The recently formed BCF, a little over two years now, DID not in any way, form or fashion show any recognition or appreciation for the hard work done by the former members of the 1987 BCF, especially its founder, Mr. Ricardo Aguilar. One could infer by its apparent omission that only the activities of the National Youth Chess Foundation are to be acknowledged. That is not the case here. Of course, the BNYCF has done a very respectable job, and continues to do so. The motto “For The Benefit Of All” is universal to all Belizean chess players, and as such should be acknowledged. So too, give credit where credit is due.
As the former chief tournament director in the BCF, I had the opportunity to do several surveys of chess players in the high schools and in the wider Belize chess community. Between 1988 and 1992, there were 623 players in the high schools; of that number, 226 participated in tournaments. Fourteen high schools were very active during those years; there were also four active primary schools: Wesley College; Saint John’s College; Holy Redeemer School; Muffles High School; Pallotti High School; St. Joseph School; Belize Vocational; Saint Catherine Academy; Succotz Primary School; Nazarene High School; Anglican Cathedral College; Mount Carmel Primary School; Edward P. Yorke High School; Mopan Technical High; Dangriga Ecumenical High School; Gwendolyn Lizarraga High School; Belmopan Comprehensive High School; and Orange Walk Technical High School.
During the years 1987 to 1993, Ricardo Aguilar was the first to promote competitive chess in the high schools. Concurrently, Mr. Santiago Montejo introduced chess into some primary schools. Furthermore, during this time also, there were five district associations and sixteen chess clubs country wide.
Many from the pool of active players moved on in life to become technicians, teachers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, surgeons, engineers, boat captains, senior military officers and computer analysts, just to name a few.
In 1990, some of us at the National Sports Council (NSC) and the Olympic Committee decided to do a Belize Games, to be patterned off the Olympic Games format. So the Belize Games ‘91 came into existence. It was also in 1991 that Belize participated in its first international chess competition at home. Belize won! We also had Belize games ‘93 two years later. Anyhow, back to Belize Games ‘91. Chess was considered a sporting discipline from way back then. The NSC accepted the rationale that it was a sport. Today, over 2/3 of the 158 FIDE members acknowledge it as a sport.
At the Belize Chess Games ‘91, I was called upon to be the tournament director. It was a tremendous success. Thirty two participants took part in three categories, namely Junior, Intermediate and Senior. In 1993, again the BCF participated in the Belize Olympic Games. A much more talented and stronger set of players took part in the tournament.
By the end of the 1994 tournaments, the BCF started to experience its share of problems, like many other federations in the West Indies. We noted a steady decline of players leaving the country for various reasons and others putting up their chess sets. Between the years 1994 and 2008, a few others and I kept chess alive in Belize. During those years, competitive activities quieted down. However, we kept on fanning the chess flame. The hub of activities then shifted to the Turton Library Service on North Front Street and the Queen Square Chess Club on Dolphin Street.
In the year 2000, a strong resurgence of chess activities took place primarily in Belize City. Some players formed chess clubs in Orange Walk Town, Corozal Town and in Belize City; but they were short-lived. In Belize City, the Lake Independence Chess Association (LICA) came into existence. Some former members later put their efforts in the formation of the Belize Association of Chess Players (BACP).
After a lull in inter-collegiate activities, the BACP revived the annually held competition. It succeeded in a small way. The highlight of the BACP‘s existence was the Mayoral Games, held annually between 2002 and 2004. Due to the economic upheaval and tight fiscal policy situation, 2004 was the last Mayoral Games held.
Since 2004, chess activities abated a bit. High school and primary school activities almost came to a grinding halt. But the work of the Belize Chess Institute continues. Several seminars and workshops were conducted, and a rise in adult chess activities took place throughout the country. In February of 2006, Mr. Jorge Vega, President of the America’s, and Mr. Allan Herbert, Treasurer of the Caribbean and the America’s, paid us a visit in Belize. Some of the executives of the BCF and the two gentlemen had a fruitful discussion. Some of the substantive issues still need to be addressed.
In mid 2006, there was a Neal Pen Road streetside tournament conducted by yours truly. It drew quite a crowd.
Some of the visionaries of yesteryears are: Lester Young, Ignacio Reyes, Guadalupe Lizarraga, William Reyes, Gwendolyn Lizarraga, Robert Hinkson, Guillermo Reyes, Manuel Lizarraga, Sr., Ricardo Aguilar, Santiago Montejo, Glen Reneau, Manuel Bautista, Cruz Montejo, Dr. Isabel Tun, Enrique Caliz, Mario Sanchez, Sidley Leslie, Lloyd Butler.
Some of the chess luminaries of yesteryears are: Ricardo Aguilar, Kofi Geban, Glen Reneau, Carla Kemp, Carlo Arguelles, Emil Arguelles, Fernando Avella, Abel Novelo, Alya Rosado, Jose Vasquez, Rene Trujeque, Deepa Punjabi, Nasim Ahmadiyah, Sheldon Hudson, David Martinez, Juan de Leon, Gregory Torres, Adin Aragon, Maria Vasquez, Natalie Gibson, Tessa Gibson, Colville Young, Jr., David Jenkins, Jeff Scott, Dilip Punjabi, Kerry Estephan, Suzette Vasquez, Therese Young.
It must be noted that during the years 1987 – 2006, players came from all over the world to Belize to play chess. They came from: Canada, USA, Mexico, Cuba, Israel, Guyana, China, Guatemala, Jamaica, Barbados, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Germany, Britain, Italy, Russia, Australia, Haiti, India and Holland. They played: Team chess, Individual chess, Speed chess, Tournament chess, Computer chess, Correspondence chess, Street chess, Beach chess, Bus chess, Conditional chess and Boxing chess.
The Belize Chess Institute was instrumental in facilitating all these chess activities. Since I wrote the rating rules for the BACP, its constitution, and the High School Tournament Handbook, I looked at some of the games of past players from the twentieth century that I have in my possession and was impressed with their ratings. I applied the elo rating formula to their games and came up with what would be the rating of their performance. A few of them are playing at master level, above 2000 elo points. In the BCF days and before all our computation, calculations and pairings were done manually. With the advent of computer rating software programs, the process is done automatically and conforms to FIDE’s rating acceptance. Mind you, not all of the rating software programs around conform to FIDE’s strict standard.
In closing this short historical insight into the reality of chess in Belize, it behooves the present body of BCF officials not to treat lightly or to ignore the existence of the groundwork laid out by the founding fathers of chess in Belize, most especially the tireless, dedicated and productive work of the late chess master and founder of the Belize Chess Federation, Mr. Ricardo Aguilar.
As a postscript, on Sunday, September 12, 2010, a three minutes of silence was observed at the FIDE headquarters for the late great chess master, Mr. Ricardo Aguilar.