Do you know that Monaco has its own chess club and that it has had many successes with its women’s team? In fact, the club has had many significant victories under its belt, and is going to celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2 years’ time. Olga Taran, editor-in-chief of HelloMonaco, met with the president of the Chess Club and Federation of Monaco, member of the European Chess Union Board, Jean-Michel Rapaire, and the club’s coach, Candidate Master of Sports for Chess, Svetlana Berezovskaya.
Jean-Michel, what is the Monaco Chess Club famous for?
The club was established back in 1949. It is fairly small, consisting of 68 members only – mostly young people aged 8 to 20. Nevertheless, we participate in both local tournaments under the French regulations and international competitions alike.
We have won the European Women’s Chess Cup six times (in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016). In addition, in 2015 and 2016 we came first in the New Chess Championship for children. We also do have some older veterans among our club members, chess being a very special sport that is accessible to everyone. Sometimes children play against adults and end up winning the game.
Which teams represent Monaco during the competitions?
As a rule, we nominate several teams. Our women’s team is part of the Top 12 in its category. This season our ladies are going to compete in the women’s tournament and are determined to win.
We are trying to invest as much as possible into women’s and children’s teams in order to introduce them into the big sports competitions. Our children are also in the Top 16 in their age group. The children’s team is composed of 8 participants: a minimum of two children under the age of 10, two under 12, two under 14 and two under 16. It thus needs to be rebuilt every two years. Our most famous “Dream team”, however, is our women’s team.
And what about the men’s team?
We are mostly known for our strong women’s team, which has won several big championships. The men have not achieved such brilliant results as of yet. There is an important difference between these teams in terms of their composition and financial investment. The women’s team is composed of 6 players while the men only have 4. Playing in the top 12 for men is also more costly than women’s competitions.
One male player could cost as much as 10,000 euros – almost a whole team budget for the women. 25,000 euros would actually get you a very strong women’s team. The Club needs funding to pursue its competitions. Membership fees are not sufficient to support us. We need sponsors who, unfortunately, are not there at the moment.
How to enrol a child in a chess club?
First of all, you need to see if the child likes the game and the atmosphere. They need to visit our club a few times, play a game, have a look around, talk to their fellow players. If they like the vibe and the game of chess, you are free to enrol them in our club. Beginners’ classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The cost of membership is only 180 euros per year.
Tell us about your teachers.
We have two coaches. Occasionally we specially hire an international master of chess for our players to be trained for some international competitions. As a rule, he prepares the children for the World and European championships.
One of our regular coaches is called Patrice. He has been teaching children for 14 years. They show some brilliant results in the junior competitions.
Another one of our coaches is Svetlana Berezovskaya from Ukraine, she has been living in Monaco for three years. She comes from a chess family. Her husband is also a master chess player, winner of a number of prizes. Their 9-year-old daughter Irina has already had her first success, becoming the youngest participant in the history of the Chess Olympiad held in Baku. She won two games during that competition. As for Svetlana, in addition to being a coach in our club, she also happens to be a winner of a selection of awards. She started playing chess at the age of three.
In our age of the Internet, it is increasingly difficult to get children involved in chess. Do you have any secrets on how to get them interested?
Jean-Michel: Today there are many computer chess games. However, there is a big difference between playing with the computer and with a real person. The atmosphere and the sensations are very different. You do not get that much satisfaction from winning a computer game, while winning over a real rival is quite another matter.
I believe that playing chess is quite similar to boxing. You have a rival, you get into the ring and you want to defeat him, beat him down, just intellectually. You want to take over his army of figures. These are your true rivals, the ones you are fighting for real.
Svetlana Berezovskaya: Based on my personal experience, I actually cannot agree that fewer children are playing chess today.
My junior class has as many as 25 children! What is the most important thing to get a child interested in chess? It is that magic atmosphere that reigns in the club. Something unique, you know, being with like-minded people who give each other great support. Teachers skilfully help them cope with defeats and encourage them to new victories. Children come here with pleasure.
In addition, we organise our own competitions between the teams and children love them. It cultivates their taste for victory and team spirit.
Does your club receive any state support?
Yes, we do receive assistance from the state, but the government also holds us accountable for the victories. It is, of course, a good thing that we’ve been winning some major European competitions, but we want to go further than that. We are now part of League 1. We want not only to win this competition and the title, but also to keep it. This is actually much more difficult than just winning it. To be able to keep the title, we are talking about quite a different budget. That is why we are always on the lookout for sponsors and partners who would help us carry out our plans. Sadly, last year one of our main sponsors, the Dutch billionaire and chess player, Joop van Oster, passed away. He was a remarkable chess player and had the title of Grandmaster. He also organised one of the most prestigious and well-known chess tournaments in the world, the Amber tournament. It is named after his daughter and was last held in Monte Carlo in 2011.
What are the club’s plans for 2017?
This year we have the honour of hosting the European Chess Championship, the Europechess. This tournament is held under the patronage of the European Chess Union. One of our sponsors for this event is the SBM (Société des Bains de Mer).
The tournament will consist of 11 rounds under the Swiss regulations. Two categories will be introduced: “Quick Chess” and “Blitz Game”. The “Quick Chess” will be held on 21 and 22 October with only three minutes assigned per game. The “Blitz Game” will be held on 23 and 24 October, with 10 minutes for each game. The prize for the “Quick Chess” is 13,000 euros, “Blitz Game”– 5,560 euros. All games will be hosted in the halls of the Novotel in Monaco. You can register for the competition from 1 August to 20 October. There is an application form to be sent by email: email@example.com
Is anyone in the Princely family fond of chess?
I know a teacher who was teaching chess to young Albert II. The Prince is always keenly interested in the club’s success and monitors our victories. Every time we win, he would send us his congratulations. In 2007, when we first won the European Cup for women, many participants also received a special medal from Prince Albert II.
Please tell us about the heritage of the Monaco Chess Club.
The Club of Monaco has a rich history and heritage. Many prominent masters and grandmasters played here. In 1901, 1902 and 1903, the Monte Carlo casino even hosted its own Chess Cup. It took a long time for the chess to make its way back to the casino again. That’s when Joop van Oster organised the 20th anniversary Amber Tournament at the Monte Carlo casino. All the players unanimously admitted back then to having been involved in the most brilliant tournament in their life. My dream is to return to the casino for our women’s chess tournament.
So if you are a fan of chess, keep an eye on the chess club of Monaco as they are sure to have more successes with their women’s team in the near future.