Little Basant Das didn’t know his knight fork from his bishop sacrifice until 2010 and learnt to write down his moves only last February. But try telling that to the three FIDE-rated players he checkmated at The Telegraph Schools’ Chess Championship 2011.
Basant, a student of Class V at the Future Hope School for street children on Rowland Road, helped his institution secure 23.5 points to finish 10th among 176 schools in the championship that ended on Tuesday.
Asia champion Khushika Dharwa may have defeated the 11-year-old, but his was a performance that rose far above a podium finish. “Chess has given me a lot of confidence. It has also helped me improve my concentration as well,” said Basant, the first boy in his class.
If he has one regret, it is the “lapse in concentration” against Khushika. Basant lost a rook because of the error and had to sacrifice a knight to salvage his position.
“Till that point, I had six wins from eight ties. But having made that mistake it was a struggle. I was able to stretch the game to 58 moves, but she won in the end,” Basant said, vowing to come back technically stronger to the tourney’s 24th edition next year.
Till the ninth round, Future Hope was fifth, thanks to Basant’s strong debut and teammates Mangal Hembram and Abdul Khan’s support. The boys won six points each out of a maximum of 10, though Basant was the only one to beat the rated players.
“This is Future Hope School’s second year in the tournament and its performance has been incredible,” gushed tournament director Soumen Majumder, reserving a special word of praise for Basant.
“If provided proper training and guidance, the kids will do even better,” Majumder said.
Points secured by the top four performers from every institution were taken into account for the School Award. South Point, the eventual winner, had sent over 60 entries, quite a few of them with FIDE ratings (issued by the World Chess Federation). Future Hope had only seven representatives.
So how did a school that hardly made its presence felt last year turn into a cradle of potential champions in less than 12 months?
“We started the Future Hope Chess Academy in February this year. We appointed a coach who conducts classes every Monday and Friday for two hours. Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua is so impressed with the progress of our boys that he has allowed us to practice at his academy at Ballygunge Place every Friday,” said Sayan Mukherji, a director of Future Hope India.
The coaching focuses on letting the trainees analyse their mistakes rather than structured openings and middle and endgame combinations. The kids are also trained to use computer software like Fritz-5 and Chessmate, which test one’s skill levels.
Mangal, who defeated national chess champion Mary Ann Gomes in a friendly along with English cricket great Ian Botham and current wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter when they came visiting, said chess had helped him do better in math. “I have been trying to secure full marks in math in school but it happened only this year in the Class VIII half-yearly exams,” said the 15-year-old.
Abdul, who started school late, has also become a better student since taking up chess.
Bipin Shenoy, their coach in school, said the boys were keen to learn and quick to grasp whatever he taught them. “I teach in six other schools. But probably because of their background, the Future Hope boys are much more passionate about the game. They always ask when’s the next class and you can see that they are looking forward to it.”
Future Hope, set up in 1988 to provide a home, education, medical care and career opportunities to street children, runs seven homes in south Calcutta, where more than 160 children live.