EVERYONE came up with something different to keep themselves occupied if they were stuck at home during the pandemic.

For some it was cleaning, for others it was reading or working through that TV series they’d never quite got round to binging yet.

Of the endless list of activities though, among those to benefit most was chess.

“The pandemic was a real renaissance. People were just stuck indoors and looking for something to do”, Andy Howie, the executive director of Chess Scotland told The National.

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In an exclusive interview, he spoke about Scotland’s recent win at one of the sport’s most prestigious tournament, why he feels it needs to be taken more seriously and what the next steps are for the organisation.

Glorney Cup success

Earlier this month, Scotland picked up its first victory in the Glorney Cup since 1965 with an outstanding performance.

The Cup is part of the Glorney Festival, which took place in Stirling, and features four different competitions – the Glorney, the Faber/Gilbert, the Robinson and the Stokes.

“The Glorney started in 1949 and been won by Scotland twice before now – 1963 where we shared it with England, Ireland and Wales and in 1965 we won it outright”, Howie explained.

“We had come close a couple of times since then but we felt this year was a big chance. The Glorney is the prestigious one although I don’t want to take anything away from the others because they are important as well.”

The National: The set of new chess boards will cost £250,000 (Lauren Hurley/PA)

He added that the team, made up of players aged between 12 and 16, put in a phenomenal performance.

Across 24 separate boards, they lost only three.

A chess renaissance

Howie says he believes that chess is “bigger than people realise” but believes some people still have a pre-conceived perception of those who play the game.

“There’s this idea that it’s played by people in attics in knitted jumpers and geeks but that couldn’t be further than the truth.”

Howie continued: “We have people from all walks of life. Over the years, we’ve been in decline but there was a renaissance in the pandemic.

“Most clubs throughout Scotland ended up with more people playing and we started running online tournaments.

“It brought in people that wouldn’t have played before.”

Chess is recognised by the International Olympic Committee, with more than 100 countries recognising the game as a sport.

Surprisingly though, the UK is not one of them. When asked why he thought this was, Howie struggled to explain when he considered the mental strength it requires.

“I think we still have this feeling that a sport means you have to be running around. I remember the uproar when darts was first recognised.

“Ultimately all they’re doing is throwing bits of metal at a board but people don’t realise in a competitive environment the top players need the concentration level of a Formula One driver.

Looking to the future

After such a phenomenal performance, Howie is already looking to the future although he admits that sourcing funding is challenging.

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“We are self-funded through membership so we don’t always have the money we need. Getting sponsorship is almost next to impossible”, he explains.

“We have been speaking to ministers and MSPs trying to get funding.”

In spite of those challenges though, the future is looking bright particularly when Howie considers one key fact about the recent Glorney triumph.

“We had a couple of players who couldn’t make it to the event so that’s the frightening thing – that wasn’t even our best team.”