“The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will be not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people.” – Excerpt from a speech delivered by US President Lyndon B Johnson on March 31, 1968, Washington, DC.
That is the identical message which President David Granger has been promulgating to listening ears since he assumed office one month ago almost to the day. Undoubtedly, he has recognized there is maximum strength in uniting a nation’s people. The coalition demonstrated the point successfully by amassing the winning numbers a month ago when it mattered. History teaches us that the progress of a people is measured by its unity of purpose. Altogether, can the ancient game of chess assist this cause? On a long-term basis, I believe that it can.
Chess is a relatively a new game to Guyana, although it had been played for decades at Queen’s College and to a somewhat lesser extent at St Stanislaus College and Central High School during the 1930s. The royal game never became popular. It has been closeted. Its difficulty was, and is, that it was never filtered down to the masses in a practical sense on a structured and permissible basis. And surprisingly, competitive chess was played for well over a century in Guyana. At first there was the Demerara Chess Club which was founded in 1898. Guyana’s national chess player during the late 1970’s Michael Shahoud, penned in his article “A History of Chess in Guyana” which was published in the local Ajedrez magazine, that Hopkinson, Veecock, Osborn, Weeks, Cunningham and Moore were the founding fathers of the Demerara Chess Club. I happen to recall also, I received a chess puzzle which was published in the Argosy newspaper of the mid 1930s. The Demerara Club and the Argosy did exactly what the current Sunday Stabroek chess column is attempting to do today, and that is, promoting the game for the benefit of our people. Regrettably, chess continues to be dwarfed by cricket, football, athletics and rugby to name some alternative sporting disciplines. We can argue that chess never became popular in juxtaposition to other sports because it is not a spectator game. But the fault I would say, lies not in our stars, but in the management of our Guyana Chess Federation’s affairs. It is possible for us to cultivate chess to challenge other prominent chess-playing nations. It is feasible. I guarantee we can do better with this unusually rich board game.
At this modern hour, as the clock strikes thirteen, to borrow a phrase from the inimitable George Orwell, everything seems to be at our fingertips in the age of computerization. We can play chess without knowing and seeing our opponents. We can play for fun in each other’s homes, or at the Bourda Mall as some players do. We can replay games from newspapers and magazines and muse over weekly chess puzzles whenever we have the time to do so. It’s an exciting time now for the promotion of the game. The Federation has to stimulate our people to utilize all of the possibilities which are available to us, while officialdom can create an acceptable structure which would facilitate such exercises.
It is evident that chess has its persistent difficulties in relation to engaging the masses. But I adhere to my personal philosophy that over time, strategically, we can seek the unity we desire by taking the game of chess to the school system as it was done, and is being done in other countries. One respectful suggestion is that we can consider a sprinkling of pilot schools to make this happen and ensure a structured approach is implemented. By so doing, I remain confident that united, we can create a more intelligent nation, a just nation and a stronger nation.