The inaugural Chess Day in Iceland – a model for other countries?

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Iceland celebrated its first "Chess Day" on January 26th, the country's first GM and ex-FIDE president Fridrik Olafsson's birthday. GM Olafsson, who turned 77 that day, was honored at a reception at Bessastadir, the Presidential Residence. The day featured many events across all of Iceland, including simuls and blitzes in schools, shopping malls, swimming pools and at Althingi (the Parliament House).

By Gunnar Bjornsson

GM Fridrik Olafsson (born 1935) joined the world's chess elite from the mid 1950s onwards. His illustrious career included victories at Hastings, Wijk aan Zee and the Reykjavik Open (three times), beating four world champions on the way, Tal, Fischer, Petrosian (twice) and Karpov.

Fridrik Olafsson

GM Olafsson played significant part in the programs offered on Chess Day 2012. At Bessastadir, he played Iceland's newly crowned Under-14 national champion (10-year old Nansy Davidsdottir, one of the many promising young players emerging in Iceland currently) and simuls at the headquarters of the Icelandic Broadcasting Company, including its director general.

Iceland now counts 13 GMs, despite a population of only 300,000. GM Johann Hjartarson, who 20 years ago played in the semi-finals of the candidates matches, played simuls against MPs. Althingi has many notable chess players, including WIM Gretarsdottir, former president of the Icelandic Chess Federation. Another former president of the Icelandic Chess Federation is the chief political advisor to the Icelandic PM. So the words chess and politics are really intertwined in Iceland!

But the Chess Day wasn't only celebrated by the Icelandic president and MPs; 18-year old IM Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson, who had a breakthrough performance at last year's European Championship (including a famous win against Shirov), where he captured two GM norms, played a game against the people of Iceland on the Internet. ICC hosted the Icelandic Championship in 2-minute blitz.

Iceland's latest GM, Stefan Kristjansson and IM Bragi Thorfinnsson, played a marathon blitz match in a shopping mall in Reykjavik; another simul was played by Bragi's older brother, IM Bjorn Thorfinnsson, in a swimming pool, where he swam between floating chess boards. Playing chess in swimming pools is gaining popularity in Iceland (which is known for its geothermal energy and naturally heated swimming pools) – remember that famous Evans-Fischer photo?

The Chess Day was also celebrated on the Artic Circle, in Grimsey, which counts only 60 inhabitants. Grimsey is famous as being the beneficiary of a major chess gift from American scholar and chess enthusiast Willard Fisk, who helped organize the first American Chess Congress in 1857. Grimsey's own national holiday is in fact November 11, Fiske's birthday.

The Icelandic Chess Federation, together with the Reykjavik Chess Academy, and the Icelandic Chess School, organized the Chess Day. The Chess Day will be celebrated annually in the future.

The Icelandic Chess Federation is now in the midst of preparations for the famous Reykjavik Open tournament, which will take place in perhaps the most spectacular playing venue any chess tournament in the world has ever enjoyed. Among registered players are 25 GMs, including Italian GM Fabiano Caruana, who finished in 2-4th place in the recent Wijk aan Zee event.

There are very attractive travel packages offered with Icelandair. For more information about the Reykjavik Open, please visit www.chess.is.


Around the same time that we received this article by Gunnar Bjornsson, we read at the website of the Dutch chess federation that Secretary of State Fred Teeven is trying to create a National Chess Day in The Netherlands as well. He said this during the annual simul for politicians in The Hague, which always takes place on the first Wedensday after Wijk aan Zee. Tata Steel sponsors this event every year and last Wednesday it was Kateryna Lahno who gave the simul. (She won 24 games and drew 2.)

Among children who play chess, we see less truancy, less crime and less drug use.

said Teeven.

Chess teaches a child to be creative, to follow his intuition, to analyze, and to make decisions for which he is responsible. He cannot, like in team sports, hide behind the group or blame the team. No, he is responsible for the game he has played. He learns to deal with blows.

Teeven intends to make the Wednesday immediately after the Tata tournament as the fixed date for the National Chess Day. The mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, has already pledged its support for the initiative. As far as Teeven and Van Aartsen are concerned, the first Chess Day will be in 2013. (And because the 75th Tata Steel tournament will take place January 11th-27th, 2013 that would be Wednesday, January 30th, 2013.)

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