Soundarya Kumar Pradhan and his brother Prachurya taught chess lessons to students from across the world in different batches during the Covid lockdown. It also helped Soundarya “prepare and win the national chess championship for the visually challenged,” organised by the All-India Chess Federation for Blind (AICFB) and RC Pune Heritage, RID 3131. He was one of the 55 players from 12 states to take part in the championship with a prize money of ₹1.5 lakh.
The Pradhan brothers, born with a rare eye disorder called Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), are chess prodigies, having learned the game on their own. Soundarya has three international medals to his credit — World Junior Silver, Asian Para Games Silver, and Asian Games Bronze. He is doing B Tech in Computer Science at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Jamshedpur. “I feel proud that I have won this tournament and will be representing India at a championship in Macedonia organised by the International Braille Chess Association (IBCA),” he says, brimming with joy.
The idea of hosting this unique event took its roots, when Dr Charudatta Jadhav, president of the AICFB “requested me to organise this event. Sensing this as a great opportunity to do social work, I immediately said yes and was confident that my club members would be excited to be part of it,” says Vinayak Pethe, president, RC Pune Heritage.
With Sava Herbals, an ayurvedic medicine manufacturer from Pune, as its CSR partner, the club hosted the championship at the PYC Hindu Gymkhana in April and provided accommodation for players and coaches at a subsidised cost. For technical help, the club approached Chess Grand Master and Dronacharya awardee Raghunandan Gokhale, and national Chess coach and Shiv Chhatrapati awardee Chandrasekhar Gokhale. The championship was conducted on a Swiss league basis (a non-eliminating tournament format), with two rounds of four hours each.
Apart from the top five players who will represent India at the world team championship in Macedonia, the top three from the ‘totally blind’ category and the top three from the ‘partially blind’ men’s category will represent India at the Asian para games to be held in China in October 2022. The top two from the women’s and the junior category will qualify for the IBCA championship in France in August 2022.
This event, says Pethe, is a national-level tournament, recognised by the world chess body, FIDE. “It is a great achievement that our club was able to organise this in less than a month. There were 55 participants, who were all winners from different parts of India. It wasn’t a beginner-level programme, needed a lot of planning and preparation,special infrastructure and equipment, and special care.”