Time to capitalize on opportunities for chess

As we acknowledge the new year, it is neither the time nor the place for superfluous words. The time has come when we must settle all our accounts and move chess into the bright sunshine of popularity and away from the obscure shadows that seem to cover it.

A minuscule number of persons are playing competitive chess in Guyana today. We energetically deny the statement is inaccurate.

At each tournament, we see the same faces. The identical persons who represented Guyana at the 2016 Chess Olympiad, will, more than likely, do so again at the 2018 Olympiad competition.

While a fair number of persons may be playing chess in their homes among friends, and on the internet (we cannot generalize an average number, since a statistical survey was never attempted), it is only by playing competitively in tournaments, would we be able to place our fingers on the pulse of chess in the nation. It is certainly not enough to content ourselves with a mere two-week biennial Olympiad competition in addition to the hosting of a tournament here and there, and speak glowingly of our successes. Rather, we should, perhaps, concentrate on the promotion of chess in Guyana. With dizzying speed, we should incorporate whatever is necessary to popularize the centuries old mind game.

Maria Varona-Thomas (above) became Guyana’s first Woman FIDE Master at the 42nd Chess Olympiad held in September 2016 in Azerbaijan

During August of 2016, as the Olympiad chess team was about to depart Guyana, it met with President David Granger. It was not a surprise, as the President understands the importance, and the perceptiveness, which chess brings to a society. The press reported that the President invited the team, upon its return, to meet with him with its proposals, perhaps, to solidify the game locally.  Did that meeting happen? It is not customary that a sitting head-of-state makes a glowing overture to a somewhat barely noticeable game. It is an instance of appropriating a gesture from government that is almost unrealistic in current times, and it is coming from the chief himself.

The last time such an instance occurred, when government took a hand for the promotion of chess in this land, was back in the early 1970s during the tenure of prime minister Forbes Burnham who actually established the Guyana Chess Association, the predecessor of the Guyana Chess Federation (GCF). Like Burnham, Granger possesses a solid affinity for chess; they both served as presidents of the GCF.

If that post-Olympiad meeting did not occur, the column urges the principals of the GCF to capitalize on this opportunity to make an unequivocal statement for the continuation of successes for chess in the national arena. It is clear such a kind and straightforward offer has a limited timeframe.

For the past two-plus years, Guyana has been without a national schools chess championship. It is necessary to promote a return to such an endeavour. How can we popularize a game without it being played in the schools? We should persevere to play the game in our schools. The schools’ championship is both an inexpensive and credible way to do just that in a conscientious manner. It is not the only way, but for the moment, it is a way of keeping the game alive, and of keeping the clock ticking. It is natural for an interest to deepen when a school prepares for a national competition, on a national stage.  The possibilities get more interesting when there is an opportunity to represent one’s country internationally. Further to that, there are equal opportunities for the young, and the old, in chess. Teenagers are becoming chess grandmasters nowadays. World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen captured the prestigious title at age 22. In chess, the world is at the primary school student’s feet. Wonderful opportunities exist to bestow honour upon one’s nation. We have to go for it. Guyana has never had a chess grandmaster. I am persuaded we have the talent to produce one with an international stature. And it is only by the inclusion of dedicated school chess, can we find such a person. The hosting of the national schools’ championship, represents a powerful symbolic gesture in that sense of reaching out to our children and young people.

The column turns its attention to having no legally constituted administrative body for chess. The life of the incumbent administration ended a while ago. Is that the way it should be? The failure of the incumbent to call an annual general meeting at which members of the executive committee are elected, would interfere negatively with the sponsorship for chess mildly in the short term, and rapidly, as time passes. One should ponder these simple truths. Gracious sponsors for chess are watching, and carefully observing. The current administration for chess has a pertinent obligation to get our financial accounts in order and to submit whatever is to be submitted to the National Sports Commission, for its inspection and assessment. Only then can we repair the limp in a tainted leg of the chess federation.

The representatives for the 2016 chess Olympiad honoured our nation, generally speaking, with their results. Maria Varona-Thomas qualified for the international chess title of Woman FIDE Master. It was the first major title for a woman chess player from Guyana. Sherrifa Ali and Taffin Khan were also exceptional for Guyana. The column is proud of their achievements.

Happy New Year!

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