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12 October, 2017 00:00 00 AM
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Let’s Play Chess

Sheikh Iraj
Let’s Play Chess

Chess is a wonderful mind-engaging game that is played in most countries of the world. In the 1980s, chess was at its peak of popularity in our country. Niaz Murshed of Bangladesh became the first South Asian to be awarded the title of Grandmaster in 1987 by the World Chess Federation, better known by its French acronym FIDE. So far, we have five Grandmasters in our country. But no one from Bangladesh has earned the title since 2007. That being said, chess is still quite popular throughout our country. Many schools, colleges and universities have chess clubs and many youths are avid followers of chess. Some of the top educational institutions in the capital regularly organise chess competitions. Even in other competitive events like science festivals and math Olympiads, chess often finds itself as one of the most popular segments. Thanks to the internet, advancement in technology and social media sites, online chess has become quite trendy these days. Today, different websites and software allow us to play chess on our laptops or mobile phones. This week, Y&I spoke with some young and upcoming chess players as well as some veteran players, chess fans and officials of the Bangladesh Chess Federation. They talked about the present state of the game in our country, where it is heading and steps needed to bring back the golden days of chess in our country.   

Mohammad Fahad Rahman became an overnight celebrity when, at the age of only 13, he became the youngest FIDE Master of Bangladesh in 2016. “So far, I have won eight gold, six silver and four bronze medals from different tournaments at home and abroad, as well as one national gold medal. I am in class 8 at Little Jewels International School in the capital. I always try to make sure my studies and chess-playing do not collide with each other. Many of my friends have started playing chess after knowing what I have achieved. Right now, I am preparing myself for the National Tournament, which is supposed to start this month. I think in order to make chess more popular, we must give importance to school chess. I also play chess online. When it comes to online chess websites, I prefer Chess.com over other sites. Playing chess online is fun, one gets to play with different types of both amateur and professional players. There are a lot of benefits of playing chess online. For example, when I am playing an amateur player, I do not know how he or she might play and any new kind of move makes me interested and helps me to think about new chess moves,” Fahad told Y&I.    

Fahad’s father, Nazrul Islam, said: “Fahad was not that good in sports. One day, I bought him a chess board and he started learning. Within two-and-a-half months he qualified for several competitions and became the Dhaka Division Champion and that’s how his journey started. From a parent’s point of view, learning to play chess professionally can be an expensive thing. Right now, he doesn’t have a sponsor. It costs nearly Taka 100, 000 per month to provide him with the best and appropriate training. He is not receiving full support from the chess federation.”    

Ramaysha Haider, 11, is an upcoming chess player who has already played in a couple of tournaments abroad. She studies in class 6 and lives in Chittagong. Ramaysha learned to play from her family members. Her house is near the stadium in the port city and one day her father, Kamrul Islam, took her to the Chittagong Chess Committee’s office there. She started learning how to play chess from professionals and soon started to beat players twice her age. “Right now, I am preparing myself for the junior chess workshop, which is going to take place in January,” she told this reporter over telephone. “We are very happy for her and we feel proud every time she takes part in any chess competition. We are receiving all kinds of support from the Bangladesh Chess Federation,” Ramaysha’s father added.

M Abul Hossain, 18, is president of the chess club at St Gregory’s High School and College in Dhaka. “Right now we have 350 members in our chess club. A few months ago, we organised an all-Gregorians chess tournament and many players participated. I believe playing chess develops our cognitive skills. I have noticed that most of my seniors who did well in their exams and in their career played chess.”        

Ankon Biswas, president of Notre Dame College Chess Club, said: “Right now, there are about 50 chess players in our club. We participate in different chess tournaments. Since we are not always able to organise chess-only tournaments, we include the game in our regular science and math festivals. I, along with our club members, believe we are heading towards a bright future when it comes to chess. Most of our members play chess online. There are many chess playing websites, like Chess.com, chess24.com, Internationalchessclub.com, www.chessclub.com, etc.”

Sharmin Sultana, 30, a FIDE Master and winner of the 2017 National Women’s Chess Championship, recently returned home after participating in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan. “We really didn’t do that well in the tournament that we went to play. There were two types of competition. One was open group championship and another was a team event. Four of us, two women and two men, participated in the tournament,” Sultana said. “I started playing chess when I was in class 7 and I am happy to know that our federation has taken the initiative to promote chess in schools. I think we all need to work together to develop our chess. Last year, the federation arranged a training workshop with some selected players. I hope they will continue with training workshop this year as well. We want more chess tournaments to be organised,” she added.       

Grandmaster Niaz Murshed, 51, told Y&I: “Since 1990, we have not developed our young players. That is the reason why we are not able to find that many talented young chess players. In order to revive chess to its old glory, we have to focus and use our resources on young players. Right now, we have more aging chess players than young ones. Fahad trained under me for some time, but now he is slowing down. Monon Reza Nir is about 8 years old and she is showing promise, but she is still too young. At the moment, getting sponsors for the young players is a big challenge. We do not have enough resources to pull off exceptional results. India got its first Grandmaster title in 1988. But in the past 30 odd years, India has managed to earn 50 Grandmaster titles, whereas we only have five Grandmasters. Recently, BRAC University organised a good chess tournament. We need more tournaments like those to make chess more popular. If we do not take proper steps to revive chess in this country, then it will be too late to do it at all.”

Gazi Shayiful Tarique, vice president of Bangladesh Chess Federation, said: “Compared to a couple of years back, I firmly believe we are heading towards a positive direction. We cannot expect success in chess overnight, it takes time. Right now, we are giving more importance to school chess. We have contacted 40 schools in Dhaka; those that did not have chess boards, we provided them with those. Our trainers have visited the schools and worked with the students and teachers. We have a target of going to another 40 schools this year. We are basically promoting chess in the schools because we believe we will get our next Grandmasters from there. Many schools and students are showing interest to work with us. Through the school chess programme, we initially selected 120 chess players, 80 of whom qualified and they are now receiving training from our coaches. I know some may disagree with our point of view, but we have seen the interest the students have in playing chess and we just want to ignite that passion throughout the country. Girls are also showing a lot of interest in chess, that is a very positive sign.”

“Every year, we receive Taka 1.2 million from the government. With that money, we hardly manage to pay the salary of our staff. We spend around Tk 10 million, and we collect the extra money from various sponsors. The real story is we need Tk 50 million to properly run the federation and carry out more activities. Now, the encouraging sign is that people like Taraffdar M Ruhul Amin, one of the honorary vice presidents of our federation, are supporting us financially. He is one of the biggest sponsors of chess we have at the moment. He wants to make chess popular again in our country. His contribution and vision may help us regain the golden days of chess,” the federation official said.

“Some of the events we organise are junior and sub-junior chess tournaments; national men’s and national women’s championships; 1st Division, 2nd Division and Premier Chess leagues. We want every district to participate in the National Chess Championships and send their players to us. Right now, we need our prominent players to step forward and take the responsibility ofrebuilding our chess community. The media has a major role to play in making chess more popular. Nevertheless, we do not get good coverage from them. When we organise a chess tournament, it gets little coverage in our newspapers, while the rest of the sports pages are full of foreign sports news. The media can play a vital role in promoting our local games and sports,” Tarique added.

Grandmaster Ziaur Rahman, 43, told Y&I: “I personally believe we still have time to save our chess. Through proper regulation and nurturing, we can bring back the good old days of chess. We lack in resources. The players do not have decent places where they can play. The Bangladesh Chess Federation is not able to prepare a proper tournament calendar. It is not that active at the moment. About the economic side, when we were young we didn’t except any kind of monetary support from the federation. Today, things have changed; the players want more financial support now.”

FM Iqbal Bin Anwer, Operative Director, Department of Sports and Welfare, Walton Group, told Y&I: “We always try to sponsor different game and sport tournaments. As for chess, we want to motivate our chess players, especially those who are young. That is why over the years we have sponsored more than 23 different chess tournaments. Some of them are Walton School Chess Tournament 2016, Walton National Chess Tournament 2016 for Visually Impaired Persons, Walton School Chess Programme 2017 and Walton 37th National Women’s Chess Championship 2017. Walton is also going to sponsor the upcoming 2nd Division Chess League 2017, which will start this month.”

Shams Ud Duha, advisor, BRAC University Chess Club, said: “For the past couple of years, our club has organised several tournaments. We recently organised BERGER 1st Inter-University Chess Championship. About 120 players from 15 different universities and colleges, like Khulna University and Chittagong Commerce College, participated in the three-day tournament. Besides boys, we want girls to develop interest in chess as well, and that is why from this year we have made it mandatory for every team to have at least two female chess players.”  

Jahangirnagar University defeated Dhaka University to win the inter-university tournament and bagged Taka 40,000 as prize money. BRAC University Red clinched the third place, BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) Team 1 came in fourth.

Amirul Islam, a children’s author, is extremely passionate about playing and teaching chess. During his university days, he would visit the Bangladesh Chess Federation regularly. Over the years, he has developed good relations with a number of Grandmaster of our country. “Chess is a 1,500-year-old game. There are thousands of books on chess. In the book, ‘The Immortal Game: A History of Chess’, author David Shenk mentions how chess is an Indian and Persian game in origin, and how it evolved. The interesting thing about chess is that normally, board games do not remain popular or exist for so long. There is a historical fact that once a British chess champion lost to an Indian player, named Mir Sultan Kha, in the late 1930s. I personally believe playing chess has enabled me to think more critically and helped me make decisions more swiftly.”

Photos: Courtesy, File

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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