Project Checkmate: A special initiative for India's young chess 'Grandmasters' – Hindustan Times

At 16, children are burdened with expectations. At school, they have to give their 10th grade examinations, a stage which determines their academic future.

These pressures do not exist for Devanshi Rathi, a resident of Vasant Vihar. The 16-year-old is an Arena International Master (AIM) in chess. The Arena is a decision by FIDE to introduce titles for the amateur and lower rated players

She started playing the game at eight, and liked it so much that she started her chess company at 12.

With this entrepreneurship, Devanshi decided to combine her love for chess with social service. In April last, she started ‘Project Checkmate’, and aims to teach visually-impaired children in the hope of unearthing Grandmasters. This is her way of giving back to the game she loves.

Speaking to HT, Devanshi said teaching boys and girls between 10-14 years was a pleasure. “We don’t understand the challenges they face. I knew chess and was capable of teaching them what I knew,” she said.

FIDE ranking for student

During the interaction, Devanshi played with three boys, Adarsh, Ayush and Abhishek, simultaneously. While she defeated two of them, she lost to 14-year-old Ayush. She spoke on how her students got better.

“They played in school nationals and came in the top 10, and qualified for the North Zone. After winning, they entered the National Blind Tournament where Ayush got his FIDE rating. It gives him a head-start in professional chess,” said Devanshi.

On the FIDE website, Ayush is ranked with 1159 points.

Devanshi Rathi, who won bronze in the Commonwealth U-18 tournament in Sri Lanka, started Project Checkmate in April 2016.
(Hindustan Times)

Chess a leveller

Devanshi, who secured bronze in the Commonwealth U-18 tournament in Sri Lanka in 2016, said chess was a great leveller. “It is the only game where visually-impaired players compete with ‘normal’ players. In reality, normal people find it difficult at a certain point in time as they have to visualise the board and memorise,” she said.

Devanshi drew a parallel with the Blindfold format in which players close their eyes and imagine the position on the board. “After three-four moves, positions change. Mental calculations are important in this game where over a crore-kind of possible moves exist,” she added.

Harika an inspiration

In 2016, Harika Dronavalli secured her third bronze at the World Chess Championships in Tehran. Devanshi said Harika’s performances were helping the growth of women’s chess in India.

“Harika is an inspiration for girls like me. For the girls I teach, Harika’s tips will help them immensely,” she said.

Challenges galore

However, ‘Project Checkmate’ faces problems. Lack of funds, proper trainers and other commitments have impeded the growth of the project.

“We need corporate sponsors. In Tamil Nadu, corporate companies are helping out because they are enthusiastic. That is not the case in Delhi. The other challenge is it is difficult for me to give them time. We need dedicated trainers so that the children can continue to learn,” said Devanshi.

Despite the obstacles, she is unfazed. “I am in talks with international chess promotional bodies. I want to make this project grow as I feel it has something for these students.”

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