When everything indicates that there are more and more people who think less, and especially among the rulers – no one paid attention to the scientists who warned of the great risk of a pandemic – promoting a game that encourages thinking is very appropriate. Jesús Medina has managed to get a score of municipalities in the Netherlands to install chess tables in the open air. His tenacity and clear ideas are a guide to Spain, the country of his ancestors, where several cities have preferred giant boards.
“It is very difficult to argue something solid against it. Sometimes the municipalities tell me that they don’t have a budget for that. So I insist, and ask them if they have money for Alzheimer’s or loneliness. Or if they can find a sponsor. And they end up giving the green light ”, explains Medina, a 51-year-old Dutch man of Cordoba parents.
His interest in chess is recent. She learned to play “five years ago”, and the story is curious: “My daughter had difficulties in school with math, and I taught her to play. One day, running through the park in Utrecht, it occurred to me that it would be very good to install some chess tables there, and I proposed it to the City Council. They told me that my application must have the support of a significant number of citizens. Got a ton of signatures, including those of various celebrities. And when they said yes, I sent similar emails to about 80 cities. “
At the pace of the project, Medina estimates it very likely that in 2021 there will be at least 40 Dutch cities that will have installed chess tables. And it could well be many more, “because, as in the rest of the world, the sale of chess equipment is boosting a lot, due to the pandemic and the great success of the series Lady’s Gambit ”. And cold weather is not a problem? “No. Some told me that, but I checked with the Meteorological Institute (KNMI), and they told me that in the Netherlands we are more than 20º a third of the year. And there are many more days where you can take your tea or coffee and play at ease ”.
The initiative is now three years old, and at that time only one case of vandalism is known: “They burned dry grass on one of the tables, but we fixed it.” This consistent experience establishes this decalogue of advice that Medina gives to those who want to promote something similar: 1) Do not propose anything to the City Council without a prior plan on how these tables will be used and what the collective benefits will be (delayed brain aging and Alzheimer’s , fight against loneliness, activities for children, etc.). 2) Determine who will be the promoters and managers of the project. 3) Describe what three or four fixed activities will take place at the tables each year. 4) Set at least one day and time of the week for the regulars to go to play at the tables. 5) It is very important not to settle for just one table, because to do workshops and other activities you need at least three or four.
These five basic commandments are completed with another five: 6) The normal thing is that each one takes his pieces from home; but sometimes a nearby bar or restaurant may be willing to loan them. 7) Apart from the resources of the municipalities or sponsorships, look for possible provincial or regional subsidies aimed at social welfare. 8) It is very useful that each table has a QR code that, scanned on the mobile phone, leads to an Internet portal where information is given on the activities scheduled at the tables, the benefits of chess, and so on. 9) It is very convenient to create a WhatsApp group or similar with the regulars at the tables, which will also serve to recruit new users. And 10) It is important to raise awareness to receive several noes and insist until you get the green light.
The author of these lines has visited famous public places in various countries because chess is played there. For example, Washington Square in New York, Liberation Square in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegóvina) or Miraflores Chess Square in Lima (Peru). But the most similar case that knows the bomb-proof tenacity of Jesús Medina is located in Estepona (Málaga), and responds to the name of Miguel Abril, the architect of six giant boards on the seafront and another in the central Plaza del Chess.
“The Municipal Chess School It started in 1985. Then we were introduced to schools, with the elderly and with special classes for tourists. All citizens of Estepona under the age of 20 educated here know how to play; more than 14,000 people have passed through our classes. On the promenade we have six giant boards with their pieces and people take good care of them, except for some drunk at dawn ”, recalls Abril. And he announces: “Both the promenade and the square are now under construction, but with a very nice chessboard project that will surprise everyone.”
Another project, very innovative, is the use of recycled tires to manufacture pieces of giant boards, installed by RMD company in emblematic places during the Ciudad de León Magistral tournament, the most important of those held in Spain, which is preparing its 34th edition. “Chess is already part of the culture of this city. One of those boards has become fixed, along with El Corte Inglés. Furthermore, during the tournaments we installed eight pieces in symbolic places in León, as a kind of tourist-chess route ”, explains Marcelino Sión, director of the tournament.
In addition to the momentum generated by the pandemic and Lady’s Gambit, four Spanish-speaking countries (Spain, Andorra, Argentina and Uruguay) are in the world forefront of chess as an educational tool. And we must add Chile if we talk about social and therapeutic applications. In almost all the others there is some initiative along these lines. And in at least two of them they have gone further: the Paraguayan Parliament approved their introduction into the educational system; and the Senate of Mexico is considering it. Installing chess tables en masse in parks and gardens would boost all of that, because his vision generates the idea that thinking can be fun. Of course, it takes someone as tenacious at the helm as Medina, Abril or Sion for the ship to reach a good port.