Kids Chess 29june12The Jamaican press reported the story of Leighton Barrett this week, who has left his home on the Island to travel to Philadelphia to compete in the annual World Chess Open Championship. It’s the biggest event of his career after dominating tournaments at home.

The crucial thing to know about Leighton is that he’s only nine-years-old.

His story is just the next in a long line of similar tales from around the world, of child chess prodigies succeeding on the world stage. Current world number one Magnus Carlsen for example became a Grandmaster aged just 13 and watching such young talents develop over time is part of the game’s fabric.

Leighton was five years old when he began playing chess. Having formerly watched his older brother at Wolmer’s Prepatory School Chess Club, Leighton now demolishes him in about three minutes.

So after so much success at home his coach Adrian Palmer is confident that his charge can handle the opposition in the United States, in what will be the 1,200 international rating category.

“This will be his first time playing at this level,” said Palmer. “Therefore, I hope he won’t be nervous, which may affect his thinking ability. Once he does what he is supposed to, he should be in the top ten.”

Leighton practices up to nine hours a week with two hours a day spent playing chess on his computer. It begs the question of how many nine-year-old poker prodigies there could be out there were the image of poker not unnecessarily linked to casinos and gambling.

At its most basic poker is just a card game, played by millions of players around the world without the need for money. As highlighted in a special conference at Harvard University earlier this month, poker is already being used in one New York school, and plans to use the game in curriculums is also being explored.

Chess clubs remain common on most schools but why not poker clubs as well? The word “Grandmaster” has an aura about it, one of excellence and achievement. Poker needs its word too to denote ranking, something IFP plans to introduce in the coming months.

For now chess fans will follow the progress of Leighton when the championship starts on 4 July. “If he continues along this line, there is a great possibility that by the time he is 14 or 15 he should be a National Master,” said Palmer.

The best poker players reach the headlines in their early twenties, occasionally earlier. How much better would they and the game be, if they could play uninhibited in school or even earlier?

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