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Gunning to be the first WGM of Bihar - Marium Fatima

by Sneha Tiwari - 05/12/2023

Every single person has the potential to change the course of history and bring about the necessary development in and around the place they live. This is the story of one such girl from Bihar who has made a name for herself in the chess community and is soaring to new heights. The chess culture in Bihar was almost negligible a few years ago and is growing now. One player who is doing very well in the last few years is the very talented 17-year-old Marium Fatima. Everyone in Bihar knows her and is proud of her, and it is not an exaggeration to say that she can be the first WGM from Bihar. For all those who are not aware of her, this article is the perfect opportunity to get to know her and understand why we think so highly about her talent. We also announce a Rs.1 lakh support to her from Neeraj Kumar through the HelpChess Foundation.

The hope for Bihar chess - Marium Fatima

Bihar is a hub for knowledge and the place of many wonders. It is a state that is full of history and spiritual significance. However, ask anyone from the state, and they will tell you that the chess culture is lagging behind as compared to the rest of the country. After the pandemic and the chess boom, many people are now interested in chess, but there aren't any strong players coming out from the state, especially female players. One person who has the potential to change the situation is Marium Fatima. From humble beginnings, this 16-year-old girl has reached an Elo of 1787 and her rating is quickly on the rise. 

The sweet and shy personality of Marium totally contrasts her playing style

Beginning

It was just another random day at the St. Xavier's Kindergarten in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Marium had just passed her 2nd standard, and through her friends, she came to know that there was a chess tournament that was to be conducted in school, the Under 9 State Championship. Her friends were participating, and that encouraged her to take part in the event. She went home and asked her father for Rs. 200 so that she could pay the entry fees for the tournament. Not fully understanding what the money was for, her mother asked Marium’s father to inquire at school why they needed the money. Imtayaz Ahmad, who himself was a chess lover in his younger days, readily agreed to give Marium the entry fees. She bought a chess board, got basic coaching from her school coach, took part in the event, and came 3rd. What followed was a set of events that would change the lives of the whole family for good.

Over the years, Marium has won many tournaments and to make her family proud. This photo was taken at the Bihar State Women Chess Championship

Support from the family

Marium's biggest pillar of support; her family. Her father, mother, and two siblings

Marium's father lives in Pusa, Samastipur in Bihar, and works there as a teacher in elementary school. Marium and her family live in Muzaffarpur, in Bihar. To support his loved ones in the best way, Imtayaz lives far away from them; around 40 km. After coming 3rd in her first event, Marium’s school coach (Mr. Abhas) spoke to her father and insisted that he let her play the sport. She was a gifted child and the chess talent should not be wasted. So, every Sunday morning, Marium's father would come home, pick Marium up, and drive her to Patna so that she could get the necessary coaching. Her coach at Patna was Minhazul Hoda whose Elo was about 1800. Then, after a session of chess training, the father and daughter duo would drive back at night so that on Monday morning they could resume back to their normal lives. This routine lasted for around 2 years! The result of this was positive and Marium made rapid strides towards chess improvement. The youngster went on to win many under-7, under-9, under-17, and under-19 state championships and defeated many rated players as well. However, due to financial constraints and the unavailability of coaches in Bihar, her father could not provide her with proper training that would help her grow when fighting against stronger opposition.

Marium has a calm exterior that comes when one has faced many struggles in the early years of one's career.

The sacrifices made 

Without the sacrifices made by her father and mother and the support of her family Marium would not have reached where she is now. After Marium started participating in events, her father set aside some money, which would only be used for to cover the expenses needed for her chess career. With two other children to take care of, this was not at all easy, but he did the best he could. In Corona, the family hit a major setback when Marium’s mother had a brain tumour. She had to be treated for that in Delhi, which took a toll on the family, mentally, financially, and physically. Being an introverted and thoughtful child, Marium took a lot of time to come out of it, and her chess growth slowed down. Her father brought her more than 50 books and even purchased ChessBase software so that she could study, but she always insisted, “Papa itna paisa kharch na karo (Father, please do not spend so much)." Needless to say, the love flows both ways in the family.

Marium playing at the Tata Steel Chess Asian Junior Girls 2023 in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand

Marium’s father was a chess lover and played gramin-level chess, where the rules were a little different. He did not have much knowledge of the game and would read about Kasparov, Karpov, and Anand in newspapers. He only knew that these were famous chess players but had no knowledge that the game was played on such an international platform and had tournaments. After Marium started playing, sports came back into his life. He started following the game, learned all about the tournaments, travelled to many cities with Marium, and met a lot of people. When asked, how has all this changed his life? He said, “Life puri badal gyi. Ab logon se cut gaye..sab kuch. Marium ke chess growth ke age piche sab revolve hota hai. (Life has changed completely. We have been cut off from everyone else. Everything revolves around Marium's chess growth)." Today, his favourite chess players are Carlsen, Gukesh, and Pragg, while Marium is a huge fan of Nihal Sarin.

The changes the game brought to their lives

Marium playing with one of the best chess players of the country - WGM Mary Ann Gomes

As the life of a child changes, so do the people involved. Marium's father recalls that through Marium, he was able to witness something he never thought he would. “Hum sochte the Goa kaisa hota hoga..fir Goa gaye to bahut anand aya..puri Hindustan dekh lia nazdeek se Marium ki wajah se. (We used to think how would the state of Goa be. Then we were able to visit Goa and we felt so happy. We have travelled the entire country of India and witnessed it closely thanks to Marium's chess)."

Marium being felicitated at the closing ceremony of Bihar Junior and Sub Junior Championships

Undoubtedly, like all fathers, he is very proud of what Marium has achieved but feels that he will be content only when she becomes a grandmaster, and for that, he is ready to work hard with her. He feels that today there is not a single field in which a child cannot grow. Anyone can excel in any field. So if a child has the potential, then parents should let them pursue whatever they want to do.

 

These trophies are a testament to Marium's talent

Conversation with Kumar Gaurav, Marium's coach

Kumar Gaurav, a good chess player from Bihar, trained Marium for quite a few years. Marium and her father met Kumar Gaurav in a tournament, and after learning about him, her father insisted he train Marium. Kumar Gaurav used to live 3–4 km from their home, so he home-trained her for nearly 3–4 years before the pandemic started.

Marium with her coach, Kumar Gaurav. Gaurav was Marium's biggest support in her chess career

Sneha Tiwari (ST): Tell me a little about your chess journey.

Kumar Gaurav (KG): My chess journey started in the year 1999. My first tournament was the U-7 state championship where I secured 2nd position and went on to play Nationals where I secured 5th position twice in 1999 and 2000. After that, I was the state champion in various age groups. I am Fide-rated 2038 now, won the Telegraph schools chess, and in 2021 I secured All India Rank 1 in CMAT exam. Currently, I am pursuing MBA.

 

ST: How did you come in touch with Marium and her father?

KG: We met at a district tournament. We belong to the same district Muzaffarpur. Her father came to me for training purposes and I agreed to train her.

 

ST: What motivated you to train her? 

KG: Bihar has always been deprived of resources in chess. Being a professional chess player I knew the challenges and how to overcome them. I just wanted to help her achieve some heights in chess. The fact that I saw her hardworking nature encouraged me to train her more.

 

ST: How would you describe Marium as a person?

KG: Marium is a soft-spoken person and very shy in nature. She is very hardworking and down-to-earth as a person.

 

ST: What would you say are her biggest strengths and weaknesses?

KG: Her biggest strength is that she takes stuff very seriously and puts a huge amount of hard work into whatever she does. About the weakness I would say she is not versatile. She doesn't try new things on the board. She needs to work on opening. She needs to have knowledge of a variety of openings.

 

ST: What changes did you see in her after training her? 

KG: I started training her when she was 1090 rated. Right now she is 1715, she took a jump of 600+ ELO during this period. She is now more experienced and has improved a lot as a chess player.

 

ST: Can you tell me a little about the chess culture in Bihar?

KG: Bihar's chess culture is not as prominent as in some other states of India. There is a lack of proper training and guidance for the budding chess players. The state being densely populated is still searching for titled players emerging out of it. Internal politics has always been here. Ultimately it is the player who suffers. The lack of resources has killed many talents in Bihar. The Bihar Chess Association has a daunting task ahead and needs to work on it because whatever they are doing until now has not produced significant results at the bigger stage continuously.

Marium at the World Youth Championships 2019 that were held in Mumbai

Few of Marium's Favorite Games

IA Dharmendra Kumar on Chess in Bihar and Marium

Dharmendra Kumar is one of the most experienced arbiters of Indian chess

Dharmendra Kumar is one of those rare people in Indian chess who has made a living out of being an arbiter. He has been an arbiter since 2004, is currently a member of the qualification commission in FIDE, chairman of the arbiter commission in AICF, deputy president of the South Asian Chess Council (SACC), and since the last five years has been the secretary of the All Bihar Chess Association. It has been more than 25 years since he entered the world of chess, and in these years, he has worked for the benefit of the game in many countries. His journey in chess began with playing; however, he soon realized that this was not what he was meant for. He thinks that he did not have the right temperament for the game and thus gave it up. Along with that, he started noticing that chess was not so popular in many places in India; Thus, he developed an interest in chess organization so that he could take steps to improve the reach of the game in those places. He liked what he was doing and thus continued doing so. He thought of pursuing this professionally when there was no such scope in that field. "Kaam milta gya aur raste khulte gye (I kept getting the work and roads kept opening up!)" is what he said to describe his journey.

 

Dharmendra has trained many youngsters over the years and has been a role model for many people all over the country. While explaining why he chose this decision to follow his heart when there was no visible future in this field, he quotes Kumar Vishwas, “Ek badi achi baat Kumar Vishwas kehte hain.. agar mai engineer bn gya hota, professor bn gya hota to bachon ka bhi future kharab hota, aur mera to hota hi. To hume Jeevan me wahii karna chahiye jo hame pasand hai aur fir hum usme pakka se acha kar paenge aur dusron ko bhi acha de paenge. (There is one thing that Kumar Vishwar always used to say - if someone doesn't like engineering and becomes an engineer and then a professor, then he would spoilt not just his future but also the future of the kids whom he is teaching. We should also always do things in life that we like and ”

The path that this man has carved for many young people in the country is praiseworthy

The work he has done in Bihar since becoming secretary is really commendable. He takes care of everything so that the players can focus on nothing but their play. From conducting tournaments and training sessions for children to taking any and all steps for growth, the hard work he has put in has not gone unnoticed. Even the Bihar government recognized his efforts and put chess on the list of top-priority games. Today, the condition of chess in Bihar has improved. Many coaches who went to Delhi for training came back to the state due to the high demand from the students.

 

The result of all of this effort is that many young and talented players have come out of the state. A few of them are Reyan Md., Ankita Raj, and Marium Fatima. Dharmendra has always tried to be a strong pillar of support for these players, giving them the confidence that they could come to him for anything and everything related to chess. The result of all this hard work is that every tournament that is conducted in Bihar now has an attendance of more than 160 players. The journey is sure to be long, but how far they have come is remarkable.

Interview with one of India's best chess arbiters Dharmendra Kumar

Dharmendra has a clear plan for chess in Bihar. In the next 5 to 10 years, he wishes to grow the game to such a level that it reaches every household. Everyone should understand the sport, and for that, he is already taking many active steps. They are trying to execute AICF’s plan of "chess in schools", in Bihar as well, wherein they aim to introduce kids to it at a very early age. Not only will this help them grow in the best possible way, but it will also make the game "spectator-friendly”. He wants to make the next generation chess-literate. They need not be grandmasters, but at least they should know the game. “The game will only grow when there are spectators and not only players. That will only happen if people understand the game.”

IM Sagar Shah with IA Dharmendra Kumar and GM Himanshu Sharma in Bihar when the National Premier Championships 2017 were held in Bihar

When Marium started performing well, she automatically came into the limelight and got recognized, and that is when Dharmendra got to know about her. He says she is a very dedicated and promising girl, and he is extremely proud of her. He feels that among girls in Bihar, she has the highest chance of doing something sensational.

How is Marium doing currently?

Marium's achievements in various newspapers

Marium's live rating is around 1860. Recently she performed quite admirably at the Hetauda Cup Asian Open Chess Tournament-2023 in Nepal increasing her rating by 70 Elo points. Marium finished 10th in a field that had 2 IMs and 6 FMs.

Marium receiving 10th place in a strong field in Nepal just goes to show how powerful she is as a player

Marium's performance in Nepal that helped her gain 70 Elo points and propelled her live rating to 1857

Marium's rating worm has been quite hungry and has been consistently moving upwards

Marium returned from Nepal on 4th of December and has already left for her next tournament in Dumka, Jharkhand.

 

Listed below are Marium's achievements over the years:

Year Category Bihar Nationals World
2016 under-15 5th    
2016 Under-11 1st 22nd  
2016 under-13 4th    
2017 under-11 1st 13th  
2017 under-13 3rd    
2017 under-19 1st 36th  
2017 senior women 2nd 78th  
2018 under-13 1st 27th  
2018 under-15 2nd 59th  
2018 senior women 1st 57th  
2019 under-13 1st   34th
2019 under-15 1st 31st  
2019 under-19 1st 34th  
2021 under-15 1st 13th 34th
2022 under-17 1st 7th  
2022 under-19 1st 30th  
2022 senior women 1st 33rd  
2023 under-19 1st 7th  
2023 under-19 1st 10th  
2023 senior women 2nd 56th  
2023 senior open 4th 211  
2023 Asian Junior   27th  

 

Marium is currently in her 12th grade and has taken Arts so that she can dedicate her full time to chess. Apart from chess, her favourite sport is Badminton. Marium is currently the highest-rated female chess player in Bihar. We wish to see Marium soar to heights of success and wish nothing but the best for her and her family.

The BijayRajani Scholarship from HelpChess for Marium of Rs.1,00,000

During the FIDE World Cup 2023, we did regular livestreams on ChessBase India. We received a contribution of Rs.50,000 from a kind gentleman named Neeraj Kumar. He mentioned, "For every Indian that goes through to the Candidates, I will donate Rs.50,000 to HelpChess Foundation." During the World Cup although only Pragg qualified, Neeraj decided to donate another Rs.50,000, making it a total of Rs.1,00,000. What's interesting is that subsequent Vidit Gujrathi made it to the Candidates via FIDE Grand Swiss, and Neeraj's calculation of Rs.50,000 per Indian qualifying to the Candidates has worked out! :)

Sagar Shah with Neeraj Kumar at the Chess Olympiad 2022 in Chennai

We discussed with Neeraj how he would like to utilize this amount which he had donated to the HelpChess Foundation. The name of Marium Fatima came up as Neeraj also hails from Bihar. The amount would greatly help Marium in her journey towards becoming a top player. Neeraj agreed. Speaking to ChessBase India, he said, "I always wanted to help chess players and I have helped few of them in my personal capacity earlier as well. I have seen that mostly they come from weak financial backgrounds and I would like to contribute my mite in helping them achieve their dreams of becoming a successful professional chess player which was my dream many decades ago but remained unfulfilled . I want to give something back to chess , which has given me so much joy in life. And, most importantly, I am not going to limit myself with just Rs. 1 lakh." Neeraj would like to name his scholarship as BijayRajani scholarship after his late father and mother.

Neeraj with his profession (Commissioner of Income Tax) and Passion (Chess)

Neeraj started playing chess at the age of 6 and learned from his father. He played in a no. of local tournaments from a very young age and participated in Bihar Sub-junior and Junior Championships a no of times. He qualified for Sub-junior nationals as well as junior nationals on couple of occasions but was able to participate in only one National Junior in 1989 (when he was 16 years). In this he got 16th position. Thereafter, he played in few tournaments as he started concentrating on his studies. Although he stopped playing chess competitively later on, he would aways participate in IIT Chess Championships from 1991-95. Neeraj won on all 4 occasions. He now plays online chess on chess.com and Lichess. He is an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer of 1998 batch and is currently posted as Commissioner of Income Tax in Lucknow. He is also a B.Tech from IIT Delhi (1991-95). In 2007-2009 he completed his MBA from IIM Bangalore in Public Policy and Management. Recently, in 2021, he got LLB degree from CCS University Meerut. We thank Neeraj Kumar for his support towards Marium's chess career. We are pretty sure that with his support, she will achieve her dream to be one of the top players of the world and in the process become Bihar's first WGM!

HelpChess is India's top Charitable Trust that supports chess players from all across the nation. It is 12A registered and has tax benefits (80G) for all the people who contribute. You can check out the work done by the Foundation here.