A World First BSL interpreter at the London Chess Classic Print
Tuesday, 14 February 2012 06:20
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This ground breaking intiative arose from a conversation between Adam Raoof (English Chess Federation Director of Home Chess) and Barry David (Chairman of the English Deaf Chess Association) at Hendon Chess Club in London where it became clear that deaf people using BSL (British Sign Language) could not access the commentary at elite chess tournaments. Indeed, it was thought that there had never been anything like a BSL-interpreted chess commentary anywhere. It was immediately agreed to do something to change this, with co-funding from the ECF and International Master Malcolm Pein organiser of the upcoming London Chess Classic.

In an ideal world the BSL interpreter would have a grade of over 200 (2200 or above in FIDE terms) to understand and convey diffferent variations discussed. Unfortunately this is not an ideal world that we live in where there are only around 100 fully qualified BSL interpreters in the whole of the UK and the chances of one of them being a regular chess player are very small indeed! Barry thought the best possible fully qualified interpreter available would be someone who has played chess socially and understood how to convey different variations and comments at a basic level.

We managed to get the services of BSL interpreter Darren Townsend-Handscombe for one day at the London Chess Classic. The next task for the English Deaf Chess Association was to pick which day - we decided on Sunday 11th December to get as many deaf chess enthuiasts along for a great day out. Nearer the time after the draw was made, we were very happy and got lucky with this choice as it meant seeing the World no.1, Magnus Carlsen against the World Champion, Vishy Anand as well as having Garry Kasparov popping over on this very same day for a book signing.

Upon arrival at the Olympia venue with 6 EDCA and London Deaf Chess Club members, we got into the lift taking us to the floor where all the chess events were taking place, we were starstruck at sharing the lift with Magnus Carlsen who was engaged in a relaxed conversation with his father (don't ask us what it was about, we're deaf!) moments before facing Vishy Anand. David Howell as also nearby in the same lift. Before we could say good luck to them the lift door opened and the TV camera quickly focussed on and followed Carlsen with cameras flashing at him while we made our way quietly to meet Adam and Darren to discuss the day ahead.

We just about made it half way through the introductions on stage for each player about to play chess. This was a little choatic with so many people taking pictures and other people on stage but it was worth it for the atmosphere. We stayed to watch the first few moves to take note of what the opening was for each game before we made our way to the commemtary room to the front of the audience with our reserved seats - maybe we should have been in the VIP room instead?

We were treated to excellent commentary from Daniel King and Stuart Conquest whose easy going styles made it easy for Darren to interpret. Lawrence Trent also provided commentary later on and was also good value with some humourous moments. Later on we were fortunate to have the legendary Victor Korchnoi saying a few words but his heavily accented voice made it difficult for Darren to interpret! Michael Adams also popped in for a few minutes to provide some words of wisdom with his assessment of the games played so far. His quiet Cornish accent was another challenge for Darren to tackle but he managed to get throught that ok!

All in all it was definitely an enjoyable day to remember and indeed a historic one for being the first ever BSL interpreted chess commentary at a major event. The EDCA are grateful to Adam Raoof for the arrangements and to the English Chess Federation and the London Chess Classic for the funding. We certainly hope that this service can be repeated in future and we hope to see more deaf BSL users take advantage.

Alasdair MacLeod,
Secretary, English Deaf Chess Association
 
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