"WOM" Christmas Mission in Madagascar

1/20/2014 – On a perfect Georgian winter day, drinking a cup of hot tea at home in Tbilisi, thinking how boring winter was, WGM Nina Mausuradze received an invitation to go on a promotional chess tour in Madagascar. She jumped on chance, and describes the trip, and how everyone got into the chess spirit, whether the hotel manager paying for classes for his employees to the passport control.

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By Nino Maisuradze

On one of the perfect days of Georgian winter, drinking a cup of hot tea at home in Tbilisi, thinking how boring the winter was, I received a Facebook message from Martha Fierro, the secretary of the FIDE Women Commission ("WOM") presided by former Women World Chess Champion Susan Polgar. She was asking, if instead of going to Zurich Open, I'd like to participate in the promotional tour of women chess, as a FIDE Women Chess Ambassador in Madagascar at the end of the year. 

Since chess promotion is one of my favorite fields, I immediately accepted the offer, spending a quite unusual Christmas in the long flight, hanging in the sky somewhere between Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar) and Mahajanga, the northern part of the country where the event was held. Well, my previous Christmas was spent in Doha airport, in Qatar, returning Jakarta, Indonesia. So, one can say I'm already quite experienced in spending Christmas in uncommon locations.

Arriving

Arrived on the place, I was warmly met by Dr. Luc Narda Andrianarisoa, one of the devoted chess persons of Mahajanga. Luc is the former president of Madagascar chess federation, an affiliate to FIDE. He is also the former president of Mahajanga federation. Now retired, he gives chess lessons in his town. "Chess is similar to life" is Luc's motto.

Students- WGM Nino Maisuradze – Dr. Luc Narda

While talking in the car on the road from the airport to the Hotel "Roches Rouges", I found out some interesting information. While in France, most amateur chess players are by profession mathematicians or software engineers, whereas in Mahajanga, most are doctors and people with a medical background. That was quite helpful later, when one day during the trip, I accidentally ate some of seafood and got my typical small allergic reaction with somewhat asthma-like episodes. Special thanks to my doctor that day, Pr. Ralison Fidiarivony, the President of Mahajanga (Boeny) Chess Federation.

Hardly out from the plane, stepping for the first time on Malagasy ground, I was blitzing and having friendly games in the very same Christmas evening. Well, that's the world of chess no matter where you are!

I finally got back to the hotel in the late evening and went to the bed surrounded by a few lizards, wondering who would be my students on next day, and how many girls. I was impatient to start the lessons with them. I again had a glance on one of the lizards sitting on the wall. In normal days, I would have screamed loudly "Help! Please, somebody, save me!" but I knew I was in Mahajanga, and there was nothing to do about it. The hotel was wonderful but everybody confirmed that lovely small lizards are everywhere in Madagascar and one has to get used to that idea.

Training

The next day we started with a press conference where I explained to local journalists the goal of my visit, followed by the three-hour training of the Malagasy female chess players.  So, finally they were here! It was a nice surprise to discover that some of them are quite good, around 1900-2000 FIDE rating according to my personal estimation. But having no international tournaments, they are simply unrated.

WFM Sabi Ravelomanana expressing her feelings about the WOM Promotional
Tour in Madagascar

Miora – Tsantsa – Omega

Giving them intensive lessons on four consecutive days was a real pleasure. The girls came from Antananarivo and Mahajanga, and were aged seven to 25, later joined by some newcomers, up to 30 years old. They were well-motivated and well-equipped to receive tons of strategic advice on the middlegame and endgames. They also received some general chess culture, showing to them one by one the Women World Champions and their games. None of them knew who the world's first Woman Champion was (Vera Menchik), nor the second or third. Some of them had never even heard of Hou Yifan or Judit Polgar.

Now everybody knew the name of "Susan Polgar" as the chairman of the Women Commission and initiator of my trip, but it was funny to see their surprised faces when they discovered that Susan was also one of the World Champions!  

The problem is that not everybody has internet at home in Mahajanga and in general Internet access is expensive. So, not everybody can permit themselves to play chess online or surf on different chess sites.

"Effet Papillon" – Butterfly Effect in Madagascar

Giving a simul to about 30 players on my second day, not only was the hotel "Roche Rouge" director fascinated, so were the hotel personnel and guests, all of whom became very interested in chess. Sitting in the restaurant in the hot evenings of Mahajanga after my lessons, I was always questioned about chess by hotel guests. Each time I had very enjoyable conversations, satisfying everybody's curiosity.

WGM Nino Maisuradze starting the simul

On one evening, the director of the hotel, who didn't know how to play chess, called all his employees to the restaurant. All of them appeared standing in line as if in the army, waiting for the reason of their summons.

The director asked "You have kids, haven't you?". "Oui Monsieur" (Yes, Sir) "Ma fille a dix ans" (my daughter is ten years old) one of them answered. Here the surprise came: "Tomorrow all of you will have free chess lessons with Dr. Luc Narda, paid by me, to initiate yourselves and your children to the game!" "Merci monsieur!" "Merci beaucoup!" was answered by surprised and delighted employees.

Who knows? Maybe one day we will see a Malagasy grandmaster thanks to this butterfly effect?! On the next day the director's fiancée, who arrived from Antananarivo, a business woman, joined my chess lessons, and after decided to continue to train in Mahajanga with Dr. Luc Narda.         

Departure

It is always hard to leave a place, full of heartwarming smiling faces. Kids waving hands, saying thanks, expressing their gratitude to Susan Polgar and WOM!

My flight from Mahajanga was delayed. In the airport of Antananarivo, I was a bit worried, almost missing my flight to Paris. I had noticed the passport control was very slow in the airport, so when I passed my passport to the officials with a somewhat stressed face, awaiting the traditional "where are you going – where are you coming from", instead I heard "Which opening do you like most?" "The Sicilian", I replied. "OK" and he quickly closed my passport. My face must have looked quite silly with surprise, so the controller explained that he recognized me from TV, and being himself a chess player in the capital, was happy to see me.

Motivated chess players!


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