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NEWS: Carrying on a legacy (Jan. 2021)

January 27th, 2021 · No Comments

Bringing chess to life after Chess Institute of Canada founder’s passing

Every June, when the Bloor Annex BIA closed the street for a festival, the Chess Institute would set-up their giant chess board with life-sized pieces. It was a very popular feature for attendees. BRIAN BURCHELL/GLEANER NEWS

By Tanya Ielyseieva

2020 was a good year for chess: the player base at increased by 66%, and one of the most popular TV series of the year was about a young woman stealthily moving players on a checkered board. Too bad Ted Winick didn’t see it. The chess enthusiast and co-founder of the Chess Institute of Canada, located at 459A Bloor Street W., believed that the game offered a chance to learn critically important life lessons and that kids of all backgrounds should get a chance to play.

“Learning how to be patient. Learning how to take responsibility for your actions, learning to think before you act, these are the things Ted believed you could learn from chess,” says Keith Denning, an instructor at the Institute. “In the early days, he even had a school janitor come up to him one time and say, ‘Hey, you’re that chess guy, right? I have to thank you because since the chess program has started the lunchroom is much cleaner.’”

Winick founded the Chess Institute and the Spirit of Math with the support of his wife, Heidi. He died in May 2019, and she died in August, 2020. Both institutions stay true to the values and standards Winick instilled in them.

“Ted was a real force of nature,” says Denning. “At the age of 70, even when he was in the hospital, he had more energy than most people half his age who were perfectly healthy. He was just continually working on things. And it’s certainly been difficult without him. Of course, everybody is determined to live up to his vision for the organization and bring it forward.” 

Denning adds that COVID-19 has added to the challenge.

“I’ve been teaching online since March and it’s been difficult for the kids, however, they are handling it very well. Occasionally someone will say something like, ‘Don’t you wish that COVID had never happened?’ Of course, that’s true. But I always see smiling, happy, engaged kids who seem to be able to deal with what is getting thrown at them,” says Denning. “I would like to think, at least in part, it has to do with the sorts of values that we’re encouraging through chess.”

Currently, both the Chess Institute and the Annex Chess Club offer online chess classes, workshops, tournaments, and camps. The Annex Chess Club meets every Monday evening online. The chess classes are mainly focused on students between kindergarten and Grade 8. However, the Annex Chess Club also offers online courses for adults.

“That’s been fantastic, in a lot of ways. Ted’s dream was that it would be the Chess Institute of Canada. And we’ve been making moves that way over the last couple of years. We have had programs outside of Toronto. But now we have students all across the country. We run regular chess tournaments for kids that attract kids from as far away as Prince Rupert, Halifax, and all points in between. 

I think Ted would be pleased with what we’ve managed to do in a very difficult, weird time,” Denning said.

To honour Ted Winick’s legacy, the Chess Institute of Canada is planning to hold annual chess tournaments in his name once in-person gatherings are possible again.


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