Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Lawyer and his Game



A lawyer and his game published: Sunday March 2, 2008
Avia Collinder, Outlook Writer

Ian Wilkinson believes that chess can change the way indivuduals think. - Photos by Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

When four months ago his daughter was born, attorney-at-law Ian Wilkinson greeted her with a chess piece in hand. That he was rebuked by the doctor in attendance on daughter Tassja and his wife Shawn did not dim his enthusiasm. Chess, he says, will be a big part of Tassja's future.

If Ian Wilkinson had his way chess, the game played by one billion people worldwide, would be a big part of the daily life of every Jamaican child. So convinced is he that the game has the capacity to transform the minds and lives of all who play it that he has set up his own company - Magnificent Chess - to take it into schools and colleges.

In the last six months some 2,000 children have been taught the game which Wilkinson, plunging undisclosed amounts of his own resources into the effort, hopes will soon attract the attention and partnership of the Ministry of Education and other private sector partners.
Ian Wilkinson is a child of the Kingston ghetto who believes fervently in his high school motto, 'The brave may fall but never yield'.

Recalling the days when he strolled Text Lane in downtown Kingston barefooted and in torn clothes, he believes that within every Jamaican child lies the potential to excel. Chess, he believes, will deliver the thinking power and discipline which will bring this potential to the fore.

On January 5, 1965, Ian Godfrey Wilkinson was born in Kingston. Growing up on Text Lane with mother Inez Ricketts and six siblings, he recalls, "We were very poor," living on one meal a day at times when the crash programme work pursued by his mother ended.

Still, she was a woman who 'threw partner' and taught her children values, which were to transform their lives as they grew older. Ian's eldest brother, and also a mentor is Professor Carlos Escoffery, department head of pathology at the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Other siblings have also done well.

"On Text Lane," Wilkinson recalls, "we knew the gangs but they were men - wearing their gunmouth pants, knitted ganzie and Clarke's boots. "In one gang there might have been 30 men, but there was only one gun and perhaps three bullets. Now the gangs are full of teenagers. A 14-year-old has two guns for himself and enough bullets to stone dog."

Ian Wilkinson is convinced that introducing chess can change flourishing the inner-city gang culture. Wilkinson was educated at Calabar All-Age School, Kingston College and the University of the West Indies, leaving the Norman Manley Law School in 1989 as the top student.
At Kingston College, he was particularly influenced by principal Ivan Wally Johnson, who usually assured his students that "we should never give up - not as long as we have breath in our bodies."

But, when coach George Thompson told him that he would not be selected for the Manning Cup team, Wilkinson cried. To fill the vacuum left by football, he turned to Schools Challenge Quiz, which best friend Seymour Douglas convinced him to join. "I became hooked," Ian recalls.
Ian has been involved with KC's Schools Challenge Quiz teams for approximately 20 years, coaching five winning teams (1985, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2007) and several teams to the final (1986, 1993, 1999, 2002 and 2006).

The lawyer, who currently runs his own firm in Kingston and, for the last 17 years, has taught law (Succession/Probate Practice) at the Norman Manley Law School, first learnt to play chess in about May/June, 1999, and played his first tournament in October, 2000. Wilkinson was the non-playing Jamaican captain at the 2002 Bled Olympiad and was elected president of the Jamaica Chess Federation in June, 2003. He was re-elected unopposed in 2003 and also 2007.

In December, 2003, he was awarded the Jamaica Chess Federation's inaugural Chess Journalist of the Year award for 2002 for his reporting on the Bled Olympiad, and in 2007 he was awarded the inaugural award for best chess analyst.

So enamoured of the game did the lawyer become that within a year he had bought 100 books on chess and its champions. He also engaged in sustained research which led to the writing of two chess books, the groundbreaking Magnificence In Bled: The 35th Chess Olympiad and Excitement Galore: Chess In All Its Glory. The latter is also a historic book, the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, that teaches people how to play chess in a simple, yet entertaining, fashion.

Today, Ian Wilkinson is the chairman of Magnificent Chess Foundation (MCF), an entity conceived by him to pioneer the teaching of chess across the length and breadth of Jamaica, particularly in schools.

Wilkinson is author of two books on the game of chess. Through MCF, he hopes to make Jamaica a veritable "a nation of thinkers". Chess, the lawyer states, can revolutionise the way Jamaicans think and reduce crime and violence significantly, while improving the educational and socio-economic life of the country.

"Every time I go downtown to attend court I drive through the old areas. I talk to the youths and ask, 'Why are you killing each other?' Now, downtown, there is one don for every street. I have to see what I can do to make it right," he explains. "Kids who play chess are not violent. Chess itself is a battle, but it is a war conducted with your brain, a fight to outwit your opponent." Research has documented endless benefits. Within chess, he says, lies a game which will impact the individual psychologically, socially and provide excellent networking opportunities.

The lawyer was elected in 2006 in Italy by the world chess governing body to serve as a judge on the World Chess Court (the Ethics Commission) and sat on the newly elected court's first sitting in Greece in July, 2007. The court presided over a number of matters, including the controversial 2006 world chess championship dispute between two world chess champions - the Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik and the Bulgarian Grandmaster Veselin Topalov.

On December 9 and 10, 2006, Wilkinson's Magnificent Chess Foundation hosted its very first chess event - The Frederick Cameron Chess Open. This tournament had the highest number of attendees in 15 years for a tournament held in Jamaica.

"It is our intention to continue to break, and set even more, attendance and participation records here," Wilkinson states. Meanwhile, the push to get it into all local schools will continue.
Ian Wilkinson's personal philosophy is "Always think, as the brain is the best 'tool' that anyone has, and never give up."

The lawyer is working on a law of Succession/Probate Practice book, a fictional novel and two other chess books. Also kept busy as vice-president of the Bar Council, he relaxes by playing chess - of course - reading, writing, playing the violin, drawing, studying foreign languages, writing chess analyses, playing football and cricket, watching sports and travelling.

Wilkinson, the chess fanatic and father to sons, Andrew, 24, and Chevian, 15, and a four-month-old daughter, Tassja, and married to Shawn, also an attorney-at-law, has converted his family and many friends to the pursuit of the game. "Anything which gives people so much fun needs to be spread. "It is fun, it develops reasoning ability, discipline, restraint and caution. You are thinking two or three moves down the line."

In Cuba, he notes, chess is one of the foundations of the education system. He hopes to also accomplish the same thing here.

Read more about Wilkinson on

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