Manuel Gardenes was born in Catalonia but moved to Ireland six years ago when he was asked to represent Ireland in a chess team championship. “It was a great honour – it was not very practical as I was doing reasonably well as a business consultant in Barcelona, but I chanced it!”
He is still in Ireland and, after some time in Rathmines, Dublin, he, his wife, son, and dogs moved to Gorey. “It was difficult to rent somewhere dog-friendly in Dublin but we found that here.” And, now, Rathmines Chess Club’s loss has been Gorey Chess Club’s gain!
Manuel is no ordinary chess player – he has an impressive international rating of 2205 from FIDE, the World Chess Federation. He discovered chess at the age of five and never looked back. Growing up in Barcelona, he was located right at the heart of chess – “it is the strongest city in Europe when it comes to chess and, in my time, when I played in the top division, Division 1, there were about 200 professional chess players in Barcelona.”
In Ireland, chess is purely an amateur game, which makes Manuel’s presence such a boost to the Irish scene. When he trained the Rathmines Chess Club, it went on to win the Armstrong Cup, becoming the Irish club champions. In Gorey, the club has been promoted to Division 4 under Manuel’s tutelage – the club meets every Monday night in the Loch gCarman Arms @ 7.30pm where free training is available.
By day, Manuel works as a chess coach and as a mind trainer.
“Mind training is where you help people to develop special skills – for instance, I am training two children to play chess blindfolded. This helps to develop their visualisation skills – these are skills that can be applied to any area of life. The children are now using visualisation to solve algebra, they don’t need pen and paper to work it out.”
He has also run a Mind Games Olympics summer camp for children where they learned how to think strategically and how to make decisions on their own. “The possibilities in chess are infinite, so decision making is a complex process. For instance, the middle game position in chess has the same number of possibilities as there are atoms in the galaxy.
“Today, I am more interested in chess as a decision-making model. In life or in business, there are decision-making models, such as decision tree analysis (if, then, or else),and chess is another model.”
Having successfully trained both Wexford and Irish chess champions, Manuel believes that games are best suited to teaching children new skills. “The best age to learn special skills, or music and languages is between six and 12. In your teens, you are still a sponge, but the brain configuration is complete at age 25. You become wiser as you get older, but your tolerance decreases.”
The good news is that the brain is a muscle and it can be trained – the bad news is that it can take six months! “It takes six months for the brain to make new connections – synapses. So, for instance, it takes six months to learn visualisation. When I use a coaching model, I ask people to write a page with their left hand (for right handed writers) once a week for six months. It’s all about repetition until something becomes second nature. Doing exercises like these can raise your IQ by about 30 points, but I’m not a fan of measurements like that, as emotional intelligence is just as important.”
And, now that he has settled in Gorey, how does he find this corner of Ireland? “It is a great market town and the community is brilliant. I’m very involved in the chess and am also in the Civil Defence. We love going to traditional music sessions but I do miss jazz sessions!”