Project Checkmate is a unique endeavour started by a 16-year-old girl named Devanshi Rathi back in 2016. As the project enters its second year of existence, the High on Sports team catches up with the young chess player. In an exclusive interview, we bring to you some insight in the working of the project and its future.
Rathi is a student at Modern School in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. She recently won a bronze at the Commonwealth Championship 2016 and also earned the reputed title of Arena International Master (AIM). Here are some excerpts of the interview of a girl with a huge mission.
High on Sports Desk: What was your major idea behind starting project checkmate?
Devanshi Rathi: When I started the project, I had no idea where I was headed. I just did it because I enjoyed teaching chess and being with the children at the NGO. They taught me a lot and having played international level chess for the past decade, I felt the need to give back to the community in some way. I wanted to also help the underprivileged children in the society. I thought that chess could also help these children as it helped me, so I started this project. With just these things in mind, I started the project and from then on it grew beyond my expectations.
HoS Desk: How do you think this would benefit the people in the long run?
Rathi: I think that chess is a game that is a healer. It can heal you out of all your problems. These children face the problem of poverty and vision. I feel that by playing chess they can look forward to doing something exciting every day. They are able to concentrate better on their studies and school work and also get a chance to compete against mainstream society in different tournaments. They get a lot of exposure, which would have otherwise not been possible for them.
HoS Desk: Raising money for a sport like chess would have been difficult but you managed to anyhow. Was that a result of your determination and the enthusiasm of the players that drove you all the way through. There would have been many instances when people would have told you to leave the project.
Rathi: I had the desire to support these children anyhow. I did not think much about what anyone told me because I believe that to achieve anything in one’s life, one has to listen to only one’s heart and soul. I felt that they needed my help and it was the most crucial part of their lives, and I believed that I could do it. If the money was not arranged, I could not have continued the project. I knew that the project was helping these children. That is why I held my own stall for fundraising and I donated some of my tournament prize winnings towards the project. I did not want to take any help from my parents because I knew that I have it in me to arrange for the funds myself. I also tried for corporate funding, but that is still to come my way.
HoS Desk: Tell us about how the “project checkmate” works, how do the people get in touch with you or you provide training.
Rathi: So, currently the project works at the National Association of the Blind (NAB) in RK Puram, New Delhi. I have personal contact with each of the students that I teach. I keep on sending them homework to do. Once they have completed that work, I send them more. They are able to efficiently use computers, so that is not a problem. I also go to the NAB for face-to-face interactions. I also give them Skype training. Emails are a good way to communicate as well. My students and I have regular chats. I have also created an online library for them and they have a few books as well and gave them a braille version of my book on chess called “Chess Notes”. I also take them for tournaments and training sessions. Recently, I developed a self training plan for them.
HoS Desk: You mentioned that you also provide training using Skype, can you explain how does that work?
Rathi: Yes. It is quite easy actually. We just co-ordinate a suitable time and get in touch. They have a board in front of them and I have my computer screen. Their listening power is extremely strong, so they can understand well. They ask me their doubts and I discuss some positions with them. I also ask them about their tournament experience and tell them what to practice and how to practice.
HoS Desk: How often do you conduct your training? And, how do you manage it with your school work?
Rathi: I had previously told you that I conduct the training as per the students’ requirements. I give them lots of homework to do and once they are done with that I schedule another session. Chess is basically a lot of self practice. This is the reason why I tell them to practice more on their own. I try to manage it with my school work because I really like doing whatever I am doing.
HoS Desk: How many players does project checkmate presently have?
Rathi: We currently have around 15 students at the NAB. Seven of them compete regularly in competitive matches as a part of the NAB Chess team. One student has also achieved a FIDE Rating through this project.
HoS Desk: Would you like to tell us a little more about your students and the NAB chess team?
Rathi: The students study in different classes. Some of them are in the eighth standard, while others are in ninth and tenth standards. They are extremely hardworking and motivated children. They have a deep desire to learn more about the game and wish to improve at all costs. The NAB chess team is a team consisting of the best players learning under this project. There are about seven-ten players in this team. They have been selected by conducting regular in-house matches. The team captain is Ayush Jaiswal, who has also achieved his FIDE rating, learning under this project. The team travels with me to different tournaments and events in and around Delhi. I also organise some special events for them like coaching camps, simultaneous exhibitions, and so on.
HoS Desk: Although this would sound like a cliched question, but was there a time when you felt like giving up on project checkmate, if so tell us about the incident and how did you overcome it.
Rathi: No. I have never felt like giving up on the project. I feel that I am emotionally attached to this project, and I will never give up on it. In fact, I plan to take it to even greater heights in the future.
HoS Desk: You have started this project at a young age, what are your plans for taking it forward and how do you see the organisation grow in the next 10-15 years.
Rathi: I had started this project when I was 16 and now it has been a year since it started. I feel that it has come a long way since it started and believe that to make anything grow you have to look at the short-term goals first and then focus on the overall enhancement. I want to spread this project all over India and ultimately make take it to the global level and want to initially focus on the basic aspects of the future prospects.
HoS Desk: Tell us about your immediate targets.
Rathi: The immediate targets would be to conduct a special chess day at the NAB with different players and also organise a tournament at NAB. I would also like to collect some funds for the progress of this project to greater heights.
HoS Desk: Coming to a close of this interview, what would you advise to all the young chess players who are unable to pursue the sport for various reasons.
Rathi: Well, all that I can say is that one must enjoy what one does. If the fire is burning inside you, you should try to do as much as possible. Never give up during a difficult period and just keep on going. Always remember that your life is a journey, and you must learn from each experience. It is a process and that too a slow one. You cannot achieve success over night. Even though you might achieve success, what you truly must achieve is excellence. You should just keep on climbing the mountain and never forget that as you climb higher it does get lonely and people who are at the bottom, where it is extremely crowded, may try to bring you down. You should never look at them and just keep on overcoming your own records. Most important of all, Just be Happy!
Thank you Devanshi for your time talking about the project, and the whole High on Sports Team wishes you well ahead for your venture.