I’ve been hearing about the establishment of an African branch of the Kasparov Chess Foundation in South Africa for a while now. Unable to contain my curiosity any further about the organisation’s aims, I got in touch with Graham Jurgensen, one of its directors for a quick interview.

Paras: With the establishment of the Kasparov Chess Foundation’s Africa branch, a lot of people are curious to know what the foundation’s objectives are for African chess. Would you tell me a bit more about the organisation?

Graham: KCF-A was officially launched in March 2012 and has now also been formally registered in South Africa as a public benefit organisation. We hope to establish it as a credible and reliable vehicle for promoting chess as a tool for educational and social development across the African continent. Approximately 80% of our efforts will focus on “Chess in Schools” initiatives with the remaining 20% aimed at improving the opportunities that are available to top level players across the continent.

We hope that the envisaged programs for top level players will ultimately include:

  • Training courses presented by recognized international trainers of International Master or Grand Master strength.
  • Financial support for Elite players to participate in identified international events.
  • Establishment of relationships and co-operation with other international chess federations to assist with the development of specifically identified players.
  • Establishment of chess centres of excellence.
Garry Kasparov (left) meets Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa

Garry Kasparov (left) meets Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa

Paras: What is your role at KCF Africa?

Graham: I sit on the Board of Directors for KCF Africa and I am also a member of the Council which is the advisory body to the Board of Directors. In time, we hope to add representatives from across the continent to the KCF Africa Council in order to ensure that this body is representative of the entire continent.

Graham Jurgensen (third from left) seen here with President Jacob Zuma, Garry Kasparov and others

Graham Jurgensen (third from left) seen here with President Jacob Zuma, Garry Kasparov and others

Paras:  How did the idea of Chess South Africa partnering with the foundation come about?

Graham: We are partnering locally in South Africa with a fantastic Chess in Schools programme called Moves for Life which helped to facilitate introductions to the key individuals in CHESSA. To be honest, I think it can be very difficult to achieve ones objectives as a “chess development” organisation if you do not have a close relationship with the national body that is responsible for chess in the country.

We think this is critical and will definitely look to work through the National sporting structures in all countries as we expand our operations in the future.

Garry Kasparov with upcoming stars during his latest visit to South Africa in March 2012

Garry Kasparov with upcoming stars during his latest visit to South Africa in March 2012

Paras: Will the foundation be focusing solely on South Africa where it is based?

Graham: Absolutely not. Our mandate currently extends to the entire African continent with the exception of North Africa which is likely to be covered by a base in Asia in the future.

Paras: What are your plans for East Africa?

Graham: We have already started with plans for small scale chess in school pilots in Uganda and Kenya and we are partnering with an established chess in schools program based in the UK to help make these plans a reality in the current year. There are also discussions taking place with a small group of schools in Ghana. These plans are rather modest for the current year but we are very keen to expand the operations as soon as funding permits.

Paras: Rumour has it that Garry Kasparov has ambitions of becoming FIDE President in the near future. Is the Kasparov Chess Foundation more of a PR exercise towards this goal or will it really bring about lasting change in the development of the game in Africa?

Graham: I’m certainly not close enough to Garry to make any comment on his ambitions with regards to FIDE. I can categorically state however that this is not a PR stunt and I genuinely believe that the foundation can make a difference to chess in Africa.

We have already helped to initiate an IM Norm round robin tournament at the end of April (The 2012 Capablanca Open) and this tournament has attracted players from South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tournaments like this and the CUCA event currently underway in Angola are critical to the success of top level chess across the continent and we will work hard to try and create more opportunities like this in the future.

Furthermore, if our chess in schools programmes are successful we will broaden the base of chess players across the continent and this can only help unearth future chess talent.

Newspaper article on Garry's visit to a South African school

Newspaper article on Garry’s visit to a South African school

Paras: Now that KCF has a presence/programs in Europe, the US and now Africa, what is the next frontier? Can we expect some news from Asia?

Graham: There are already plans for a base in South America and Asia would probably represent a natural extension thereafter. I am already in touch with the representatives from the USA and Europe and there are definitely opportunities to learn and leverage off our respective experiences as we move forward.

Paras: Thank you for taking the time out for this interview, Graham. My last question for you is: What part do players have to play in ensuring continued growth of the game in Africa?

Graham: I think the benefits of playing chess extend way beyond the results achieved on the board and I think players can help enormously by simply acting as good ambassadors for the game in other aspects of their life. A large proportion of the chess players I know are respected leaders in their own professional fields and genuinely believe that chess has had a part to play in their future successes. As more and more people start to realise that there are broader benefits to playing chess (particularly for younger children), the game will slowly start to reach its full potential across the continent.


(Photo credits: Courtesy)