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ֱschool Chess team competes at World Schools Team Championship 2023

A team of four students from El Altillo International School made a journey of over 5,000 km from Cadíz in Spain to Aktau, Kazakhstan, to participate in the . We spoke to the team and their teacher, Daniel Escobar, International Chess Federation (FIDE) master, who accompanied the team to the Championships.
Q: How did the team get the opportunity to participate in the tournament?

Daniel (teacher) : At El Altillo International School, we introduced chess as a standalone subject 20 years ago and our students take part in different individual and team tournaments in Spain. To get to the World Championships, we first competed in the Regional Championships in Cadíz back in February where our team ended in first position. After this, we went to the National Championship in Cartagena at the end of April. At this tournament, we were the best school team in Andalucía and came second in Spain, which gave us the great opportunity to take part in the First World Schools Team Championships in Aktau, Kazakhstan.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the journey to the championships?

Daniel : Once we found out how to get to Kazakhstan, we realised how difficult the whole process would be. The paperwork was a bit challenging as travelling with four children is a huge responsibility and needed to get lots of different permissions from both parents and authorities. In addition, for safety reasons, two adults had to accompany the children and we needed a parent to come with us. The mother of one of the students was the one who was able to travel with us and her help was essential for us to have everything in order.

Q: How did you get into chess? Why do you enjoy playing it?

Leo (student) : I had my first contact with chess at the age of 3 as in my school, chess is a compulsory subject. When I went to Primary at the age of 6, I decided I wanted to join the school chess club where I could develop my skills. As the years have gone by, I have taken part in different local, regional and national tournaments both in Spain and England. My teacher, Dani, decided that I could make the team to go to the World Schools Team Championships. I enjoy chess because I like tactical games and it makes me think of the best moves to win a game.

Q: How did you prepare for the championships? Were you nervous?

Alberto (student) : The preparation started at the beginning of the school year with new chess learning aims which include things such as puzzles, tactics, strategy and opening exercises. We also work on the control of the clock and how to keep calm in tense situations. Specifically, for the World Championships, my dad, who is the chess teacher, told as to concentrate in making the best move in each situation without worrying about where we were.

Q: What skills do you think you have developed playing chess? Do you find that you use those skills elsewhere as well as in chess?

Jing (student) : I definitely believe that I have gained some skills in chess that have impacted my day-to-day life. For example, chess is a game that puts your mind to work the hardest, you always have to be calculating variants, looking for tactics, and I think that has made me think twice sometimes in moments other than chess. Another example is that chess is honestly a fierce game. I can speak from experience that when you lose it is very frustrating and you get angry. But chess has taught me to stay calm, be more patient and I definitely feel that it has been very useful in my life.

Q: What is it like playing as part of a team? Does your approach differ when you’re playing individually versus as part of a team?

Lucas (student) : When playing as a team we all get more nervous as it is like taking responsibility because if you make an error, it doesn’t only affect you but also the whole team. It is quite different because if your teammate is losing you need to play for a win, but if your team is winning 2-0 you can draw your game and secure the win for the team. You have to keep track of what the others are doing in their own games.

Q: How did you find the experience at the championships?

Leo (student) : I’ve been to other big tournaments but never with people from so many different countries which was exciting and made me a bit nervous.

Q: Did you have any moments of ‘good struggle’?

Leo (student) : the match against Peru because at the beginning I didn’t know if I was winning but when my opponent made a blunder I forced an attack on the other side and ended up winning the game.

Q: What is your best memory from the journey?

Jing (student) : Personally, I believe it was playing people from other countries, meeting and hanging out with them (e.g. Mexico). I have always played chess tournaments in Spain, but now I have got a taste on playing different countries and it has been very interesting learning about them.

Alberto (student) : I will never forget the flights where we talked a lot and had a whale of a time. Also, it was my first time in an airplane. Another thing that will always stick in my mind are the motivational talks before each round where we stood together with our arms around each other.

Leo (student) : I loved the flight to and from Aktau and swimming in the Caspian Sea.

Lucas (student) : Seeing different landscapes from both London and Aktau.

Q: What part of the event impressed you the most?

Jing (student) : It was the sheer size of it, all the players, teams, experiences, countries and the excitement. I have grown up playing chess on small tournaments in Spain, and it has been a pleasure for me to play for my country and go to such a big event.

Lucas (student) : The different outfits that people from different countries were wearing.

Alberto (student) : Meeting all the other children from different countries that shared my passion for chess.

Leo (student) : I was amazed by the level of the players.

Q: What have you learnt from the trip and the experience?

Jing (student) : There are many things that I have learnt from going to Kazakhstan, for example meeting new friends from other countries, their traditions, their culture, I have learnt how to become better at chess, which is not only how you play, but also has a lot to do with the morale, and a lot of other ones.

Leo (student) : I learned that for such a big chess tournament I have to prepare really well.

Alberto (student) : If I train hard enough, I can be up to the standards of the best players.

Lucas (student) : I realized that the hard work pays off and I can meet my goals.

Q: Does this championship motivate you to keep playing chess?

Jing (student) : Yes, absolutely, in fact now I am even more attached to chess, and today, it’s one of my favourite hobbies. I enjoy training and playing chess and I love the sudden thrill of winning a chess game and how you feel so happy and proud of yourself.

Leo (student) : I am now more motivated and am training harder to become the best I can.

Lucas (student) : Definitely, and I would like to play tournaments like this one in the future.

Alberto (student) : Yes, and I will keep training to win the Spain tournament.

Q: Have you seen any changes in the students since they took part in the championships?

Daniel (teacher) : The biggest change I have seen in them is that they have more confidence in themselves and that they understand what they have to do during a game. They have improved their chess skills, and I am pretty sure that is going to help for the next tournaments.

Q: What’s next? Does the team have any plans for more tournaments for now?

Daniel (teacher) : As I think that the best learning is done step by step, we are going to start locally and build up through regional and national tournaments with the idea of taking part in an international championship at the end. We will keep improving so that our students can enjoy amazing learning that goes beyond their expectations.

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