The right moves
By Chamintha Thilakarathna
Nirosh de Silva is a pleasant, fun-loving young man who holds the impressive
title of National Chess Champion of Sri Lanka! What he isn't is a stereotypical
nerd with a chess board and thick spectacles. And, if you imagined him
walking around contemplating his next move, you are in for a surprise.
This twenty-three-year-old, almost six footer is more likely to be found
in front of a pop channel on radio or TV, if not hanging out with his friends
during his leisure hours.
However, ever since he was introduced to the intricate and high concentration
game at the age of eleven, by his neighbour Saranga Kaluarrachi, he has
won several trophies and medals. He won the National Championship in 1998,
and tied for first place in the same competition in '99. At the Sangli
Commonwealth Tournament held in India in 2000, he won the silver medal
in the experts category, and this year he managed to reclaim his title
as the National Champion at the championship held last month.
So what made him take up chess? "From the day I learnt the basics, chess
thrilled and interested me. It was like a mental challenge, said Nirosh.
After his first tournament which was the Blitz Chess Open event held at
the Moratuwa University a decade ago, he has been playing at any given
opportunity, as a member of the Paul Morphy club which is affiliated to
the Sri Lanka Chess Federation.
"It does not bore me. It is a fascinating game once you get the hang
of it. Also it helped in my studies and in everything else as your powers
of analytical thinking, concentration, reasoning and speed thinking are
developed through chess," he said.
Nirosh is widely known by his chess pals as 'an aggressive opener'.
He explains that it is because he tends to attack from the moment the game
Although Nirosh's parents are novices at chess, his twenty-eight-year-old
brother is not. Unlike Nirosh, he plays chess on the internet and it appears
that he is one of the few players who have managed to beat the computer.
According to Nirosh, everyone should try to learn the game and he is convinced
they will not regret doing so.
However, he is dismayed by the plight of chess players and the status
of the game in Sri Lanka. Nirosh says that they do not get adequate opportunities
to participate in international or regional tournaments. Also that the
1,200-2,000 club players who take part in tournaments do not get encouragement,
support nor any incentive to pursue their talents as a profession.
"In India there are professional chess players but not in Sri Lanka.
The reason being that chess is not as established or encouraged here by
governmental or other organizations. As a result the few players left also
drop out due to lack of sponsors and financial support," Nirosh said.
Apparently coaching or training in chess is not freely available either,
due to the game's restricted popularity.
Chess apart, he likes a bit of cricket but his other major achievements
are in Bridge. "I have played Bridge at a national level and represented
Sri Lanka at events at the 1999 and 2000 BFAME Championship."
Does he have a life beyond chess? Believe it or not, Nirosh swears that
most of the time he cannot be found at a chess board. "I start practising
about two hours a day closer to tournaments and when there aren't any,
I hardly practise," he said. Managing a travel company with his father
and elder brother, Nirosh says he loves partying, listening to Westlife
and Boyzone and hanging out with his mates.
The rest of the time he tries to convince his non-chess playing friends
that it is a 'cool' sport, not limited to nerds (as some believe).
"It is a myth that chess is a difficult game or one that is played by
nerds. Everyone can play it and play it well. All you need to do is to
learn the rules, the moves and have a considerable interest.
"It is a not a costly game as one can purchase a simple chess board
for about Rs. 300 and an instruction book for about Rs. 100. I did the
same," he said. Several other sports are more costly and time consuming,
requiring special training and appropriate playing conditions. When it
comes to chess, all one needs is a chess board and a knowledge of the rules.
Any future aspirations? The talented, young chess champion has hopes
of entering the international arena and gaining worldwide recognition.
But in the meantime, he hopes to encourage as many people to get started
with chess and improve its status as a sport in Sri Lanka.