Can the new wave in chess flourish?
Manon Reja Neer, a nine-year old boy from Narayanganj, pulled off a surprise in the recently concluded National Chess Championship. The youngest Candidate Master of the country, who finished 10th, had hogged the spotlight when he held 14-time champion Grand Master (GM) Ziaur Rahman in the seventh round. Neer also broke a 40-year-old record for being the youngest to appear in the national championships, previously held by the country's first GM Niaz Murshed, who first participated at the age of 10.
It was not just Neer who carried the flame of youth; were glittering performances from 16-year-old International Master Fahad Rahman and 14-year old Tahsin Tajwar Zia, son of GM Ziaur, in the 45th edition of the competition was a welcome boost for chess in the country, which saw its last GM a good 11 years ago.
The presence of these prodigies brought a breath of fresh air and new hope to the chess fraternity.
However, the question remains about whether these fresh faces will breathe new life into a chess scene that has been stagnating. Are there enough opportunities for new talent to thrive and achieve the highest feats?
Lack of international and domestic meets, parental and financial support have long been considered to be major factors in the poor state of the game in the country. The obvious question now is whether there is currently any combined effort from organisers, sponsors and the government to create a genuine platform for promising players like Neer, Tahsin and Fahad to flourish?
"There are two major problems: one is financial constraint and the other is a lack of proper judgement," Ziaur Rahman told The Daily Star.
"We are not arranging enough tournaments for players. On the other hand, the players don't get any financial support from any sponsor when they travel abroad to play in tournaments. When someone played well, a lot had been written but we forgot the other players. And bias is also a big issue," he continued.
"I feel really bad as the ratings of our players are not increasing; instead, even the GM's ratings are decreasing. We are operating with wrong planning," he concluded when talking about the new talents' chances to shine in the future.
He, however, thanked the Bangladesh Chess Federation (BCF) for their recent initiatives to stage tournaments.
BCF general secretary Syed Shahab Uddin Shamim admitted that financial constraints had contributed to the poor state of the sport, but also raised questions about the players' lack of self-motivation.
"Yes, there are many problems including financial constraints but the lack of self-motivation of the players is also an issue. They have to set a targets like becoming an IM or GM and motivate themselves to achieve that target. So far, we have five GMs who were devoted to their game and their parents were also supportive," said Shamim.
"Nobody can deny that there are financial constraints. We went to the last four Chess Olympiads with the assistance of the government but we got only Tk 1 lakh for each," he informed.
He however had some good news for the country's chess.
"For the first time a SAARC International Tournament will be held from November 25. Three GM tournaments will be held on the occasion of the grand celebrations of the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We are also planning to send a five- to six-member team to Europe under the leadership of a Grand Master. They will take part in training as well as playing some tournaments during their visit," Shamim said.
"But the federation cannot do everything alone; everybody has to come forward to revive the good old days and players also have to take the initiative to bring in sponsors," he added.
Bangladesh had produced the Asian sub-continent's first Grand Master in Niaz Murshed some 32 years ago, but till date the country has only five Grand Masters, a sordid picture indeed, as the pipeline has almost dried up.
Shamim was hopeful that the country would not have to wait for long to get a sixth GM.
If that is the case and the country's chess has taken a positive turn, then prodigies like Neer, Fahad and Tahsin could make it to the top sooner rather than later. The trio have shown that there is enough promise in the sport; it is now the fraternity's turn to play their hand before the timer runs out.