CHENNAI: “Do you know Warner Park, Basseterre, where India and West Indies played [T20I] matches recently?” asked St. Kitts and Nevis chess player Frank Gordon during our interaction at the 44th Olympiad venue in Mahabalipuram on Friday.
This DT Next reporter was initially wondering as to why he brought up the topic of a cricket stadium in the middle of a conversation that revolved around the board game. As he proceeded to explain, I understood that the press box at Warner Park was a place where chess enthusiasts assembled to pit their wits against each other.
Gordon also revealed that chess was played at bus stands in the dual-island nation. The chess community took baby steps to popularise the game back home, but COVID-19 played spoilsport. “There is a big media hall [at Warner Park], which is air-conditioned. We used to play there. But after COVID-19, everybody stopped coming there. We would also go to bus terminals and play in a corner,” said Gordon, member of the St. Kitts and Nevis Open team that is making its Olympiad debut.
“Because of the pandemic, it was a challenge to bring players together and meet face to face. We could not bring our strongest team here (Mahabalipuram) because some players did not want to travel due to the current COVID-19 situation,” added Gordon, whose St. Kitts and Nevis Open team does not possess even a single FIDE-rated player.
It is understandable that a top talent is yet to emerge from the Caribbean nation as the St. Kitts and Nevis Chess Federation (SKNCF) became a member of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) only in 2020.
“Our federation was established in 2019. We (federation) were determined to send a team to the 44th Olympiad. I am proud to say that we have achieved it,” said SKNCF executive director P’Della’P Stanley, who is also part of the Open team at the ongoing global event.
“Our players are unrated, but it is the determination to compete with top players [that counts]. Getting people back home to appreciate the importance of chess is an uphill task. With our presence at the Olympiad, we (the team) hope to change the mindset. We hope to see chess get more attraction post our return,” added P’Della’P, who is also associated with the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Network.
“We are jubilant to be playing in the same event as [World No.1] Magnus Carlsen (the Norwegian played the seventh round in Hall No.2 on Friday). It goes to show that there is hope for a young federation like ours,” P’Della’P signed off.