Checkmate: Chess Night in Mînî Thnî invites all to wage war on the board

MÎNÎ THNÎ – The founder of Alberta’s fastest-growing chess club is hosting an opening night in Mînî Thnî with the endgame of adding another sister club to an empire built on inclusivity, kindness and sportsmanship.

Canmore musician Jyn San Miguel, who is also the founder and president of the Banff Chess Club and Canmore Chess Club, said it was when he noticed an absence of Indigenous people attending meets that he set his sights on bringing the game’s club culture closer to Mînî Thnî (Morley).

“We didn’t have any Indigenous members in the Canmore or Banff clubs and that’s what motivated me to try to take this out to Mînî Thnî, because I know there’s talent in every community when it comes to chess,” he said.

San Miguel attended the Stoney Health Fair Sept. 14 to gauge interest in expanding the club and approached the Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Program – a Stoney Health Services and Family Resource Network initiative to engage and empower Stoney Nakoda youth – about a partnership.

San Miguel and a team with the youth program agreed to secure a space to host Chess Night in Mînî Thnî Nov. 21 at the Goodstoney (formerly Wesley) Elders Lodge, and as of Nov. 4, about eight people had registered for the event.

In comparison, about six people had registered for the Canmore club’s opening night when Miguel first started it in February 2022. It grew to 100 to 120 people within about a month. The club is the fastest growing in the province according to the Alberta Chess Association and its success, along with Banff’s, earned San Miguel a nomination to become board director for the provincial chess authority.

Îyârhe Nakoda youth outreach worker and school liaison Earl Makinaw-Labelle said he expects there will also be a good turnout for the meet in Mînî Thnî as there are a lot of resident chess players and many young people who are interested in learning.

A chess player of 20-plus years, Makinaw-Labelle incorporates the game into his work with students at Nakoda Elementary School and Morley Community School during sharing circles, while having conversations surrounding mental health.

“When we’re having these kinds of conservations, sometimes the kids will want to talk one-on-one, so we’ll teach them chess and play while we talk. It’s a way for them to open up and they do find it interesting and enjoy it when we can have that time,” he said.

“When this opportunity presented itself to start a club, we figured we may as well try it out. We’re always adding new youth programming and this seemed like a good fit.”

The Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Program also supports families, so all ages are welcome to attend the chess club’s opening night.

San Miguel said the eldest member of the Canmore Chess Club is 79 years old and its youngest player is four. Players’ skill levels vary widely from beginner to advanced. Chess master, Ian Findlay, plays with the club in Banff and has helped to grow the club there.

San Miguel hopes to attract a similar audience in Mînî Thnî, with representation from everyone in the community. During the opening night, he will be teaching attendees how to play at a beginner level but will also demonstrate some advanced strategies from a unique, left-brained lens.

“I think some people look at chess and find it intimidating or think it’s too complicated, but I like to look at the board from more of an artistic eye,” said San Miguel. “I imagine it as a war zone or a theatre stage – each piece is a character and you can create a story or scenarios with your queen, your knights and your bishops.

“I find artistic people like that approach and it really opens up the possibilities of the game for some.”

San Miguel’s mission is to instill friendliness above competitiveness in chess. While competition is healthy and skill should be celebrated, he said the game is sometimes taken too seriously.

“There’s a little too much competitiveness on the international level and it kind of takes away from the game,” he said.

Recently, the chess world has been embroiled in allegations of cheating from some of the scene’s best players, including renowned chess grandmaster and world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, against of one its strongest up-and-comers, Hans Niemann.

San Miguel described the situation as “messy,” and said the scandal draws focus away from what makes chess so great – for the simple reasons that it’s fun, challenging and brings people together. Eventually, San Miguel said he would love for all three of the Bow Valley clubs to be even more all-encompassing by hosting quarterly meet-ups that bring them together for a friendly tournament.

After the opening night in Mînî Thnî, Miguel and the Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Program aim to host monthly or weekly chess meets at the Wesley Elders Lodge. To register for the inaugural event, which begins at 5 p.m., email inyp@stoneyhealth.com or call 403-554-0703. The event is free to attend and chess boards and refreshments will be provided based on registration.

Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook