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Chess obsessed: Key Nova Scotia chess players igniting interest in the hobby

Girl playing chess.
“Chess is great fun; it’s actually not difficult to learn to play." - 123RF Stock Photo

As the president of Chess Nova Scotia (CNS), Ken Cashin works tirelessly to impart his passion for chess to others.

“Chess is great fun; it’s actually not difficult to learn to play. There’s practically no equipment or start-up costs; you just set up the pieces, play and enjoy. It’s true learning to play chess well takes some effort, but it’s a highly rewarding endeavour.”

Roger Langen, secretary of CNS, can attest to this. He’s been playing chess since 1967, when he was a first-year student at Memorial University in N.L.

“What I most enjoy about chess is its deep resemblance to music. Others will say mathematics. To me, it’s all the same: the power of certain logics to represent the beauty of the world. I prefer the comparator of music, as chess and music are both compositional forms of expression.”

Roger Langen is the shrewd secretary of Chess Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Roger Langen is the shrewd secretary of Chess Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

Recognized as a sport by the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance, interest in chess is advancing due to the goals of CNS and the Nova Scotia Scholastic Chess Association (NSSCA). The two teams work in tandem to promote chess as a recreation and sport for Nova Scotians of all ages.

CNS’s mission is to support the learning, competition and enjoyment of chess through programs, clubs, tournaments and special projects. Momentum had been building with Pawn Wise: The Atlantic All-Ages Chess Festival, which was set to take place in Halifax this summer. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be rescheduled for next summer. (It’s expected Saint Mary’s University and the Halifax Central Library will host the tournaments and special event sites).

Noting that although there’s disappointment Pawn Wise was toppled over, they’re looking at the postponement as an opportunity, not a setback.

“We now have another whole year to plan for it,” explains Cashin. “We can try to confirm attendance of even more titled players for the tournaments and perhaps add new distinguished scholars to the panel event.”

Ken Cashin is the enthusiastic president of Chess Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Ken Cashin is the enthusiastic president of Chess Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

Embarking on partnerships is also proving to be beneficial.

“We’ve also started to work more closely with the NSSCA and the Dalhousie University chess club. We’ve also partnered with the Halifax Central Library to teach people how to play chess, so there’s definitely a new synergy,” he adds.

Roger Langen, right, wins the N.S. Open tournament in May 2019 at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, N.S. Also pictured is Ken Cashin, president of Chess Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Roger Langen, right, wins the N.S. Open tournament in May 2019 at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, N.S. Also pictured is Ken Cashin, president of Chess Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

Fourteen-year-old Jerjis Kapra, of Halifax, N.S., who will start Grade 10 in September, is playing a pivotal role in all of this. Described as being “chess obsessed” by his father, he’s the highest ranked youth player (under 18) in Nova Scotia, as per the Chess and Math Association (CMA) and Chess Federation of Canada (CFC) ratings. The CMA also lists him in the top 10 players for his grade level in Canada, as of June 2020, ranking him at number six nationally.

Jerjis Kapra was the co-champion of the Halifax Summer Open Tournament in 2019.CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Jerjis Kapra was the co-champion of the Halifax Summer Open Tournament in 2019.CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

Kapra has also been the provincial chess champion for his grade level every year from Grades 1-8, with the exception of Grade 5. He’s represented Nova Scotia nationally at the Canadian Chess Challenge multiple times and he’s the current NSSCA Grand Prix champion for the province, a title he won for the years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. Additionally, he’s the co-champion – along with Walter MacNeil – for the Halifax Summer Open 2019 tournament, which was organized by CNS.

He’s also had an opportunity to travel to seven of the 10 Canadian provinces for tournaments and chess has shaped him into the person he is today.

“Chess has taught me that winning and losing are part of life. Over the years, I’ve developed the skills to face defeat gracefully and to learn from it. I’ve also learned that your natural talent can only take you so far. There are no shortcuts. You must work hard, but the motivation must come from within. I apply lessons learned from chess to other aspects of my life,” he shares.

Jerjis Kapra has been the Nova Scotia Scholastic Chess Association's Grand Prix champion for the following years, which run from September-June: 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Jerjis Kapra has been the Nova Scotia Scholastic Chess Association's Grand Prix champion for the following years, which run from September-June: 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

According to Kapra’s mother, Farhana Kanth, the honorary director and chair of the CNS youth chess committee and NSSCA vice-president, chess has tremendous value.

“As the mother of two chess players, I know the long-term impact of chess on youth. Whether it’s gaining self-confidence, building logic and reasoning skills or promoting brain health, the benefits of chess are life-long.”

Enrichment also thrives on a social level.

“While chess isn’t much of a spectator sport, the kids have so much fun in between games. There’s a lot of laughter, friendly banter and camaraderie.”

Another outcome, which consistently emerges is a sense of unity.

Farhana Kanth is the dedicated honorary director and chair of the youth chess committee, Chess Nova Scotia, and vice-president of the Nova Scotia Scholastic Chess Association. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Farhana Kanth is the dedicated honorary director and chair of the youth chess committee, Chess Nova Scotia, and vice-president of the Nova Scotia Scholastic Chess Association. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

“Our events bring players, families and volunteers from diverse cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds together around a common interest, creating a sense of community.”

And in an era of great social and political upheaval, where justice and equality are at the forefront of these struggles, this reality is especially meaningful.

The potential to hone leadership skills also exists, and Kapra always rises to the challenge. He was instrumental in reviving his school’s chess club and volunteers with the chess education program at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax. And during the pandemic, he organized biweekly online chess tournaments that were well attended by players in Nova Scotia and beyond. He even has a YouTube channel, where he breaks down concepts and shares his skills.

And Kanth’s at the forefront of an innovative approach to incorporate chess into recreation in Nova Scotia.

“We’ve built partnerships with recreation centres and started offering beginner and intermediate chess lessons. The idea was to introduce new players to chess, to just plant a seed and see where it goes. Chess has a ‘nerdy’ reputation, so introducing it as just another recreational activity helps overcome that. We’ve been able to run programs successfully at the Canada Games Centre and Citadel Community Centre. They’ve been so successful, we’ve had waitlists. We were about to add new programs before the pandemic.”

She adds that CNS has had a wonderful partnership with the Halifax Central Library, offering drop-in chess sessions for several years. Recently, they modified the program to include advanced chess workshops to promote learning and excellence in chess, so anyone interested in improving their game is welcome.

Chess is definitely catching on and everything it symbolizes – from calculated moves to weighing risks, ramifications and repercussions – has taken on significant meaning and can be applied to the present as we adjust to life in an altered state of reality due to the pandemic.

As Cashin reflects on the enduring intrigue of chess and the dynamism it embodies, he muses, “Chess reminds us that we always have a move. No matter how bleak your circumstances look, there’s always something you can do, a move you can make, which will have a direct consequence on the sequence of events that follow. The idea is to develop a plan and make a move that leads to the most favourable outcome. That’s chess and that’s life.”

Symbolically, the opportunities for growth are everywhere. As Cashin emphasizes, “All chess games contain lessons. If you don’t analyse your losses, you’ve wasted an opportunity to learn and improve.”

Langen knows all about that, but far from feeling bitter about defeat, he always finds the silver lining.

“I lose all the time, but I enjoy what I learn from my mistakes. The infinite variability of chess means that I’ll be a student until the end of my days. And that feels youthful!”

The burgeoning interest in chess among a wide demographic has all these key players feeling optimistic. CNS and the NSSCA are making all the right moves, so it looks like a great win is on the horizon.

“The future of chess in N.S. is very promising,” says Cashin.

Fourteen-year-old chess champion Jerjis Kapra has a YouTube channel called Jerjis's Chess Channel

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