Sun, chess & fun at Trafalgar Square

by ChessBase
8/9/2021 – Britain’s first-ever outdoor chess festival, ChessFest, attracted 6,000 visitors at London’s Trafalgar Square, and featured a varied programme of fun activities, including live chess games with actors, grandmaster simuls, mass teach-ins and video shows. The organisers, Chess in Schools and Communities, say they would like to make ChessFest an annual event. Tim Wall reports. | Photo John Beardsworth

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ChessFest on Trafalgar Square – click to enlarge

Anderssen’s London ‘Immortal’ revisited 

Amid temperatures that reached higher than 30 degrees Celsius – it was the hottest day of the year thus far – chess fans and their families and friends watched a live performance by actors of the Immortal Anderseen-Kieseritsky Game of 1851, which many believe was played just a couple of blocks away from Trafalgar Square, in the famous 19th century chess salon Simpson’s in the Strand.

For seven hours, Trafalgar Square was taken over by every variety of casual and fun chess, with the UK capital’s biggest public square pleasantly full (but not crowded, due to Covid restrictions of a maximum of 750 people on the square at any one time), and orderly queues of chess fans forming waiting to get in.

Tag-teams of grandmasters and other leading players, including top English GMs Mickey Adams, Gawain Jones and Luke McShane, took on all-comers in continuous simultaneous displays in the sun-drenched square. On nearby giant chess sets, friends played each other, while impromptu teach-ins by professional chess tutors were underway in a tented teaching zone, and a casual chess zone saw hundreds of players playing friends and strangers with clocks alike with equal gusto.

The live games were performed on a giant board by 32 professional actors from the theatrical troupe ‘Bearded Kitten,’ with the theme of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the children’s classic ‘Alice Through the Looking-Glass.’ As characters from the Lewis Carroll story including Alice, the Red Queen, Tweedledum & Tweedledee strutted their stuff on the giant chess board, adding drama and pathos to the occasion, GM Daniel King commented on the chess action.

Woody Harrelson welcomes visitors

The first move in Anderssen-Kieseritsky was ceremonially played by the Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson, who sent a video welcome message to ChessFest visitors, announcing that his first move would be 1 e4. (Unlike in the first game of the 2018 World Championship match, where he played a practical joke, 1 d4, after Fabiano Caruana asked for the e-pawn to be pushed.)


‘We have to do ChessFest 2022!’

Chess in Schools and Communities CEO Malcolm Pein said afterwards that the organisers are keen to make it a regular event each summer, tweeting: ‘We have to do ChessFest 2022!’

London v New York & London v Liverpool

Also adding to the spectacle was an online match between London prodigy Shreyas Royal (above), aged 12 years and 6 months, and New York prodigy Tani Adewumi, aged 10 years and 10 months. The match was won 1.5-0.5 by Adewumi (who did have the advantage of playing from his home, while Royal was on a stage in Trafalgar Square, surrounded by noise and heat).

The first game was won by Adewumi with a devastating opposite-colour bishop middlegame attack, while in the second game, honours were even as Royal managed to force a draw by repetition in a rook and knight endgame.


Another online match was broadcast live between teams of Liverpool and London schoolchildren, with the Liverpool team tuning in from their own ChessFest from a city centre park and winning 2-0.

Outdoors Rapidplay for 150 players

ChessFest also included the open-air ‘Decode Chess’ Rapidplay for 150 players, played on Manchester Square Garden, also in Central London, on Saturday 17 July.

Gawain Jones (centre) concentrates while Christopher Skulte plays Michael Adams

The tournament was won by FM Marcus Harvey and IM Peter Roberson on 6/6, after GM Mickey Adams lost to Roberson, and GM Gawain Jones lost to IM Ameet Ghasi. Adams and Jones were among the chasing group on 5/6.

One notable feature of the tournament was the entry of several newcomers to competitive OTB chess who had previously only played online. One, six-year-old Kushal Jakria (above right), found himself playing England No. 1 GM Mickey Adams in Round 1!

Although he lost, Kushal put up a good fight. He had to have a cushion to help him reach the pieces, and received a crash course in how to use a digital chess clock. (Kushal finished the tournament with a very creditable 2.5/6.)

‘Alice: Curiouser & Curiouser’

On Friday 16th, two days before the Trafalgar Square party, a total of 200 schoolchildren from London, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Bristol, Gloucester and York took part in lessons, games and other educational activities organised by Chess in Schools and Communities. At Manchester Square Garden, kids’ tournaments and GM talks were held, while at London’s V&A Museum (named after Queen Victoria & Prince Albert) children were given a guided tour of a groundbreaking new exhibition, ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ with a new take on the children’s classic story.

Here are some impressions of ChessFest 2021, by Andrew Moss, London based photographer specialising in minority sports, location and street photography.

ChessFest was initiated and organised by IM Malcolm Pein, chief executive of Chess in Schools and Communities []

ChessFest 2021’s primary sponsor was XTX Markets, a London-based algorythmic trading company, and permission was given for the event to go ahead on July 16-18 by the Mayor of London and Westminster City Council under Covid (Step 3) restrictions.

For more info about ChessFest 2021,
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dlemper dlemper 8/10/2021 06:10
Playing chess you're face to face with your opponent 3 feet away. Not the same as briskly walking by someone on the sidewalk. Inside or out, it's ill-advised not to wear a mask.
Michael Jones Michael Jones 8/10/2021 12:13
@karvamudan It's in the open air, so any virus particles present would dissipate much more quickly; masks are only really necessary indoors where the risk of transmission is greater. Also, most adults in the UK are now vaccinated, although that might not be much help at an event when a large proportion of the attendees are children.
karavamudan karavamudan 8/9/2021 07:29
Most people are without masks. Forget about beating your opponent in chess. How did you manage to best COVID?