Schools Chess United (Schack4an) – Sweden 2007

The problem

In 2004 the board of the Swedish Chess federation declared that the goal for the federation was to increase the memberships with 50%. Every section of the federation had to come up with ideas how to achieve it. The different commissions were looking at other successful sports and organizations, but also looking at successful activities on local and regional level in Sweden. They concluded that the best chance to reach the goal was to make the regional tournament “Schack4an” (Chess4) a national one. The reason was that if you want to increase memberships so much, you need to find new target groups outside “the chess family”. The board of the federation decided to invest heavily. They employed a project leader, they created a special commission, and they gave the project 3 years to show results.

What is Schack4an?

Schack4an is a social project run by the Swedish Chess Federation for grade 4. The goal is to include EVERYONE in the class, as everyone is important for the success. Inclusion is the keyword, not chess, and this is something every school and teacher is fighting with, and that they understand. Chess is only the tool to create it.

Schack4an step-by-step

  • In the beginning of each autumn all classes of grade 4 in Sweden are offered a visit by an instructor during the school day.
  • The instructor teaches the class chess for one hour and gives the class a chess box with five chess sets and a simple instruction material for free.
  • The class decides if they want to participate. If they do, they get a new visit for one hour, and is provided with instruction materials and online training.
  • During spring the tournaments are played in three steps: town qualification, district qualification and a national final.

The tournament set-up

  • Schack4an is a class team tournament for grade 4
  • The children are playing individual tournaments, but you can’t play with someone from your own class. All points go to the class. 
  • The 1-2-3-point system is used for each game, which makes every child important for the success of the class.
  • A coefficient system based on how many percentages from the official class list that participates is used, which makes classes of different numbers of children to be able to compete on equal ground.
  • In the town qualification tournament, the class shall reach a specific sum of points, which means that you do not compete with the other classes. If you have more than 60% of your children from the official class list participating, you will manage to reach it.
  • Everyone participating receives a medal at all stages. No other individual prizes, or class prizes, are given out.

Facts about Schack4an today

  • 30 000 children are participating every year
  • 1 000 classes take part every year
  • 100 qualification tournaments are held around Sweden every year
  • The final is held in June with 2 500 children from all over Sweden participating.
  • During the Corona-pandemic the tournaments and the visits have been held online
  • Today Schack4an, and school chess, is the engine of Swedish chess. The main part of the budget comes from subsidies generated from this social project.

How was and is Schack4an financed?

In the beginning the federation decided to do an investment over three years, but of course it was backed-up with an analyse of how to get the money back in the future. In Sweden the government support organizations with two yearly subsidies: there is an amount for each member registered in the federation, and one per club registered. If the project could create the 50% increasement of memberships after three years, the money will come back after five if the project continues.

One important thing with Schack4an is the balance between the paid work done and the money received. The federation only offers two visits to each class, beside the tournaments. These visits are done by both employed and volunteers. Many persons find it joyful to go out to the schools and teach the fundaments of chess to children, and with an effective time schedule you can make 5 class visits a day. The tournaments with hundreds of kids participating are also nice to arrange, as you see the joy that chess can give to people.

Problems the project faced

  • It is a very tough decision for a federation to invest a lot in something that you can not be sure that you get your money back from.
  • In the start the federation managed to employ a very devoted project manager that worked 65 hours a week without being paid for overtime. He was almost burned out at several stages.
  • There where several volunteers supporting the project manager with a huge amount of unpaid work. After two years the federation had to employ one more person to support the increasing number of classes in the project, that had already doubled the membership of the federation with 100%.
  • After three years there was a bit of an economical crise and one of the two employed had to leave.
  • The subsidy system of Sweden gives you money based on the number of memberships and clubs two years back. This means that if you are expanding heavily, you do not get paid for the situation you have, but like it was, and if you expand over several years your costs are always higher than the money you receive. 
  • In Sweden you are not aloud to charge children for anything done in schools. To prove a membership is normally done by showing the payment of the membership fee. After discussions with the authorities, they allowed a signature from the child to be a proof of a membership.

Why is Schack4an a success?

  • The federation has got back their money many times and is today the main source of income.
  • The project became part of the regular activities of the federation
  • 1/3 of all children in Sweden are introduced to chess through Schack4an.
  • Schack4an has generated several other school chess projects like “Yes2Chess” that are online tournaments for other grades, and not the least the creation of over 1 000 school chess clubs run by teachers. Over 8 000 teachers have been to courses to learn how to teach and run the clubs.

 Göran Malmsten, the founder of Schack4an

In 1979 the local chess leader Göran Malmsten started Schack4an in Västerås, Sweden. When he explains the tournament, he does it like this: 

“Schack4an is Anna. Anna was small for her age and had difficulties in school. Even so, she wanted to be in a normal class, nothing else. But it was tough. It was not easy to make friends. That class participated in one of the first years of Schack4an, but Anna did not dare to enter for the qualification tournament of the town. During the tournament the class realised that the more pupils that participated from the class, the more points the class would get. In the first lesson after the tournament, the teacher asked which pupils wanted to go to the regional final, and everyone raised a hand, except for Anna. She was not used to be included in anything. But the girl beside Anna now said: ’Anna must join’. The children of the class looked at each other and they all began to chant: ‘Anna must join, Anna must join, Anna must join’, and so it happened. Anna lost all her five games in the semi-final, but every game played counts for a point and her contribution of five points for her class helped them qualify for the final. Anna played in the final, and she even won two games. I drove Anna home after the final. Everyone that had participated got a prize in the shape of a twenty-centimetre wooden king. I saw in the rear-view mirror how Anna held that king tight. I saw a new lustre in her eyes. The lustre of someone who counts.

You see, Schack4an is not about the elite of chess. It is not even about what is called the mass of chess players. Schack4an is about THE REST, those that through the tournament can find a fellowship and a feeling of being counted.”