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Pawns to Kings: The Unstoppable Rise of Chess at ACG Sunderland

ACG Sunderland offers a wide range of student clubs – but there is one club in particular that is really taking the school by storm.

Pawns to Kings: The Unstoppable Rise of Chess at ACG Sunderland

The popularity of chess has skyrocketed in recent years, and a growing number of ACG Sunderland students are fueling the upswing. When the school first introduced chess a decade ago, there was just one class with ten students. Now there are five classes each week - from beginners level to masters - with more than 100 students participating.

The rise and rise of chess
The Chess Club has become one of ACG Sunderland’s most popular clubs – but why the recent boom? According to ChessPower chess coach Christoph Thurner, the internet, Covid 19, and ‘The Queens Gambit’ have a lot to do with it!

“Covid 19 kept a lot of people at home with nothing much to do, so they took up chess online – and thanks to the internet, these days anyone can get a game of chess at any time of the day and night,” says Christoph, who has been teaching chess at ACG Sunderland for the past six years.

“The Queen’s Gambit Netflix series also had an immense effect. Stores were literally running out of chess sets and the world’s largest chess playing platform couldn’t handle the amount of traffic. This has definitely been a driver for some of my students, whose parents watched the series and then wanted their children to start learning chess!”

Success breeds success
The success of  ACG Sunderland teams and individual players – and the easy availability of coaching– have also played an integral part in the game’s increasing popularity.

Recently ACG Sunderland Primary placed 3rd out of 23 teams in the NZ Chess Federation National Interschool Finals. The team included Louis He, Fiona Lin, Mark Zou, Knox Xu and Richard Liu, who also won the Board 1 prize with seven wins out of seven games. It was an outstanding result for the Year 6 student – and the timing couldn’t have been better.

“To get this award in my last year of Primary makes me feel very proud. It was also my birthday that day – I think it was my best 10th birthday present,” says Richard, who has been playing chess for three-and-a-half years and practices about ten hours a week.

What keeps him inspired? “I like how it both mentally and physically improves my body. It can also improve my reasoning skills, logic and math skills. Chess is a lot of fun, and you will only find that out if you get into it yourself!”

From player to coach
Anya Thurner is another ACG Sunderland student who has been making waves in the chess world. She has a multitude of tournament wins under her belt, played on the NZ National Women's Team at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai last year, and took out the Seniors Board 2 prize at the recent NZ Chess Federation National Interschool Finals, securing six of seven wins.

Since being introduced to the game by her grandfather and father (coach Christoph) at the age of four she’s been hooked. She played her first rapid chess tournament when she was seven and her first “proper tournament” at nine.

“There are so many things I like about chess, not just the game itself but also the community within the game,” says Anya.  “For many of us, the recent Nationals were not only a chance to play a game we love but also to see old friends again. I’ve met many new people from the chess world who make participating in tournaments even more enjoyable.”

Benefits beyond the board
It’s this sense of camaraderie that ACG Sunderland Primary Dean Sheba Butler loves most about the game.

“Chess is a great activity as it encourages focus, improves memory, develops sportsmanship skills and best of all enables players to develop friendships and have fun while learning lifelong skills,” says Sheba, who in her role as Chess Manager organises students and teams to attend chess tournaments. 

“Chess is a wonderful game that allows children to think critically and problem solve in a fun and engaging way.”

Join the club
Thinking of giving chess a go? Sheba’s advice is simple: “Come and try it, you will love it!”

Chess is currently available at ACG Sunderland Primary school for Years 3-6 students and also in the Senior school, with ChessPower coaches training students on Thursdays from 3.10pm-4.10pm. Students can sign up by completing a sports booklet form, available from reception or their classroom teacher.