Russian friend or checkmate

16th April 2004 at 01:00

Germany's only school where the game of chess is compulsory will be forced to close by the end of the year if new pupils cannot be found to fill its emptying classrooms.

The Dr Emanuel-Lasker high school, named after the German chess world champion who held the title for a record 27 years between 1894 and 1921, has not only taught its students chess but has dedicated whole lessons to the subject for 200 years.

But the Sachsen Anhalt regional education ministry has ordered its closure.

Susanne Heizmann, spokeswoman for the parents' council, said:

"The ministry says at least 40 new students must enrol in the school each year. But we just don't have enough."

The only other way to save the school was to find private investors who would sponsor it, and parents and teachers were now hoping a chess-loving millionaire would step in to help out, she said.

Local mayor, Rudi Krosch, said he was hoping a rich Russian oil magnate with a passion for chess would invest in the school as Roman Abramovich had done at Chelsea football club.

"We are looking to Russia for help as the country has a special tradition of chess and we are connected in many ways - especially through the chess world champions."

Residents of the small hamlet, which calls itself the "Chess Village Stroebeck", say the game is an important subject for its pupils, not only for cultural reasons, but because it helps improve concentration and logical thinking.

Pupils are marked on their knowledge of the rules of the game, their ability to master different strategies, a variety of opening moves and the history of chess.

The school also takes part in "live" chess games where pupils dress up.

First-year students play the part of pawns and advance to kings and queens as they get older and better at chess.

The entire village has a tradition of playing chess dating back to the 11th century when a local warlord ordered a captured duke to be imprisoned in the village tower, from where he taught the guards and villagers to play to pass the time.

All the villagers can play chess which has been a compulsory subject in the school curriculum since the first village school was founded 200 years ago.

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