The Netflix movie The Queen’s Gambit has captured the imagination of New Zealand audiences, with many dusting off their chess sets or heading out to the local games store.

This weekend that passion stretched a virtual 16,000 kilometers across globe as around 200 chess enthusiasts from New Zealand and Israel joined together in an online “Chess4Solidarity” event. This was part of the Chess4All initiative, supported by the Savyon municipality in Israel and the embassy of Israel in Wellington.

Timothy Ha, a member of the online chess committee of the NZ Chess Federation, and active player in the Auckland Chess Centre, stated,

“We are very thankful for the friendly team of Chess4All and their idea of solidarity events. The participation from the Israeli side was also impressive, with several famous GMs playing and the U16 champion doing well in the tournament, too.”

Chess4All was launched 20 years ago by Lior Aizenberg who envisaged chess tournaments as way to cross cultural and political boundaries in order to bring people together around an “educational thinking sport”. His hope was that international events would connect people from different backgrounds and ages to build bridges.

Indeed, just prior to the announcement of peace between Israel and Sudan Chess4All held a solidarity chess tournament between chess players in the two countries. “It was organized even before the declaration of normalization of ties between Israel and Sudan, which was still considered a hostile state towards Israel and a supporter of terrorism on the day of the event”.

Aizenberg has found chess to be a outstanding way to make connections with Arab states, and recently organised events with Syria, Morocco, Algeria and the Palestinian Authority. “The lack of borders on the Internet, the voices of change from the Arab world and of course the peace agreements creates a unique [and] different reality that we must be active in.”

Arik Kaplan, President of Ayelet – The Federation of Non-Olympic Sport in Israel

In a year when many around the world have been isolated by Covid, online chess learning and playing have seen a rise of 50%. One of the goals of the Chess4Solidarity project has been to provide connection and solidarity between countries facing the effects of Covid 19. The online chess events are hosted through Zoom and played through a chess platform, with a commentary via Twitch. Many more events are scheduled, including with Chile and Spain in the coming week.

With increasing activity on the net, Aizenberg believes chess has the ability to bring change and plans to continue reaching across borders to “build bridges, hope and peace for the future”.