Chess Champion Visits The Abbey

Alumnae Louise Head (2016) popped in to The Abbey School last Wednesday where she joined in with Chess club and offered great advice to budding Chess enthusiasts, spoke to some of her past teachers and managed to answer a few questions for us as well.

Louise is currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, working at the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems. She is studying soft matter Physics and developing algorithms for simulating complex fluids.

Louise is also a highly skilled Chess player and has been very successful in her achievements.

What is your fondest memory of The Abbey?
I was at The Abbey since I was 10 and enjoyed my time through all the year groups. I particularly enjoyed Sixth Form, being able to specialise in my favourite subjects. I was also proud to be a member of the Paget house, and supporting my house in chess and HMAD!

What do you like most about Chess and when did you start playing?
I started playing at 6, at my junior school chess club. At first, I attended the weekly club meetings, but started competing in tournaments aged 8.

There are many aspects to chess that I am passionate about, I’ve always liked the strategy behind the game, coming up with plans and predicting what your opponent is thinking. While chess games often can start by the same sequence of moves, amazingly there are more possible variations of chess games than there are atoms in the observable universe – so there are always new and exciting games that can be played at all levels.

I also love the competitive nature of chess, whether you play online or in a tournament game it is always rewarding to win chess games – particularly if the wins contribute to your individual performance in a competition, or towards a team result.

These days I greatly enjoy travelling to competitions in new places, and meeting chess players from around the world!

What are your achievements in Chess?
– English Women’s Chess Champion (2017
& 2019)
– Represented the England Women’s team
at the World Chess Olympiad 2018 and
European Team Championships 2021
– Became a Woman FIDE Master (WFM)
in 2017
– Being on the BBC One Show and playing
chess against Sir Tim Rice (2018)
– Commentator for the English Chess
Federation ‘Checkmate Covid’ 24 hour
charity event (2021)
– First female president of the University
of Warwick Chess Society, and won the
English Chess Federation ‘Club of the
Year’ Award (2019)

Any advice for chess players?
To improve at chess it’s hugely important to always enjoy what you’re doing. Sources of inspiration could come from playing over-the-board or online chess games, solving chess puzzles, learning chess openings, or watching commentary on big events (such as the world championship match going on currently).
How will you continue in Chess?
I would like to continue to represent the England national team and achieve the Woman International Master (WIM) title.

Did you watch the Queen’s Gambit? If so, what do you think about it?
I loved the Queen’s Gambit series. In the UK, chess is widely played by more than 10% of the population, but yet it still doesn’t have the same attitude and popularity that it does in a number of other countries around the world. Chess is even part of the national curriculum in some countries such as Hungary and Armenia!

The Queen’s Gambit was a very special series to the chess community because it gave non-chess players an idea into the chess playing world. Even though the series is fictional, it showed everyone the competitive nature of chess tournaments, being a successful female (girl power) in a male dominated sport, the support teams that are behind the journey of many chess players, and even the glamourous scenes of playing chess around the world at high profile events. The chess games themselves were based on real games, and were selected by a former world champion, Garry Kasparov, so the series appealed to chess and non-chess players alike.

The popularity of the series, combined with lockdown, meant that there’s been a huge and very exciting rise in new players taking up the game. For example, has had more than 20 million new accounts since last March, and university chess clubs have had a huge spike in members this year! Shortly after lockdown ended this July, there was even the UK’s first chess festival in London’s Trafalgar Square called ‘Chess-Fest’ with an amazing 6000 people attending. The UK chess scene is certainly thriving from the surge in popularity following the series.

What would you say is your biggest achievement?
I’m proud of all of the chess achievements, and also achieving a first class Masters degree in physics from the University of Warwick.

What advice would you give to current Abbey Students?
I would say that it is very valuable to be confident in your own abilities. In any path that lies ahead, whether it’s your studies, exams, a job or your hobbies, there will be successful moments and failures. The important thing is to always keep your successes in mind, even if you hit a difficult patch. Approaching each task with a positive mindset, and to believe in yourself will give a boost to any performance.