Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, and seven-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan have one thing in common: chess has helped them learn to plot and plan.
Reeves uses those skills to navigate the murky world of politics: “Strategic thinking is essential in both politics and chess,” she said. “So I definitely feel like continuing to play chess when I can help keep me nimble in the Labor campaign to be our next government. Always thinking two moves ahead.”
Bodhana, who started playing chess during lockdown one year ago, has yet to put her newfound Machiavellian skills to wider use but she is conscious that the game is helping her finesse them.
“I love to play chess because it helps me to recognize patterns, focus my attention and is helping me to learn how to strategise and calculate moves in advance,” she said. “Also, I like the way the chess pieces move on the board, especially the knight.”
Bodhana is one of thousands of people expected to turn up for ChessFest, a free event on 17 July being held in Trafalgar Square in London and in Liverpool.
More than 50 chess coaches will give free lessons to children and adults, with British grandmasters taking on all comers in speed and blindfold chess and a range of activities designed to show chess is for everyone.
The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of the most celebrated match in chess history between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky during the cold war and the 26th anniversary of Garry Kasparov being beaten by the computer Deep Blue.
Both games will be replayed on a giant screen in Trafalgar Square on a living chess set with 32 professional actors taking on the role of the chess pieces.
The organiser, the UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), works to bring the game to communities it would not usually reach, taking the game into schools, libraries and prisons.
“Chess is a low-cost, high-impact educational intervention,” said CSC’s chief executive, Malcolm Pein. “It knows no boundaries of age, gender, faith, ethnicity or disability, and can be played anywhere at any time. The game fosters intellectual and emotional skills crucial to a child’s wider development.”
Reeves, who started playing when she was seven and became British girls chess champion aged 14, agrees. “I believe that helping kids get into chess can help build all kinds of confidence and set them on whatever path they end up being passionate about, and that’s why ChessFest is so brilliant,” she said.