“There’s not the mystery in ten murders that there is in one game of chess,” said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a Scottish physician and writer.
Chess can be termed a sport where the player can sit back and relax but put his or her mind at an intense struggle, trying to be one step ahead of the opponent, shutting off the rest of the world to safeguard your beloved queen.
Every strategy and each move is to make sure that the strongest piece on the chessboard is protected. While chess enjoys a huge following on the global stage, its development and future remains a mystery for the Pakistan Chess Federation (PCF) as it awaits a world-class player.
National champion Mehmood Lodhi is a middle-aged man, well past his peak. This does not augur well for the PCF, struggling to find its feet when it comes to the game’s development. However, former grandmaster Shehzad Mirza finds the glass half-full and believes that the country’s young brigade is fierce and competitive enough to pursue the sport. He does not believe in sitting back and commenting on the country’s struggle – unlike most people – but is actively focusing on training children to make them better players.
A former national champion, Mirza has turned his interest towards coaching and is preparing potential players in a government school.
“Chess is a violent sport and a defeat can haunt you for weeks,” said Mirza. “We don’t have a significant history of the sport in Pakistan. There have been a couple of players who have done well but failed to make a mark internationally. We are not like India’s Viswanathan Anand, who is the world champion, but we can groom players.”
Mirza conducts a three-hour class for students, at the Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School, and believes young children can be transformed into better chess players since their skills are just developing.
Maybe his suggestion to include the sport in every school curriculum isn’t a bad idea. Chess, a part of the Mind Sports Association of Pakistan, has already made its way into several schools and colleges in Karachi.
“Our next step is to organise a national school championship next year and that the response has been encouraging,” said Mirza, who is also the general secretary of the Pakistan Chess Players Association.
While Mirza has his plans, the PCF President Altaf Ahmed Chaudhry said the general perception of the sport needs a change. And he has a point since the perception surrounding chess is that it’s not really a sport. Two people sitting and moving pieces on a board doesn’t qualify for the kind of physical exercise that most people want.
However, Chaudhry, also focusing on the youth, said the sport is much more than that.
“People still see chess as a five-hour activity. Chess has evolved and the time span is shorter. For a long period we invested in old players, in the hope that they could win something, but now we are investing in youth.”
There’s a long way to go before Pakistan can find its name on the world map of chess but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.