Kerala chess players rally to checkmate COVID-19

Chess Kerala is holding online tournaments to raise funds for the state’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign

In a winning move, Chess Kerala, a collective of players from Kerala, is now organizing Chess Kerala Grand Prix Tournaments COVID Vaccine Challenge 2021, a series aimed at raising funds for the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) to help the vaccination campaign in the state.

“Players from around the world, ageless, can participate in eight online tournaments which will take place every Sunday evening at 8 p.m. The first was on May 23. Participants and non-participants are asked to contribute at least the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine (₹300) or multiples thereof, to help Kerala fight the pandemic,” said NR Anil Kumar, Chairman of the organization and former member of the Indian Olympic Chess Team and international master.

So far, 100 Indian and foreign players have confirmed their participation and ₹1.5 lakh has been collected. The tournament is held on Lichess.org, a free online chess portal.

Chess Kerala turns to online chess tournaments to fight pandemic and encourage chess players

Chess Kerala turns to online chess tournaments to fight pandemic and encourage chess players | Photo credit: special arrangement

Along with the fundraising tournament, Chess Kerala also organizes a Women’s Grand Prix for female players from Kerala. “Female chess has been marginalized. We decided to organize a series of tournaments on behalf of former state champions. The oldest is Sreedevi Varma who was the champion in 1974. Then there is the six-time state champion Sethu Varma, as well as PV Lalitha and Vasanthi Unni”, explains Preetha KS, Chess Kerala committee member in charge of the advertising. As many of the women were entering a tournament for the first time, two books on chess were sent to them to perfect their moves.

A 23-member committee, including women, runs the online tournament series every Saturday. Three hundred players from all over the world take part. The mega-final is in the name of Koneru Humpy, the current women’s rapid world champion, and the super-final in the name of chess legend Judith Polgar.

Previous Noble

This isn’t the first time the organization has turned to gambling to help the state fight the pandemic. Last year, during the first lockdown in March 2020, Chess Kerala organized the Checkmate COVID-19 International Online Blitz Tournament on May 2, 2020. Three hundred and fifty players from 16 countries registered for this tournament.

Many great masters and international masters like Viswanathan Anand, K Sasikiran, Nihal Sarin, SL Narayanan and others had supported the event. Viswanthan Anand tweeted about the event and sent a video message in support. Her tweet was retweeted by Judith Polgar, who also shared a video message.

Association executive committee member Tara Devi Sunilkumar says players, their parents, friends and supporters raised ₹4.55,000 which was donated to CMDRF last year. There was no entry fee but each player had to pay at least ₹250.

Previously, Chess Kerala held a series of Chess Kerala Grand Prix to raise funds to help distressed chess players and coaches in April 2020. Anil says the event raised ₹90,000. “We were able to buy a laptop for seven-time state champion OT Anil Kumar to help him teach online lessons and earn a living. In Idukki, we bought a desktop computer for KM Rajan, a physically handicapped person. Many of them worked as coaches and trainers and our intention was to help them in any way we could,” says Anil.

Similarly, they had raised funds during the flood of 2018 by organizing tournaments and raised ₹1,38,500 for CMDRF.

Meanwhile, to keep chess players motivated during lockdown, 14 tournaments have been held, with each tournament named after brilliant chess players of old, chess champions and organizers. “We wanted to introduce them to a new generation of players. We produced videos, articles and organized tournaments on their behalf,” says Anil.

It takes a village

Formed four years ago, Chess Kerala’s aim is to help players, coaches and former players and to encourage the game. An independent non-profit organisation, its members are players, parents of children playing chess and tournament organizers in Kerala. He actively organizes events, training camps for children and chess seminars.

Anil points out that unlike many sports organizations in India, every member of Chess Kerala has voting rights and is not just a pawn in the organization.

The organization has introduced a number of innovative events to popularize the ancient board game. “Seven of us, friends and avid chess players, have an informal group, Oriental Chess Moves. I had traveled on the Chess Train, a tourist event in Prague, in which chess players have the chance to see the Czech Republic and also play chess I came up with the idea for Chess Houseboat 2020 and took it up with the Kerala State Tourism Development Corporation A group of us traveled from Alappuzha in Thrissur, admired the view and also played chess,” he explains.

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