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Chess-O-Disha and Pro-Chess-Ta - two chess initiatives by Odisha Government

by Sagar Shah - 17/10/2023

If you are a sports enthusiast, you would be well aware of the phenomenal support that the Odisha Government is providing its athletes. From creating world class infrastructure, to bringing top class trainers, to giving highest cash awards, Odisha is slowly but steadily becoming the sports hub of the country. The good news for chess fans is that the Government has started supporting chess initiatives in the state as well and from that perspective two initiatives have been carried out which we write about in this article - Pro-Chess-Ta, a world class training academy and Chess-O-Disha, a seminar on chess in schools initiative. 

Laying the foundation of a chess boom in Odisha

Chess in schools is a project that resonates with most of the passionate chess stakeholders, but somehow its implementation is never easy. Some countries have had success in making the chess in schools program work and the first name that comes to mind is Armenia.

A wonderfully created video on the Chess in schools initiative in Armenia by the famous content creator Nas Daily.

In essence Armenia and a few other countries have cracked the code for chess in schools initiative. But doing it in India is a more complex matter. The population of Armenia is 2.79 million. While the population of India is 1.4 billion. In fact Odisha, a state in India that is desirous of launching the chess in schools program, has a population of 43.7 million. This is 20 times that of Armenia. Clearly doing the chess in schools project in a state like Odisha is not going to be easy. But if the will of the government exists and appropriate stakeholders join in, it could well become a reality. It was with this in mind that Chess-O-Disha, a chess in schools seminar was held in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha by the Sports and Youth Services Department of Odisha on 8th of October 2023.

The banner of the seminar with the chief minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik on it

The seminar was held on 8th of October 2023 at the Kalinga stadium in Odisha. The Kalinga Stadium has some of the best sporting facilities in the country. With state of the art hockey fields, swimming pools, tennis courts and infrastructure that supports so many other sports, it slowly becoming the chess hub of the country with some of the best athletes visiting it quite often. A good example of how dedicated the Odisha Government is towards sport can be gauged from the fact that the state is the current sponsor of the Indian hockey team! When was the last time you saw a state government sponsoring a national team!

The Birsa Munda Hockey stadium at Rourkela, Odisha is one of the best hockey stadiums, not just in India but the world

The schedule of the Chess in Schools seminar

For a project of the magnitude of chess in schools to happen in the state of Odisha, discussions and brainstorming sessions of people with different perspectives need to happen. This is exactly the reason why this conference was held.

The speakers of the conference in the green room before the conference

Debabrata Bhatta, the secretary of AOCA (All Odisha Chess Association) with Shubhranshu Mishra, OAS and Joint Secretary to the CM

Before the conference there was a simul held that was played by GM Sundararajan Kidambi. But soon other top players of the state including the reigning national champion Padmini Rout joined in.

A lot of key stakeholders were present including several district officials from Odisha

IM Satyapragyan is the person behind making this conference happen. In fact earlier this year, he stopped his work at Air India and now works full-time for the Odisha Government to promote and teach chess through its various initiatives.

IM Sagar Shah spoke on how to make chess in grassroots possible
Check out the talk by IM Sagar Shah as he recorded it again from his studio in Mumbai

Theo Wait, who is the Director of Operations at Lichess, spoke about the Chess in schools program adopted by different countries like Norway, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and also spoke about how Odisha should go about it.

Theo Wait along with GM Kidambi. The GM from Chennai spoke about what are the factors that have made Chennai the chess capital of the country

Ranjan Mohanty, Vice President of AICF, spoke about the efforts AICF has taken to make the chess in schools project a reality.

The secretary of AOCA Debabrata Bhatta spoke about the work that has already been done by Odisha for the Chess in Schools project in the state

Shubhranshu Mishra who intends to play a pivotal role in this endeavour sat down during the entire two hour conference and dedicatedly made notes.

A final picture of all the people who contributed towards the Chess-O-Disha seminar on Chess in Schools

A successful big scale chess in schools project requires the answer of many important questions like:

1. Should Chess be made a compulsory subject in school?

2. Should existing teachers at school be taught chess or should trainers go to schools and teach there? In this case would there be enough trainers in the state?

3. Is the main aim of the chess in schools project to make chess reach more kids or find talented youngsters and then train them to become grandmasters

4. What is the curriculum to be adopted for the program?

I believe the answer to these questions lie in first doing a pilot project on a smaller scale for a year and then learning from this to implement the chess in schools project in a big way. Such seminars like the Chess-O-Disha are key for the major stakeholders to join in and brainstorm together. If there a state that is ideally placed to promote chess and implement the chess in schools project, then it is very likely that Odisha is the one.

Pro-Chess-Ta Academy

The Sports and Youth Services Department of Odisha has setup a professional Chess Training Academy in Bhubaneshwar. It is called Pro-Chess-Ta. Turns out that an old building in Nayapalli, Bhubaneshwar of the government was shut down a few years ago and the space was not being ideally utilized. The Government decided to convert this building into a full-fledged Chess Academy! This is sure to boost the chess culture in the city.

The Pro-Chess-Ta logo!

The wonderful premises of the Pro-Chess-Ta academy where GM Kidambi held a training camp with some of the top players of the state


The participants of the camp along with the trainer GM Sundararajan Kidambi

While the infrastructure was created, it required a dedicated individual to ensure that things start moving - training camps happen, players start to come and make use of the premises and so on. For this Satya, as he is called by everyone in the chess world, has become the in charge of this initiative and hopes to spread chess in a big way in his home state.

IM S. Satyapragyan now heads the Pro-Chess-Ta training academy in Bhubaneshwar.

Having a career high rating of 2489 and 6 GM norms under his belt, Satyapragyan was very likely to become the first GM from Odisha. However, he was unable to hit 2500. The good news now is that he can create several GMs from the state!

The activities have already begun and a preparatory under-7 national championship camp was held in the academy

The most talented under-11 players from Odisha before their national championships

Two of Odisha's most active players - IM Padmini Rout and IM Sambit Panda

Some more strong players from the state at the academy - FM Mahitosh Dey, IM Rakesh Kumar Jena, IM Sidhant Mohapatra

A blitz tournament was held a few months ago at the Pro-Chess-Ta Academy premises and GM Swayams Mishra (left) took part. Also in the picture (far right) is IM Anwesh Upadhyay

These individuals will play a key role in shaping Odisha and Indian chess in the years to come
Check out this video to understand the beautiful infrastructure created by the Government of Odisha at the Pro-Chess-Ta Academy

The Pro-Chess-Ta academy is ideally positioned in the plans of the Odisha Government to promote chess in their state. Imagine if the chess in schools program gains momentum, then it is very likely that a lot of young talents would be identified from different regions of the state. And where would they be trained? Of course  at Pro-Chess-Ta! Tamil Nadu has been the chess capital of India for years now and it is unlikely that it would change anytime soon. However, Odisha by making planned and measured movements is definitely going to help India produce several top players in the next few years.