Is chess in Guyana facing stalemate or checkmate?

Asks Donald Duff

Chess is not an altogether popular game in Guyana. It is, though, a game that helps one to concentrate, calculate, and plan ahead and, as such, it is an extremely beneficial game for young people. It is also a game that makes one marvel at the brilliance of the mind of mankind. Those who have performed or experienced the beauty of combinations such as in a smothered checkmate, or played the many opening gambits which give up material advantage for positional advantage will tell you that there is no more beautiful game than chess.

Unlike some other Caribbean countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba, Chess in Guyana is hardly played in the streets although it is played by some persons on the Bourda Market Mall. Chess clubs are virtually nonexistent and chess is rarely played in the schools. Although tournaments are held with some degree of regularity, there is absolutely no proper structure for the playing of chess in Guyana.

Alan Herbert
Alan Herbert
Irshad Mohammed
Irshad Mohammed

In the 1980’s there were chess clubs with one Monarch, found in Campbellville and formed by Christopher Shervington, attracting players such as John Macedo, Anthony Dowding, Shervington himself.

Macedo and Dowding later went on to become national champions while Shervington migrated.

Then, chess was a bit more popular than now with regular visits by Grandmasters especially from Russia organized by a strong federation.

National chess teams also participated at various chess Olympiads with fairly good results.

Then ,Guyanese chess players such as Maurice and Gordon Broomes, Ed Greeman, Edan Warsali and Patrick Wharton were among the best in the Caribbean.

“Back in the late ‘70’s and early `80’s Guyana was the best in chess in the Caribbean. They had the strongest players, and now they have to virtually start over from scratch,” said Allan Herbert, Chairman of the Development Committee of FIDE during a visit to Guyana in 2010.

Herbert had predicted then that in another four or five years, chess in Guyana could reach the pedestal it once stood.

It seemed that way for a time as the GCF was resuscitated by veteran player and Stabroek News’ columnist Errol Tiwari after a period of dormancy.

After Tiwari, Shiv Nandlall took over the presidency for a further two years.

However, while during that period there were regular tournaments and even the return of the national chess championships, the game failed to take off for a number of reasons.

The first was the continued absence of a club structure. More clubs would have led to more players playing the game.

Errol Tiwari
Errol Tiwari
Shiv Nandlall
Shiv Nandlall

The second was the continued absence of a chess curriculum in the schools although the first schools’ tournament in over a decade attracted a number of players one of which, Haifeng Su, is the current national junior champion and senior national player.

The third reason for the failure of the sport to grow is a lack of funding. Chess, like all the other sports disciplines, need funding for its growth and since there is no subvention from government for sports associations, these associations are forced to seek sponsorship from the handful of good corporate citizens that usually provide monetary support.

The fourth reason is the failure of past executives to decentralize the sport with the federation failing to take the game to the rural areas.

For most of last year the GCF was in the running for the Most Improved Association of the Year award until it stumbled near the finish line.

When Irshad Mohammed took over as president of the GCF last February, replacing Nandlall, many viewed the transition as just the passing of the baton, torch or whatever but Mohammed had other plans.

“We want to tap into the schools and focus more on the growth and development of the game among the youth population,” Mohammed had stated after being elected.

He had also said that he was keen on having Guyana compete at the Olympiad in Norway in August as well as host the CARICOM chess championships. He had called on his executives to work in the best interest of the game’s development and had urged stakeholders to play their part in ensuring progress was made during his tenure.

Given the nature of board sports in Guyana, few expected chess to progress, but progress it did.

Mohammed seemed to be a man on a mission and Guyana, in August of last year, resumed its participation at the World Chess Championships, the pinnacle of team championship chess. Guyana had not fielded a team at the chess Olympiad in over two decades. At the 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, the local team of Anthony Drayton, Ronuel Greenidge, Maria Thomas and Su, acquitted themselves well with Drayton and Greenidge earning Candidate Master status. It was a tremendous achievement and an obvious fillip for the sport here.

Greenidge, who entered the tournament ranked 1630, is now ranked 1753 in the standard format of the sport but is not ranked in the two other formats Blitz and Rapid Play.

Drayton, who entered the Chess Olympiad with a rating of 1828, is now rated 1914 in the standard format and 1799 in the Blitz format. He is not rated in the Rapid Play format.

Su entered the world championships rated 1734 and is now rated 1792 while Thomas was the only player whose rating dropped entering the championships rated 1777 and is now rated 1738.

Following the team’s return from Norway, the GCF began the national junior chess qualification tournament.

The Trophy Stall-sponsored qualification tournament was to identify the competitors for the 2014 Closed national junior chess championships.

The qualification tournament was staged at the ECI Sports Club, Friendship, East Bank Demerara with the top seven players at the end of the Swiss system tournament challenging defending champion Su for his title. Mohammed followed up the qualification junior tournament with the staging of the UMADA Cup tournament. This was a first for Guyana for never had such a tournament been held here.

The Umada Cup was held at the Sleep Inn Hotel, Brickdam, Stabroek, from November 27-December 1.

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony had praised the development of the sport.

“I am truly excited from the Ministry’s point of view and must note the input of (FIDE) President, (Kirsan Llyumzhinov), who facilitated local chess players’ involvement in international tournaments that witnessed vast improvement of Guyanese players,” said Dr. Anthony.

The GCF received funding from FIDE for the staging of the Umada Cup but apparently there was very little support for the tournament otherwise.

Since the Umada Cup there has been no further activity from the GCF which leaves several questions. What has happened to the national junior Closed championships?

Why has the senior national chess championships not commenced? What about the customary Mashramani tournaments?

What about the Annual General Meeting of the GCF?

Is the GCF still functioning?

Certainly one cannot blame Mohammed for he has shown tremendous courage and initiative to try and get chess moving in a country where there is little support.

The GCF is obviously facing some of the many problems that other associations face such as a lack of financial support from the government and a lack of sponsorship whenever national teams are to leave for international engagements. But this is four months into the new year and there has been a deafening silence from the GCF. The GCF needs to break the silence and explain why, after such a promising start, Chess is facing stalemate.

E4. It’s your move GCF.




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