Article by Roger Langen — Secretary, Chess Nova Scotia —

February 23, 2020 – Chess is a unique all-ages sport that is finally coming into maturity on this side of the Atlantic. Its Old World traveling ethos, of reason mixed with mystique, moved it slowly through the moils of time: from India to the Caliphate, Italy to England, until the shock of World War I caused it to recoil again eastward. Ethos is the gel in which a hidden art can thrive. In the social engineering paradise of the new Soviet Union, industrial imperatives opened the door of education wide, and chess entered in.

The test of value in the New World was out of doors: the frontier, the wilderness, the backyard BBQ. Indoor arts were confined to reading a map or darning a sock. If you couldn’t saddle a Knight, what use was it?

New cultural drivers have moved chess away from stereotypes of vague abnormality stuck on a lonely pedestal. Chess-in-education research, immigration, and the Internet have added value to perception and practice of the game. Cognitive science and artificial intelligence have employed chess as the fruit fly of their investigations.

A tipping point may well be the discovery that chess is not merely a game, but a healthful and powerful recreation for all ages. That it is a valuable thinking tool for the young is well known. What is new is the relatively high place it is given as a cognitive stimulus for older adults. It is second only to dancing as a defense against dementia, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (2003). Taken together, these age-sensitive points make of chess a kind of guardian angel for the mind.

Pawn Wise: The Atlantic All-Ages Chess Festival 2020, scheduled for Halifax, Nova Scotia, this summer, is organized on this idea. Chess makes and keeps you wise, and the evidence keeps rolling in, so come catch the wave! That is the Festival message.

Older adults (over 50) can choose to play in the Canadian Seniors Chess Championship, headlined by GM Evgeny Bareev (foreign players welcome, some restrictions apply). The Nova Scotia Mayflower Open is for all ages and features current top seed, GM Dommaraju Gukesh, the 2nd-youngest player ever to attain the title of grandmaster. The tournaments then pause for the Scholastic Chess Exhibition, with GM Hou Yifan as the special guest. She will join seniors and juniors as they vie together in various activities and play formats.

Of special interest will be the evening panel, Chess Considered: Four Questions, where distinguished international scholars will offer a critical framework for thinking about chess. Their fields of expertise include game theory, the philosophies of music and sport, theoretical biology, AI, the treatment of addictions, and cognitive aging. The panel format will resemble a game of chess. Is chess a sport? Is it an art or a science? Is it calculation or imagination? Is it good for the brain?

Come and find out! Our Festival is meant to be an “experience,” where chess is discovered as both a game and a cultural phenomenon. Trophies are of artisan woods, handcrafted crystal, and fine pewter. Nova Scotia wood chess sets will be on display, each handcrafted and bearing the marks of our historical peoples and natural world. Various traditions in music will accent the Festival’s different occasions.

We say come catch the wave advisably. Nova Scotia is home to the world’s highest tides. Originally named Acadie, a translation of the Mi’kmaq term for “place of abundance,” Nova Scotia’s traditional (and occasionally troubled) history of Mi’kmaq, Acadian, Black Loyalist and Celtic peoples has lately seen an enriching wave of Syrian refugee and other global newcomers. It has created a new synergy that is driving a business and cultural renewal. The province’s 2017 Culture Action Plan calls for inclusivity, strength in education, creativity and innovation, and a renewed sense of cultural stewardship.

Pawn Wise is Chess Nova Scotia’s contribution to this call for innovation and renewal. We are well supported by the Government of Nova Scotia and the City of Halifax, and by private actors. There is a belief that chess can be established as a new cultural form in our province. Festival tournament host, Saint Mary’s University, one of six in the province, understands the recruitment value chess would bring.

The Festival is expected to drive three legacy programs. Chess at the Library is already in place, a program that uses the provincial library system to introduce chess to general interest. WaveLength: Chess for Seniors will connect older adults to the benefits of chess, aided by advocacy and seniors’ groups like Fountain of Health and Community Links. Brain Waves: The Nova Scotia After-School Chess Program will be offered to all schools in the province starting in September 2020.

We cannot do it alone, of course. Our Intergenerational Chess Project, as we call it, needs help. We ask Internet and other chess educators to identify suitable programs and materials. We are vetting some of these now. A program that speaks to young and old alike would be especially valued. The door to the classroom more easily opens if the grandparent is on board before the child.

We are confident that our Festival will be an unusual and rewarding event. No one need miss out. Thanks to, the event will be live streamed. But you may want to be there in person — to play, to watch, to contribute, and (maybe) to be a witness to history. For us in Nova Scotia at least, it will be a party — to welcome the long-awaited arrival of our ancient and beloved game.