While the COVID-19 pandemic has stifled many sports, online chess — a game with a long history that can accommodate people with disabilities — has been growing worldwide. Chess.com has over 30 million members.

“Chess is the only all-inclusive sport,” grandmaster Thomas Luther said during commentary at the International Chess Federation’s recent inaugural Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities.

Luther, the tournament director, provided commentary during each round of the event — which saw some high drama.

Two grandmasters participated, and one of them, Poland’s Marcin Tazbir, who is blind, led his team. After three successful rounds, Poland made it to the final and defeated Russia.

Anna Stolarczyk of Poland, one of eight women on the team, faced a higher-ranked Russian for her final game.

“My position in the last round was very unclear, and I was ready to settle for a draw by threefold repetition,” Stolarczyk, who is blind, said in an interview with the Times of India. “Against a higher-rated player, I thought it would be a good result for my team.

However, she said, “My opponent refused to make a draw and then took too many risks. Step by step my position improved, and I won one of the most important games of my life. Winning this last game is very important to me also because I was able to put myself together after previous failures.”

The online event had 400 players, with 61 teams and 45 counties represented.

Luther, the tournament director, was born with dysmelia, which severely impacted the use of his arms and hands. He was the first player with a disability to have entered the FIDE Top 100 rating list and is a three-time German champion.

He is well known as an experienced and successful coach and co-authored the book Chess Coaching for Kids – the U10 Project.

“I am reluctant to comment on a close game,” he said during the event, as he was being peppered to comment by a fellow tournament commentator during an online discussion.

“Please tell us who is in a better position, white or black?” the woman said.

“A player and a spectator have very different views of what might be happening with a game,” Luther replied.

“There is a lot of pressure and anything can happen.”

After a few seconds of silence, he added, “But, in this case, it is clear that white will lose this game, and it is better for white to resign than to let the game continue.

“My advice is similar to that offered by the coach in The Queen’s Gambit to his young portage,” he said with a laugh, referring to the wildly popular Netflix show.

As spectators watched the chess board to see if the player would resign, there was a side discussion between Luther and the commenters about the trouble the Uganda team had facedt with their internet connection

Some of the players had challenges getting to a location with an internet connection, Luther said. Their disability made travel difficult in some cases, and not everyone in the world has an internet connection at home.

Although physical disabilities are not necessarily limiting for chess players, sometimes the need for an aide to enter moves can affect a game, especially in a time blitz game, he said.

Chess requires a lot of energy and stamina, and starting at a young age is as important in chess as it is in any competition, he noted.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.

(1) comment

Rebecca Langford

I loved this article. It made me wish I was a chess player and it is uplifting in these dark days of COVID-19.

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