Research Student University of Southern Queensland
Field: Chess and Education
Profile of Involvement in Chess
Despite much deliberation, Graeme is unable to remember who taught him to play chess. He commenced playing regularly when he commenced in the equivalent of grade 6 at Windsor Grammar School, UK, aged 11. He immediately joined the junior school team and remained in the junior and senior teams until he graduated in 1966 aged 18. The school chess club, which was run by seniors, was open every lunchtime. Every day the choice was to be out on the oval playing football or cricket, or the chess club. Graeme did not, and has never, got into reading chess books and opening theory.
Between the age of 18 and 42, Graeme’s chess was limited to a few social games.
In 1990 he was in the staff room at Somerset College, Mudgeeraba, Gold Coast, Australia having an idle chat with a teacher from the UK, Jim Turner, who was on a one-year teacher exchange. Jim suggested starting up a chess club, which they did. Of course, at the end of the year Jim left, and Graeme was left holding the baby.
Students at the school started getting quite good at chess. It was hard to find a school to play against, but eventually one was found, and then another. In 1992 the Headmaster suggested starting an inter-school competition, and the first senior school competition was held with 35 players from 6 schools.
Around the same time, Graeme joined up with a few local chess players and formed the Gold Coast Chess Club. Several Somerset College students participated. Soon the first Gold Coast Open was held, and Australia’s first Grandmaster, Ian Rogers was invited to play, and spend a week coaching the students. He has continued to attend the Gold Coast Open and teach students almost every year since.
In 1993 Graeme took three girls from Somerset College, plus their parents, to the Australian Junior Championships held at the Melbourne Chess Club. There was a total of 74 entrants in the entire event.
The following year, with colleagues from the Gold Coast Chess Club, Graeme ran the Australian Junior Championships at Somerset College. It was the first time that a couple of states sent teams with a chess coach. There were 105 entrants. The following year there were 150+ entrants in Canberra, and the event has never looked back.
During these early years of the Gold Coast Chess Club, Graeme played in adult/junior chess events, some of which he organised. He proved to be an average club player. Around 1996 he was playing in an event that he organised at Somerset College. There were a couple of incidents that persuaded him that he should give up playing tournament chess and put all his efforts into providing an environment where children could excel.
Graeme organised many chess events over the years, including the Oceanic Zonal, a qualifying event for the World Cup. In 1998, Graeme, along with Ralph Kajet, conceptualised and organised the inaugural Australian Schools Teams Finals weekend at Sydney Grammar School, a prestigious event that thrives to this day.
In 1999 he was elected as President of the Australian Chess Federation (ACF). He continued in this honorary position until 2003, during which he made three trips around Australia visiting the various state and territory chess federations. Graeme spent considerable time on a proposal for a national chess academy to be hosted by Somerset College with GM Ian Rogers as the director. At one stage he had a meeting in parliament house with Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and Sports Minister Jackie Kelly. In a meeting with Australian Sports Commission (ASC) staff immediately afterwards, Graeme was told that chess would never receive funding as a sport. From what he understood, the board of the ASC was mainly made up of heads of sports receiving funding, and they had a vested interest on not seeing their funding diluted. Graeme believes that the debate as to whether chess is a sport, is all about dictionary definition, community attitudes and government funding.
On 31st March 2001 Graeme resigned from Somerset College to start up a chess business, Gardiner Chess. He and his wife Wendy had a vision to purpose-build a chess centre. The remainder of 2001 and the whole of 2002 was spent acquiring a suitable property, planning and building the chess centre. At the same time Graeme wrote his chess course and was given a contract to provide chess services to Somerset College. He taught the course full time while the chess centre was being built. The soft opening was in December 2002 and the official opening in January 2003. In the same month Graeme did not stand for re-election as President of the ACF.
At the 2006 Gold Coast Primary Schools Chess Teams Finals day, organised by Graeme and his colleagues, an all-time Australian record of 1,004 was set for most number of chess players at a single event at one time.
Graeme and Wendy ran the chess centre and their ‘chess in schools’ business from the chess centre until the sale of the property in 2011. During this period, they met many children and their parents, and made lasting friendships. They ran numerous chess competitions every year, both for children and adults. These included local, state, national championships, and international events. They organised trips for students to the Australian Junior Championships, and to a couple of events in New Zealand. Many students from the Gardiner Chess centre won national titles and represented Australia overseas. Amongst the students who attended were numerous students with ADHD or those on the autism spectrum. Several of these got very good at chess, had improved self-esteem and improved behaviour.
On the sale of the property, the main Gardiner Chess business of providing ongoing chess coaching services to schools continued from an office down the road in Mudgeeraba village. The business was sold at the end of 2015 to two senior staff members, Andrew Fitzpatrick and Justine Jule.
Graeme then became semi-retired and commenced Masters research in the field of chess and education. He continued to do some paid, and some voluntary work, at Somerset College for Gardiner Chess.
Somerset College has achieved the reputation of being the finest all-round chess school in Queensland over the past 25 years. Teams from Somerset College have won numerous state and national titles, and have made more appearances in the national titles than any other school. 12 Somerset students have represented Australia in overseas competition.
An indication of the growth in participation in Queensland junior chess is given by the Queensland Junior Ratings List. The list is an indication of the playing strength of a player in relation to all others on the list. Players gain a rating by playing in rated tournaments, performing at a minimum standard which roughly equates to being able to move the pieces correctly, make safe moves, castle and perform basic random checkmates. The list was commenced in September 1993 by Dr David McKinnon with 113 players. In 25 years, David has overseen its growth to such an extent that the September 2018 list consisted of 3468 active juniors.
In his research work, Graeme is interested in the perceived benefits for children in learning to play chess.