The chess queen

It was a lazy sunny afternoon and the children waiting for their ride to pick them up from the tuition centre were getting bored. That’s when Mr Hafeez, their tutor, thought of a way to keep them occupied. Bringing out his chess board, he started teaching them how to play the game.

“At first he just taught us how to set the board and the basic moves for each piece,” says national women’s chess champion Nida Mishraz Siddiqui.

Nida was only 11 years old at the time and saw it as an interesting pastime. “Then once I got a knack for it, I took part in a girls’ school chess event that our tutor informed me about. It was my first time at any chess championship and I stood sixth in it,” she informs with pride.

Seeing her interest in the game, her father took her to Iran to participate in the Asian Junior Chess Championship where Nida, who was 12 years old at the time, finished sixth. This was followed by the first National Women Championship, also in the year 2000, where she finished fourth. But she was soon to begin her ninth grade and her parents felt she should give up the game in order to be able to concentrate on her studies. “I stopped playing for a while after that,” says the chess queen.

But she couldn’t stay away from the game for long. In 2005, she heard about a local chess event being organised by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board. “I just went and played and surprised even myself by winning the women championship there,” she remembers with a smile.

But that was the time when she was doing her intermediate and looking forward to getting into medical school. Chess again took a back seat until she was in her third year of medicine. In 2008 she received a call from the Sindh Chess Association which was in the throes of forming a women’s team for the World Chess Olympiad in Germany. “I got the highest score in my team but we couldn’t make a mark there, unfortunately,” she says. “Still, chess became a passion for me after that. Knowing that I had missed my golden period, I wanted to make up for lost time and play as much as I could,” she adds.

“My maternal uncle, who I always beat at chess, was on my side on this. In fact it was he who financed my trip to Thailand where I had entered myself in an open competition in 2010. I was in my final year of medical school at the time but my parents didn’t have as many issues with my playing chess as they did earlier,” she says.

“Also, I feel, chess being a mind sport after all, it really helped me concentrate better on my studies. The moves and tactics are like brain exercises. It hardly took me any time to settle down to my studies after playing chess,” she explains. “I was quite satisfied with my performance in Thailand,” Nida continues. “Also, it was there that I got noticed and was invited to play in another international chess event in Bangladesh. One more invitation I got was from Lebanon,” she further adds.

Playing in these back-to-back events helped Nida become the first Pakistani woman to get an international rating. “It’s called FIDE rating and you only get it after playing a number of international matches. I played many matches in Bangladesh and bagged the bronze medal in the Asian Amateur Championship in Beirut, Lebanon, too”.

Returning home, she had 15 days before her surgery exams and the National Chess Championship in Islamabad. “My mother supported me a lot during that time and it’s all thanks to her that I cleared my exam and won the championship to be crowned the women’s chess champion of Pakistan after beating the then reigning champion Zenobia Qadir,” she continues.

The year 2011 saw her playing in Gibraltar, Sri Lanka and South Africa. “I also appeared for my final medical exams in between. I was in Sri Lanka when I got my exam results and was happy to know that I had become a doctor,” she smiles broadly. “I am doing my house job now and hope to start my post graduate studies in around three months time. I try to take my chess with me but I also know that I have more of a responsibility to my patients. Playing two hours of chess a day has become a dream for me,” she concludes. —Shazia Hasan

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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