Gone are the days when the black and white board used to be the turf of fight between your father and neighbourhood uncle during the leisure hours; or may be the two old members of the family. Chess is no longer the boring indoor game which once interested only the oldies or just the nerds of the class. Its popularity has caught up with the younger generation, the youths and the school going children too. All you need to see is nine-year old Yashita lost over a chess board to believe the magical pull of the game.
She is not just hooked to it; Yashita has proved her mettle by clinching gold at international level in World Chess solving Cup held at Georgia. Born in October 2008 in the US, she played her first district level tournament in 2012, when she was only four and was awarded for being the youngest chess player. Once, she wasn’t allowed to play for the National Level Under 7 category in 2013 because she had US citizenship. But that couldn’t deter her love for chess, and she participated in various other state, national and international level tournaments after changing her nationality.
MCL caught up with the nine-year-old Yashita and her father Haladhar Rout, currently living in Bhubaneswar, to have an intense conversation about the journey and future plans of the little chess genius.
(Her father did all the talking)
Excerpts from the interview:
How did Yashita develop interest in a mind game like chess at such a young age?
When she was about three and a half years, I gave her the chance to try out several games like basketball, football and chess and she chose chess. Also, she would observe me very keenly, when I used to play chess in leisure. Seeing her interest, I taught her the techniques of playing chess and she picked them up very well. She was four when I put her in a training institute and that’s how it all began.
What all efforts are you putting in to groom her?
You can say that I was her first coach. I taught her the basic skills of chess and groomed her up to a certain level. Of course, there are coaches for her, who are taking care of the different aspects of the game. But most of the time I am the primary guide who is monitoring, planning, organising and driving everything for her because none of her coaches is willing to take complete responsibility. Instead they train only in the area they are skilled at. So that is why my role is vital to take the entire responsibility and plan regarding her training and also the tournaments she is participating in.
Being a known chess player of Odisha, how does she react when people notice her at public places or school?
She doesn’t feel that she is different and behaves normally with everybody. She doesn’t pay much attention to all that. Actually she hasn’t come to that stage right now to realise that she is into a professional game and she is being appreciated and applauded by many. When people from outside and children from her school praise and congratulate her, she feels happy and thanks them.
What does Yashita aim to become when she grows up?
Obviously, she wants to make chess as her career and her ultimate aim is to become a grandmaster. In India, we have only two women grandmasters.
Exposure to name and fame at such a tender age shouldn’t affect her studies. As a parent, what is your take to cope with it?
Yes of course, there has been an impact on her studies since she keeps away from school for so many days for participating in various tournaments. That puts additional responsibility on us as parents and we try to help her with her studies. Her class teacher also helps her and advices us to take the notebooks from other children by talking to their parents. Some parents hesitate and don’t cooperate to give their children’s book to Yashita but there are some who happily cooperate and give their notebooks to copy.
Sometimes she feels that there is so much of pressure on her, but that also she enjoys. Although we never force her to put in too much efforts for her studies considering her busy schedule, she is an intelligent kid and picks up things really well and is consistent in scoring good marks.
What according to you is more important – her studies or chess?
Actually, more than chess, she likes to study. She gives equal importance and attention to chess and studies. If I give her a task to study a certain book, she will do it even if she has to stay awake for long hours in the night. That is the kind of dedication she has. So I don’t think there is any need put pressure on her to quit studies and focus on chess; she has to continue both simultaneously. As parents, we are ready to cope up with it and so is Yashita.
As long as she enjoys and contributes to both, we are there to support, help and encourage her to manage both side by side. The moment I feel she is not enjoying chess anymore, maybe then, I would make her focus more on studies.
Tell us some facts about Yashita that we don’t know.
She is a quick learner and grasps things quite easily. She started walking and speaking when she was only six months old. Yashita is a sincere and studious kid and scores above 95% in school. She has a helpful attitude towards everyone. When Prime Minister Narendra Modiji started ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, she really liked it and since then has been advocating it big time. She loves reminding people about it if she notices anything wrong.
Have you been able to secure any sponsorship from the government or any other organisation for Yashita?
I am not complaining, but I haven’t received much response from the state government or any organisation regarding Yashita’s sponsorship. She has participated in many national and international tournaments and I have been funding her till date. Only, once the state government provided an amount of Rs. 15,000 but the fact is that for each international tournament, the cost comes to around a minimum of Rs. 3 lakh, which is entirely borne by me. If we get sponsorship, that would be a big help and also encourage and motivate Yashita to perform better and play for the state and country. Such a step by the government or any other institute will also boost our spirit to help and encourage Yashita.
Are there any other hobbies other than chess that Yashita likes?
She is very good in art and makes beautiful drawings. She likes to read story books, particularly fairy tales. She also likes to dance. Another hobby of hers is making friends. Also when she goes to park, she loves to play in swing.