He points out that one of the advantages of chess is that it is accessible to everyone. “Chess is one of the least expensive board games. At higher levels, chess coaching and travelling to different tournaments can get expensive. But Nadia shows lots of enthusiasm and talent, and I try to encourage and support her as much as possible.”
It’s a fair point: while you can buy a wooden chess set for £8 at John Lewis, an hour of chess coaching can range between £15 and £60 depending on who the teacher is (for example a Grandmaster would be charging £60 for a one-to-one session).
Tournament entry fees are usually around £25 and can go up to £60 or so, depending on how long the event is. And tournaments are – normally – held all around the country, so travel and accommodation costs are also involved.
What do you get back? Most junior tournaments offer medals and trophies at primary age. Only teenagers start to get prize money from some tournaments, and especially the bigger national events. For example, winning the British U18 championships would mean a large trophy, £300 and lots of kudos.
Nadia is not alone in her enthusiasm. With the onset of lockdown, restrictions and the new normal, chess has adapted by moving online and all the events that were held in draughty school halls are now on dedicated online sites such as chess.com and lichess.org. Popularity has soared, with some estimates that participation on online sites has increased by more than 800 per cent.
Orla Dorman, from Bromley, Kent, has become both a close friend and rival to Nadia. She is a regular Kent county player and has represented her native Ireland. Orla started playing with her dentist father Gary, 52, and went on to a school chess club in primary school and then got involved with Kent junior chess.
For Orla, playing chess may be fun, but she is aware of a lack of female role models higher up the ladder. “I love playing,” says Orla, “and think that a big part for girls is the social side, but it can be hard as there aren’t many female role models at the top level. Girls also tend to have lots of interests and often don’t focus on just chess like some boys.”
Having said that, she adds: “Chess definitely helps with social skills and it is good to have a balance between competitive events and more relaxed fun chess with friends.”
Her father, Gary, thinks that chess is naturally good for equality: “When Orla started playing at tournaments, it was great to see the girls being able to compete on equal terms with the boys.” But he is aware that while Orla might enjoy putting one of the male competitors into checkmate, it’s still a chance to make friends with her peers.
“She particularly enjoys it when more girls are playing,” he explains, “because of the social interactions they have in between rounds. Her favourite tournaments are probably the ‘all girls’ events when social rooms are provided, so they have lots of fun during the day as well as playing competitive chess.”
For his daughter, chess may have been a blessing in the pandemic, too: “The rise of online chess during lockdown has made chess even easier to get involved in,” he says, “and it’s only going to get more and more popular as it is so accessible for everyone regardless of age, gender or standard.”