The Queen who paved the way for Women’s Chess in Bangladesh: In conversation with Rani Hamid
Bangladesh's history in chess has been a long and noteworthy one, to say the least. After all, the country did produce the first-ever grandmaster of the Asian Subcontinent. Even in the historic run for the grandmaster title back in the 1980s, when Bangladesh was a new member of FIDE (The International Chess Federation), a woman chess player was wreaking havoc in the British Chess Championship, constantly securing top positions and even clinching 3 championship titles in the women's category before Britain stopped participation of foreign players in the tournament; she is Rani Hamid. She graced the second episode of the second season of our thought leadership broadcast "Preronar Kotha" where she talked about her inspiration, challenges and vision for chess.
Rani Hamid was exposed to chess at a very early age when her father used to play the game. It was an enthralling experience for her. She inherited her father's passion for chess but after being married off to Lieutenant Colonel MA Hamid, she diverted her complete attention to taking care of her family. However, Colonel MA Hamid, being a sports organiser himself encouraged Rani Hamid to pursue her passion for chess and convinced her to participate in the first-ever female chess tournament in Bangladesh back in 1977. And that tournament was the stepping stone that paved the way for her glorious career. Not only did she go on to be the champion of that tournament, but also won the first-ever National women's chess title in 1979, right after Bangladesh became a member of FIDE. She was also awarded the FIDE Woman International Master (WIM) title in 1985, becoming the first female ever to achieve this incredible feat for Bangladesh.
During the heart-to-heart conversation, she shed light on her love for the game. "When we started playing chess, it was more like a hobby. Earning titles or medals or even records were not our concerns or priorities.", she said reminiscing her past days. Ironically, for someone who did not care that much about championships, she has 19 official medals under her belt, including Gold Medal in Commonwealth Chess 2017 in Delhi and Zonal Championship in Nepal in 2018.
About the future of Chess in Bangladesh, she stated that "We need to organise more tournaments, at every level. There is no alternative to it." Also, she urged the media to play a proactive role in promoting chess nationwide. "Chess does not get enough publicity."
Rani Hamid has been an activist for women's chess in Bangladesh. Even in today's world according to the FIDE rating list, out of the players who had played in 2019, only 10.1 percent were female. The scenario is similar in Bangladesh as well. This vast gender gap in a sport that is entirely based on mental prowess is astonishing. Expressing her concern about Bangladeshi females' participation in chess, she said, "Commuting often makes it difficult for women to participate in tournaments. Providing them with residential facilities can play a supportive role." Yet, she is hopeful that things will change for the better as The Bangladesh Navy, Ansar are encouraging their female forces to participate in chess more. Also, the fact that Bangladesh Games has made it compulsory for two female participants to be included in each team – has created opportunities for female chess players to get proper exposure in official tournaments. She also stressed on the importance of providing institutional support for chess players to encourage them to play more.
Finally, while talking about how one can improve their skills in playing chess, she suggested that it comes with practice. She said smiling, "The more games you play, the better you get at it." The beauty of chess is that no two games are ever the same. In fact, there is a saying that there are more possible iterations of chess games than there are atoms in the observable universe. She also emphasized that there are no shortcuts to studying. One needs to study the moves; analyze the position, visualize moves, devise attacks and traps, look for escape routes, predict opponent's plans, recognize patterns and threats, combine single ideas and steps into an overarching strategy, in order to enhance their skills.
Among all awards and titles that she won, she secured the prestigious "Journalists' Choice Award" in World Cup 2018, Russia, for all her achievements and contributions to women's chess. Even at the age of 77, she is still the undisputed women's chess champion of the nation. As part of transferring her experience and knowledge to the next generation, she has captured insights from her 44 years of a prolific professional career in her book on chess. She tries to keep the book updated by adding the notable games in each edition.
For those who are wondering, how she still manages to hold her patience in a game of chess – "I play chess because I enjoy playing this game. It is not about how much patience I have, rather it is about my passion for this game," said the queen of chess with a graceful smile on her face.
The interview was conducted by Dr Melita Mehjabeen, Associate Professor, IBA, the University of Dhaka as part of "Preronar Kotha", a thought leadership broadcast by Prerona Foundation. The full interview is available for streaming on the YouTube channel of Prerona Foundation.