Never Forget Anna!
Ces dernières années, de plus en plus de pays ont introduit avec succès le jeu d'échecs à l'école. La clef de leur succès a été d'utiliser le jeu d'échecs comme outil pédagogique permettant de développer des capacités transversales chez les enfants. La question qui se pose est la suivante : comment s'y prendre ? La réponse est simple : s'appuyer sur la convivialité du jeu.
Jesper Hall nous parle de la "success story" à la mode suédoise de ”Schack4an”, de sa cheville ouvrière, Göran Malmsten, et de la tentative de créer une culture suédoise du jeu.
Tout a commencé par une conversation que j'avais eu avec leGrand-Maître Lars Karlsson sur le futur du jeu d'échecs. Quelques bières aidant, nous avons refait le monde des échecs suédois, imaginant comment l'élite pourrait gagner sa vie et comment le jeu pourrait acquérir un nouveau statut dans la société. A la fin, nous étions parvenus à des conclusions incontestables que Karlsson avait résumé ainsi :
“Il faut que nous créions une culture des échecs en Suède. Il faut que nous donnions une connotation positive aux échecs et nous devons si bien en convaincre que les gens que quiconque entendra parler du jeu d'échecs aura un sourire aux lèvres. Alors le jeu d'échecs se développera à tous les niveaux.”
Ensuite, aussi étonnant que cela puisse paraître, nous n'avons pas laissé tomber ces belles idées pour reprendre une autre bière, mais nous avons réalisé que l'outil parfait pour parvenir à nos fins existait déjà et s'appelait “Schack4an”.
Les idées ont tendance à naître au même moment chez de nombreuses personnes. La preuve, seulement un an après ma discussion de 2006arlsson, la Fédération Suédoise des Echecs annonça qu'elle voulait recruter un chef de projet pour Schack4an, pour développer ce tournoi à l'échelle du pays.
A mes yeux, il était évident que le travail de création d'une culture échiquéenne venait de commencer, ou, pour être plus précis, prenait une nouvelle forme. En arrière-plan de ce projet, on trouve en effet une "success story" régionale débutée à Västerås en 1979. Et derrière cette histoire se cache une force motrice qui a vu dans le jeu d'échecs un moyen de resserrer le lien social.
”Je vais maintenant vous révéler ce qu'est Schack4an.”
Le ton de la voix de Göran Malmsten, 76Schack4an, devient plus sombre. Son enthousiasme pétillant s'apaise et il appuie sur chacun des mots qu'il se met à prononcer.
“Schack4an parle d'Anna. Anna était petite pour son âge et avait des difficultés à l'école. Malgré tout, elle voulait être dans une classe normale et n'en démordait pas. Mais c'était dur. C'était difficile de se faire des amis, pour elle. Sa classe a participé à l'une des premières éditions de Schack4an, mais Anna n'a pas osé s'inscrire au tournoi qualificatif de la ville. Au cours du tournoi, les élèves ont réalisé que plus ils étaient nombreux plus leur classe marquait de points. Après le tournoi, le professeur demanda quels élèves souhaitaient participer à la demi-finale et tout le monde a levé la main, tout le monde sauf Anna. Elle n'avait pas l'habitude de participer à quoi que ce soit. Mais la petite voisine d'Anna dit alors "Il faut qu'Anna vienne". Les élèves de la classe se regardèrent et se mirent tous à chanter en choeur : "Anna avec nous, Anna avec nous, Anna avec nous" et Anna participa. Anna perdit ses cinq parties lors de la demi-finale, mais chaque partie jouée comptant pour un point, elle apporta à la classe une contribution décisive qui lui permit de se qualifier pour la finale. Anna disputa la finale et remporta même deux parties. J'ai raccompagné Anna chez elle après la finale. Tous les participants avaient reçu un Roi en bois sculpté de vingt centimètres en guise de prix. Je remarquait dans le rétroviseur qu'Anna serrait son Roi très fort contre elle. Je vis une lueur dans ses yeux. La lueur de quelqu'un qui sait qu'il compte aux yeux des autres.
Vous voyez, Schack4an n'a rien à voir avec une conception élitiste des échecs. Cela n'a même rien à voir avec la masse des joueurs d'échecs. Schack4an nous parle DES AUTR, ceux qui vont trouver de la conv au travers de ces tournois et vont surtout sentir qu'ils comptent aux yeux des autres.”
Göran Malmsten a eu la polio en 1950, quand il avait 16 ans. Il a eu les jambes paralysées et dut entrer en convalescence au sanatorium d'Apelvikens près de Varberg sur la côte ouest de la Suède. Pendant six mois il s'est battu pour apprendre à marcher avec des béquilles. Un jour, il a trouva Chess Fundamentals de Capablanca à la bibliothèque. Un monde nouveau s'ouvrait à lui, qui ne jugeait pas les gens sur leurs capacités physiques et il se mit à jouer contre les autres patients. Quand le jeune Malmsten revint chez lui, les échecs étaient devenus pour lui un vrai loisir et il s'inscrit au club d'échecs local.
Après avoir terminé ses études, il devint ingénieur radio et télé à Gothenburg, puis il déménagea à Arboga dans la région de Västmanland. Là, Malmsten trouva un travail d'ingénieur dans le domaine de la calibration des instruments de mesure.
En 1963, un ami lui dit qu'il avait commencé à animer un stage pour les jeunes à Arboga et se demadait s'il voulait l'aider. Il répondit par l'affirmative et il devint rapidement responsable de l'activité qu'il commença à développer selon ses idées propres. Quasiment au même moment, il fut sélectionné pour devenir formateur régional pour la Ligue d'échecs de Mälardalen et eut à partir de là de l'influence au niveau local et régional.
His first move was to divide the district into three parts, and to let each part act independently. The one Malmsten himself had charge of was the youth section of Västmanland, called U-chess.
“The construction with three autonomous groups is an important part of the explanation for the success of the district that followed. It helped creativity and ensured that any money generated stayed with the youths. Of course, it helped that all of those in charge were both inventive and had great drive”, says Malmsten. That was exemplified by Arne Nyberg, whose lifetime achievement was to start the international youth tournament in Hallsberg.
U-chess soon reached the limit of its financial resources and looked for support from the county council. The council guidelines for granting such help required mass-participation in the whole district. Malmsten reflected on how to fulfil that and what a real mass chess event would look like.
One Friday night he came up with the idea of making a chess version of the popular Swedish TV quiz show: “We in grade 5”. Malmsten’s idea was that every class 4 [10-year-olds] in the district should participate with a team of four players in a tournament. The next day U-chess had arranged a course for leaders and Malmsten thought he would try out the idea on the other leader that he was presenting the course with. But Malmsten happened to mention the idea to that other man’s wife, while waiting for him to collect his things.
“I remember it so clearly. We stood in the doorway. Her reaction came as fast as it was hard. ‘Not one more tournament where a small elite represents a whole class, while the rest only stand there looking on.’ You know, we are talking of a woman who was both clever and sharp. I objected that we were not capable of running such a tournament, but my argument was crushed with: ‘Everyone must be allowed to participate, or there will be no tournament’. I simply had to reconsider.”
Everything then developed at furious speed. The concept of Schack4an was constructed, a playing hall booked, advertising material produced, the Swedish chess federation was involved and last, but by no means least, schools and teachers all over the district were visited. The response was enormous. 116 classes and almost 1 000 kids came to the qualifying tournaments, that were held in eleven cities.
Even more fantastic was that 1 000 kids also came to the semi-final. How was that possible, when the number of participating classes was reduced?
“The first tournament had 116 classes with an average of 9 pupils participating from the class. These pupils told the ones who did not play how much fun it was, and they also realised that even if you lose your games, you gain points for taking part, so they applied peer pressure to get everyone to come to the next round. The average for the semi final was 18 pupils per class, and in the final, 23 per class, with many classes complete.
After this success, one might expect that Malmsten would have been satisfied and let the tournament trot along, but soon he started to develop the concept further. What was needed first of all were leaders that could cater for the interest that Schack4an created.
Therefore Malmsten asked the schools if he could come and make a fifteen minute presentation of Schack4an at the parents’ meeting that each class has when they start grade four. With such a successful tournament behind him, this was not a problem. Besides informing the parents about Schack4an, Malmsten also took the opportunity to offer the parents themselves membership of a new club: Västerås Chess Alliance. If at least three of the parents would volunteer to train the class, once a week for the tournament, he would provide them with chess sets, clocks and all the training material they needed, but foremost he would take care of all the administration. In addition, every single penny that the class generated would go back to the class. Two months later, 50 new small clubs had started.
The second initiative Malmsten undertook was, according to himself, his best, other than the tournament itself. U-chess started to arrange courses for young chess instructors, combined with training camps for participants in Schack4an, parents and other potential leaders.
“Here we caught many birds with one stone. We had training with kids that were interested, and we trained fresh leaders who could immediately test their new knowledge in a practical situation. The best, though, was that the courses were arranged by former Schack4an kids who had turned 13-16 years old. It was fantastic to have those teenagers take care of 100 children and adults for a weekend; book the location, the lodging, prepare the food and run all the activities. Every year the youths did a tremendous job,” says Malmsten. In 1982-1996, U-chess arranged 15 courses per year on average, of which one every year was a week-long summer camp. Arranging those camps became the most important task for U-chess.
We are now getting close to the area which I have tried to steer the interview towards: Malmsten’s ability to find new leaders and how he encouraged them.
“I get a bit worried that you may think that I am the one behind all this. I was only one cog in the machine. If you only knew what great people I have met during these years, and what efforts they have made. I do not dare to mention anyone by name, as in that case I will forget someone. Just write that many made incredible efforts for chess. You asked how I encouraged them. Hmm ...”
For the first time during our four hour interview, Malmsten becomes quiet. Then he suddenly starts laughing to himself, and the words start tumbling out.
“That is easy. You just show them what a fantastic situation it is to be a leader of a chess group. These kids, ‘forced’ to go to school every day, come voluntarily to you to learn the most inspiring mind game. With total attention, they listen to you and you can follow their development. Can it be better? Of course, the new leaders must get tasks that they have a chance to handle, and they must also have the best conditions as far as working tools and instruction materials are concerned. Under these conditions, they grow fast and become able to take care of even tougher tasks. One other key connected to this, is to have a group of experienced people ready to help if needed. I would also like to put forward that we in U-chess never paid a penny in compensation for these efforts. Not for driving, no fees, nothing. If you start to give economic compensation, it feeds a system that will die by its own hand. Instead we have staked our money on education for the leaders and on the best chess education tools.”
When I continue to question how this was possible, Malmsten says that to make it in practical life, the ones in charge must act under the same conditions. In his own words:
“If you work harder than anyone else and never ask for compensation, no one else will.”
Schack4an seems to be a success story without end. But for Malmsten, it did end, fifteen years ago.
“Money flows from the mass to the elite, not only in the chess world. I was, and I am, focused neither on the elite nor on the mass, but on THE REST. How can chess be something positive for them. It’s not just a matter of money, but also commitment must be right. When, in the early 1990s, U-chess decided to begin taking some money, and giving that to the elite, I felt that I had done my bit. It is wrong when the ones who have created the money, and for whom they thought it would be used, do not get it. But I had been waiting for this moment, when the elite comes in and takes over, as we had generated a lot of promising players in U-chess that had won plenty of titles in, for example, the Swedish championships.”
But is it so wrong that a small amount of the money generated by the mass goes to the elite? According to Malmsten it is, as it starts the wrong way of thinking and as it is also a question of justice.
”The real challenge for U-chess was to concentrate on getting and supporting new leaders who could take care of THE REST. But who does not want to take care of the development of talented children in chess, especially when they rapidly become better and start winning tournaments? It is so easy to be seduced by these talents, and suddenly you want to develop and intensify the training. But who will then look after THE REST? I have always tried to keep this in mind in my leadership, but you should also know that my first pupil in Arboga in 1963 was Ulf Andersson. You see, the talents will always find their way.”
Bearing in mind how Malmsten, throughout the interview, put the social environment in focus beside the personal development, rather than the development of chess skills, I ask if Schack4an could have been Badminton4an, or connected to any other sport.
“In principle, yes, but chess has its advantages. First of all, it is easy to have five chess sets in the classroom, and secondly everyone is able to play chess. Besides these factors, schools see that chess is a fantastic way of training the ability to concentrate. Many times I have met teachers who have said that Schack4an is probably good, but in their class they have a couple of boys that cannot sit still, and then they have been surprised to see how the “savages” have been totally captured by the game.”
In conclusion, I ask how it feels that Schack4an is still a great success in Sweden 30 years after he invented the concept? Malmsten regains the controlled voice from the beginning of the interview and answers:
“This is, of course, very pleasant. But there are three words I would like those now in charge of the tournament always to carry with them ... Never forget Anna!”
Facts about Schack4an
- Schack4an started in 1979 in the district of Västmanland in Sweden, an initiative of Göran Malmsten.
- Schack4an is a tournament for the many. The goal is that children in grade four learn that everyone is important for the group and that everyone can make a contribution. For the Swedish chess federation, the goal is to give kids and their parents a positive view on chess.
- In the 2010-2011 tournament, 12 200 ten-year-olds participated, which means that about 24 000 have learned to play chess.
- Schack4an is played in 22 of Sweden’s 25 districts.
- The goal for the organisation behind Schack4an is that all of Sweden’s fourth graders shall have an invitation to the tournament by 2013. By then Schack4an shall be located in all districts of Sweden, and 15 000 kids shall participate in the tournament and 30 000 shall learn to play chess.
- In 2006 a project leader for Schack4an, Per Hultin, was employed by the Swedish chess federation.
- In 2010 Jesper Hall was employed by the Swedish chess federation with the task to capitalize on the interest that Schack4an creates.
Rules of the tournament Schack4an
- Schack4an is a tournament for classes of grade four (ten-year-olds).
- Each class is offered a visit of one hour for free, during which the kids learn how to play chess. The class also gets a box with 5 chess sets and instructional material. If the class then decides to participate in the tournament each kid has to pay a fee to become a member of the Swedish chess federation.
- The tournament is decided in three steps. First a city qualification is held, then a regional qualification and, at the end, there is the final in the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm with 2 500 kids playing at the same time.
- The more kids of each class that play, the more points the class gets.
- A won game gives 3 points, a draw 2 points and a loss 1 point.
- In each part of the tournament the kids play an individual tournament in 4-6 rounds. They play only against children from other schools, never against their classmates. Each individual result is added together to make the total result of the class.
(complete rules and regulations are at www.schackfyran.se)