A hearty chess gesture from the Czech Republic to the Indian state of Kerala
The state of Kerala, India found a pleasant gesture from a land faraway, the Czech Republic, when 'Chess Train' organiser Pavel Matocha organised a charity chess simultaneous display at Prague to help in its vaccination drive, the raised money going to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund of the Kerala Government. The motive behind this hearty gesture was no more than the attachment felt with the state of Kerala and its people, when Matocha participated in the 'Chess Houseboat' event held during early 2020. The event received support from the top echelons of the Czech Government, as well as the Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic. Photo: Prague Chess Society
Charity simultaneous by David Navara in Prague
The Municipal House an important 'Art-Nouveau' building in the center of Prague was host to a charity simultaneous chess exhibition by the top-rated Czech Grandmaster David Navara against 20 opponents on the 29th of June, 2021, raising about 160,700 Czech Korunas, about 6,285 Euros, or 5,57,000 Indian Rupees. A brainchild of Pavel Matocha, organiser of the famous ‘Chess Train’ event, the simul in support of Covid-19 vaccination drive in the Indian state of Kerala received a massive support from the civil society when Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš himself turned up as one of the participation, in the presence of the ambassador of India to the Czech Republic, Hemant H Kotalwar.
The thought behind the idea
This extraordinary event has a backstory, borne out of a friendship between two chess organisers who visited each other’s unique events and fell in love with the ambience and local culture, and extending a helping hand to the other at such trying times of the global pandemic.
A former national level player and Olympian, N R Anil Kumar (Correspondence International Master and retired English Professor) travelled to Prague in 2019 and participated in the unique ‘Chess Train’ event and enjoyed it thoroughly.
He liked the novel idea of playing chess ‘on wheels’, appreciating the uniqueness and the friendly touristic experience among a chess loving crowd, the event being well crafted by Pavel Matocha with whom he formed a warm friendship.
How 'Orient Chess Moves' and 'Chess Houseboat' were born
He also realised the potential of the state of Kerala in conducting such an event ‘on waves’ around its abundant backwaters, subsequently forming the organisation ‘Orient Chess Moves’ with a few of his friends to create the unique ‘Chess Houseboat’ event at the ‘God’s own country’, the state of Kerala in India. Joe Parappilly and P Manoj Kumar, two former national level players, and Ajit Kumar Raja and Joju Tharakan, two educationists who are Principal and Director respectively of the Sakthan Thamburan college, Thrissur, Kerala were the other founder members of the Orient Chess Moves.
The inaugural ‘Chess Houseboat’ event was conducted during Jan - Feb 2020, and attracted a moderate crowd. The uniqueness of the event caught the attention of Kerala Government’s State Tourism department, which also joined hands with the organisers, thus making it an ‘official’ event for the state. Pavel Matocha travelled all the way to Kerala with his family to participate in the event, enjoying the hospitality, sights, cuisine and the chess, strengthening his endearment for the land.
The ‘Chess Houseboat’ event created a huge visual impact from its inaugural edition, encouraging the organisers to make more ambitious plans for its future, just when the pandemic unfortunately hit the state of Kerala, just as it did with the rest of India.
Chess Kerala and its pandemic relief activities
Anilkumar and Parappilly have also been part of Chess Kerala, a collective of chess lovers of the state who have been conducting events regularly since 2017, a short programme with Nigel Short during December 2019 being one of their major events before the pandemic struck.
Ever since the beginning of 2020, Chess Kerala has been organising various fundraising events to contribute to the Kerala Government’s Covid-19 treatment and vaccination drives. Their recent initiative has been the Covid Vaccine Challenge Grand Prix series 2021 online event through which they raised Rs.3,46,106, contributing to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). The initiative was supported by the breadth of Indian chess community.
Chess Kerala is a vibrant organisation, with consistent chess activities of a charitable bend. A remarkable feature of the organisation is a band of hardworking women, who among themselves conducted the successful ‘Chess Kerala Women Grandprix 2021’ during May 2021.
Support for the charity simul
Noting the efforts of his friends from Chess Kerala, Pavel Matocha too decided to engage the chess community of the Czech Republic to help the state of Kerala by organising a charity event in Prague. He roped in the top player of Czech, David Navara to play a Simultaneous Display for 20 boards, with the participation being free of charge but expecting everyone to contribute to the fund, to be in turn sent to the CMDRF.
The Government of the Czech Republic showed amazing enthusiasm for the event, with the participation of the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš, former Minister of Healthcare Roman Prymula (a FIDE Master) and Member of the Czech Parliament Patrik Nacher.
A short and well produced Video presentation of the event:
No doubt, Matocha’s credentials and standing helps - he is the founder of the Prague Chess Society, organiser of the Chess Train, owner and CEO of the Sach Mat s.r.o. (CheckMate Ltd.) a trading company, and chairman of the Czech Television Council.
The partner of the event was Motorpal, a.s, the Czech manufacturer of fuel injectors for diesel engines, with a contribution of 50,000 CZK (about 2,000 EUR), their chairman of the board and CEO Radim Valas personally attending the event.
The Municipal House was the grand venue, where a video message from Anilkumar was played at the beginning of the event.
A classy organisation
Navara won 18 games and drew 2 (against lawyer Michal Vavra and statistician Libor Nentvich).
The Indian Ambassador to the Czech Republic
An enthusiastic and involved support also came from the Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic, Hemant H Kotalwar, who made it a point to attend the simultaneous display, kept in contact with the Chess Kerala troupe back in India during the event, and also tweeted from the venue.
When I contacted Hemant Kotalwar to understand better this warm and noble gesture of a Prime Minister of a country and other luminaries turning up for a charity simul just for one of the numerous states of India, I found someone who enjoys his job. “India and Czech have a historically strong friendship over centuries. The subject of Indology (study of Indian languages) and the ancient language of Sanskrit have been faculties of the Charles University of Prague since the 1860s. The famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore has a demi-god status in Czech Republic, with a street (Thákurova) even named after him. His famous work Gitanjali was translated directly to the Czech language from Bengali in the 1930s, and many from Czech went over to India since the 1920s to study at his college at the Shantiniketan”. It is obvious from his narrative that such a historical tie between the two nations naturally leads to such hearty gestures as this charity simul.
Czech and India, the historic connection
The Czech connection can also be felt through Indian history, if one remembers names such as ‘Bata’ and ‘Jawa’. The popular brands are so etched in the commercial landscape that an average Indian has all the reasons to believe they are desi brands rather than originating from the Czech Republic. The Bata footwear started manufacturing in 1894 in India, and even got the neighbourhood named as the ‘Bata Nagar’. The Jawa motorbikes have a cult following in India to this day, known for their track record for maintenance friendly, enjoying a revival in the recent few years.
Kotalwar underlines many such reasons for this warm relationship, and also indicates a personal liking for the ‘cool’ culture of the Czech republic, where even a Prime Minister - also the fourth richest of the country - easily mingles in public, and turns up for playing in such charity events.
Kerala Media's coverage
Back in Kerala, the event was received with enthusiasm by the media, many of the leading newspapers and TV Channels of Kerala reporting on the event, the uniqueness of the gesture not being lost.
Persuading people to play chess
Overwhelmed by the event, I finally probe Matocha on what endeared him so much to Kerala to come up with this hearty and noble gesture. “One week in Kerala that I spent last year at the end of January! With my wife and our youngest child we took part in the Chess Houseboat, a wonderful chess and tourist event, organised by my friend N R Anilkumar. After the few days of Chess Houseboat, we became friends with many chess players of Kerala, of this ‘God’s own country’, and my conviction is that it is our duty to help our friends!"
Matocha typically started playing in his childhood, and turned into an active organiser about two decades ago. He has brought many of the Czech political heavyweights to chess events in the past, and quips when I ask how he convinced such luminaries as the Prime Minister of Czech and other parliamentarians to attend the simul, “It is not hard to persuade people who love chess to take part in a chess event!”
Rabindranath Tagore and the harmonies of the universe
It is simply impossible to stand in India and not to be overwhelmed by this hearty gesture from a faraway land, which worships Rabindranath Tagore, the ‘Bard of Bengal’, that crown jewel of Indian creativity who was the first to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore wove magic with words, found inspiration in - befitting of this event - the harmonies of the universe, and some of his famous verses from the Gitanjali offer the relevant poignant conclusion:
“On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
...On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children”.
For more photos of the Navara simul, click here.
About the Author
Venkatachalam Saravanan is an International Master and has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, and has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s. He turned complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second and a trainer to a handful of Indian players. He reports on chess tournaments, occasionally being a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels. Apart from chess, he is also interested in Tamil and English literature, music and photography.