Denmark) and is recognised by the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). At the recent congress in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the organisation's name was changed to the International Chess Committee of the Deaf (ICCD).

Although many deaf people speak (communicate orally) and many use hearing aids or cochlear implants (several players in Almaty used them), many use no aids, do not communicate orally, and communicate mostly by sign language and written text. The sign language aspect is complicated by the existence of different sign languages around the world. In the UK, you have British Sign Language (BSL), and in the USA you have American Sign Language (ASL). At ICSC events the lingua franca is International Sign Language (ISL), which is different again. For deaf-blind participants, you also have a finger-spelling sign language.

Throw in different spoken languages, and you have situations like one where two deaf-blind players from England and Poland were communicating through two interpreters, in a mixture of spoken English and Polish, and finger-spelling and sign language, plus written notes (deaf-blind can mean partially sighted, not completely blind). Communication taking place despite the barriers that exist, which is very inspiring.

In part 2 of this account of the 2012 Championships of the ICSC (International Committee of Silent Chess), Christopher Kreuzer reports on the excellent result against a grandmaster achieved by England deaf chess player Lewis Martin. The snow leopard connection is revealed, along with annotated games, a list of winners, and photos of Almaty, Kazakhstan.


  • English Deaf Chess Association
    This website is aimed for everyone who is deaf, hard of hearing or deafened with an interest in chess. Everything you wanted to know about Deaf chess in England can be found here. The EDCA has magazines/bulletins distributed throughout the year to our members.
  • The Friends of Chess
    The Friends make financial support available in the chess world in ways which are perceived as making a difference. Given the wide-ranging objects (which are expressed as “to advance, encourage, support, sponsor and promote the playing of chess and all activities and interests concerned with chess” and which contain no geographical limitations) there is no limit on the type of chess-related activity that can be supported.

The English Deaf Chess Association would like to thank the Friends of Chess for their grant towards Lewis Martin's participation as well as contributions from our loyal individual supporters.

Copyright Kreuzer/ChessBase

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