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Two Chandigarh boys making the right moves with chess

Chess champs Shivom Sood and Shishir Lamba of class 12 visit Apne Foundation every week and teach orphaned boys the game of chess. They are also working on a website to promote chess and reach out to create a chain of chess teaching for the underprivileged.

Shivom Sood (left) and Shishir Lamba at the Apne Foundation. (Express photo by Jaskiran Kapoor)

“To be honest, we were pretty nervous, and anxious at first…will they be open to it, will they give us their time to teach them something new, will we be accepted,” said 17-year-old chess player Shivom Sood as he rewinds to the initial days, when he and his best pal, Shishir Lamba, decided to associate with Apne Foundation with the game of chess. Apne is an organisation that works towards the rehabilitation and education of poor, needy, and orphaned boys in Mohali, Sector 77.

It was an opportunity they happily took up following a post on their chess group requesting people to donate chess boards and pieces to the foundation.

Chess champs Shivom and Shishir, 17, took it a step further. They thought – “Why not teach them to play too?” Since February this year the class 12 boys have been visiting the Foundation religiously every week, with their chess bible and box of chess pieces in hand.

It is a fairly straight road from Chandigarh to the Sohana Sahib Gurdwara and Hospital.

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A bumpy turn into the back lanes from there leads to a row of houses. We park our car and walk down to the gate of the Apne Foundation, the building that, at the moment, is home to 28 boys, aged between 5 and 18. “They are either orphaned, abandoned, or come from impoverished backgrounds,” said Foundation president, Kuldip Singh.

Piped bunker beds stacked in a line, coolers whirring away, lockers and cupboards on one side and a classroom at the end of the gallery, with a kitchen and washing area at the back – it is a decent arrangement. Donations from well-wishers keep the business running and pay for the kids’ schooling. “A visit to the place reminds us of the privileges we are born with. Coming here has been a humbling experience,” said Shivom and Shishir.

The chess players are greeted with a spirited ‘Sat Sri Akal, paaji’, by a bunch of lanky lads. Without wasting time, they roll out their chess mats on the bed. Quietly, Shishir flips open the chess bible.

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“These are puzzles to teach fundamentals. Once they master the basics, we will graduate to the technical level, and help them get into competitions. They have picked the game fast,” said Shishir as Shivom placed the pieces for two teams.

A beaming Amritbir Singh, 16, comes out from the pack of enthusiastic boys. “We all study at Shri Hemkunt Public School nearby,” said the Class 9 boy as he tried to crack the puzzle with his friends Zorawar (16), Gurpal (4) and Ajit (16).

Younger ones, Anmolpreet, 9, and Jasmeet, 10, observe the moves keenly. “We find chess intriguing, interesting, and challenging, and we can play it anytime, anywhere,” said Amritbir who eyes a career in computers, while the others aim for a job in the commerce, software engineering sectors, and the Armed Forces respectively.

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To play a sport is a step towards character building, and personality development. “Chess demands hard work, patience, and in the process, it develops your skills. You become more logical, decisive, patient, find reasoning, plan in advance,” said Shivom, who considers chess one of the most egalitarian sports.

“You never get benched, no one asks your age, and once registered, you play. Not only does it equip you with life skills, but it is also a sport of equal opportunity and level playing field,” says Shivom, who got hooked on chess at the age of five.

Due to health issues, Shivom, who is now in Class 12, was advised not to indulge in too many outdoor activities, and so his parents introduced him to the game of chess on the computer. Soon, he was repeatedly beating the computer in chess. On seeing his interest, a tutor was hired to hone his skills.

Chess comes naturally to Shishir, who picked the love for the sport from his parents who are avid chess players. A restless and energetic Shishir can hardly sit still, but this “game calms me down, improves my focus and concentration.”

The best thing about chess for the duo is that the game “kept us sane during the lockdown.” They were both students of Strawberry Fields High School in Chandigarh. While Shishir continues at Strawberry pursuing non medical, Shivom moved to Woodstock, Mussoorie in Class IX, and created a chess club there in 2018. He is now in Grade XII pursuing a combination of science and commerce.

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“No one viewed chess as a real sport; for many it was basketball and cricket. But I missed chess, and decided to create a club at school. It took me two to three months to convince my schoolmates, and now 15-20 kids are part of the club now,” said Shivom, while Shishir started a chess club at SFHS. Avid followers of chess champ Magnus Carlson, the two have won state and national tournaments, and while Shivom’s national ranking is 1098, Shishir’s is 1241.

Chess, for Shishir and Shivom, is also a channel to do something constructive for society. Shishir, who helped raise funds for Apne Foundation at his school, is working towards finding more avenues of growth and opportunity for the underprivileged, helping them “dream big and find their purpose”.

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Shivom has started the Vishwa Vidya project at Woodstock to help raise funds, educate the underprivileged, and support government schools in Mussoorie. The two are also working on their website to promote chess and reach out to create a chain to run chess teaching, even when it is time for them to move on.

Shivom has been playing competitively since the age of 7. He played the nationals, and won the state-level championship and Hallmark chess tournament.

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Shishir has represented Chandigarh in state championships and secured the first position in the nationals many times. He participated in the  Asian school chess championship in December 2012.

First published on: 15-08-2022 at 08:38:05 pm
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