Children from slums with less than 3 months’ training defeat FIDE rated players
With less than three months' training, Poly Khatun and Mim Akhter, children from the slums of Mirpur, have defeated internationally rated chess players.
The success of Poly and Mim, aged around 12 and 15, would undoubtedly be a source of delight for them, but it is as auspicious for Farhadur Rahman, the coach who armed them with the skills to achieve the feat.
It all started when Agami Education Foundation (AEF) -- an NGO promoting basic education for the underprivileged children in Bangladesh -- reached out to chess players Farhadur and Sadat Ibna Sultan, to teach the sport to underprivileged school children in the capital's Mirpur and Mohammadpur areas.
National chess coach Abu Sufiyan Shakil advised AEF in the initiative.
Farhadur teaches chess to underprivileged children at Shohag Shopnodhora Patshala in Mirpur's Doaripara, while Sadat teaches at Switch Tahmina Banu Bidya Niketon in Mohammadpur.
The initial plan was to conduct a two-month course on chess, but Farhadur insisted that the programme go on for at least two years.
"At first, I was asked to conduct classes for two months, but I wanted at least two years," said Farhadur. "My idea was not just to push chess as an extracurricular activity in these schools, but to get professional chess players from them. And fortunately, our efforts paid off, that too in just a few months."
The chess classes began in October 2021. Most of the students were girls. Poly and Mim were among the first students, and they participated in the championships which started on December 29 and ended January 8.
Mim and Poly's mothers work as domestic help in the capital and their fathers earn money doing odd jobs, Farhad said.
Eighth-grader Mim beat Sima Khatun, who has 1,152 rating points, while Poly, studying in fifth grade, defeated Sheikh Taposhi Tahura who has 1,194 rating points. Poly also played a draw against Fahmida Afroj, who has 1,102 rating points.
"Mim will get her rating next month, and we have entered Poly in another tournament, after which she should receive her rating too," Farhadul said.
The International Chess Federation (FIDE) provides rating to players based on the rated players they compete with and defeat.
Both girls were elated when they realised what they had achieved. Before being introduced to the sport through the course, they had no idea or interest in chess.
However, once they started attending classes, their interest blossomed. Soon, they taught their fathers the game, and they used to play at night during their free time. This practice helped Poly and Mim hone their skills.
"Their parents played a big role in their success," said Farhadur. "When the tournament started with some 15 players from the classes, some parents objected as they were worried about them returning home late [from the Bangladesh Chess Federation, located in Motijheel]. However, we assured the parents and took one of them to the federation building to show them the environment.
"The parents also took notice of their children's growing fondness for chess, and soon enough, they were convinced."
National coach Shakil said he was impressed by the budding chess players.
"Their enthusiasm for the game is unimaginable. We have more female participation right now, which is truly inspiring, but we are also working to get more boys involved as well.
"In terms of funding, AEF is helping us quite a lot," added Shakil. "In the future, we are hopeful that the government and the chess federation will take notice of this initiative, and support our efforts."
With their parents' approval and their mentors' support, underprivileged children like Poly and Mim have been motivated to improve themselves. From knowing very little about chess, they now see it as a legitimate career path and will surely inspire others like them to do the same.