International Chess Federation
Saturday, 30 Apr 2022 20:38
The Gift of Chess goes global

In March 2019, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, a Nigerian refugee who was living in a homeless shelter at the time, won the New York State Chess Championship, just a little over a year after learning the game. His success caught the attention of a New York Times columnist, and shortly after, Tani's story went viral, touching the hearts of millions around the world. Thanks to an overwhelming outpouring of support, Tani's family was able to move out of the shelter and into a home.

Chess coach Russell Makofsky, the founder of Impact Coaching Network, was one of the many people who got inspired by the story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi. Tani's enormous talent and potential became apparent to everyone thanks to chess, and the game proved itself of great value as an ultimate equalizer, a shared universal language that can help expand opportunities for all.

When the pandemic hit New York in 2020, Makofsky decided to use chess for community building, giving everyone an opportunity to learn chess and benefit from the many life skills the game cultivates. Partnering with ChessKid, Impact Coaching Network provided a free account and virtual training lessons to every student at PS 42, composed mostly of working-class immigrant families in Chinatown. Chess helped keep them engaged while they were confined to their apartments. "Within a few months, the school led the entire network in puzzles, lessons, and videos completed on the platform", wrote

Given the enthusiasm demonstrated by their students, the principal at the school asked Coach Russ about the possibility of giving every kid their own physical chess set. Makofsky managed to procure the sets from a friend, and he was left thinking: "Why not escalate this?"

In early 2021, The Gift of Chess was born, with the goal of distributing 10,000 chess sets to public students across New York City. With children confined to their apartments and spending most of their time on screens, the organization hoped to rekindle their love for chess and allow families and friends to connect over a physical chessboard. Over the next few months, the organization raised money from members of the local chess community to support the purchase of the sets. In June, the 10,000 sets arrived in New York, and members of The Gift of Chess team visited schools around Manhattan and Brooklyn to distribute them.

Russell Makofsky and Ryan Rodrigues, in their truck loaded with chess sets

The initial board of the Gift of Chess included founders Russell MakofskyTyrone Davis III and Ian West, but has now been expanded to include Rochelle BallantyneMichael ShumanRyan Rodrigues, and Tunde Onakoya of "Chess in Slums" in Nigeria. After being represented by global law firm Sidley Austin, they are now a US registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which means that all donations are tax-deductible. You can contribute through their GoFundMe page. Their goal is to distribute 1,000,000 chess sets by 2030.

This past March, the Gift of Chess launched its first global initiative when Gift of Chess board member and president of the MIT Chess Club, Tyrone Davis III, travelled to Lagos with 500 chess sets in tow to distribute in partnership with Tunde and Chess in Slums.

"A bridge had been built between the slums of Lagos and a chess community in New York who deeply cared about spreading the game they loved and the fate of children halfway around the world", says Russ Makofsky. "Tunde and Tyrone squeezed the ten boxes of boards and pieces into Tunde's truck and set off to distribute them". The next day, the two men visited Makoko, the world's largest floating slum, where Chess in Slums had already established a strong presence. Tyrone brought 100 sets to three different schools there, where he had the opportunity to introduce some of the students to chess and play together and share tactics with others who were already familiar with the game.

Tyrone Davis III, on his way to Nigeria

The cost of chess sets in Nigeria averages 7000 Nigeria naira or almost $17 per set - out of reach for many in a country where over 80 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Galvanized by the demand for chess sets across the country and able to procure the sets at a much lower price point, The Gift of Chess has committed to sending an additional 5,000 sets to Nigeria this summer. 

Over the coming months, in addition to expanding its youth education and global outreach efforts, The Gift of Chess plans to officially launch its prison outreach and elderly outreach initiatives. The organization hopes chess will offer prisoners a positive way to spend their free time, the chance to improve their decision-making skills, and ultimately aid in rehabilitating and reintegrating back into society. For the elderly, the Gift of Chess believes the game can combat social isolation and loneliness and mitigate the effects of cognitive decline and dementia. The Gift of Chess has also recently launched a free chess training application available on both iOS and Android to connect its global community.

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