A Chess Story

by Irina Bulmaga
1/23/2021 – Irina Bulmaga is a Woman Grandmaster, an International Master, and a chess professional. She discovered her passion for chess when she was still a child, and in a short story she looks back to the start of her chess career and remembers the beginning of a life-long love affair.

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Chess - A Love Story

"I’ve found one!", a girl’s voice disturbed the perfect silence. "Ah, and here’s another one! Grandpa, where are you? Come and check it out!". As there was no answer, the 5-year-old ran downstairs, to the old rusty garage. A man in his 60s was working there, trying to fix an old, big "Aist" bicycle. "Grandpa, I’ve found 2 mates!" she said proudly. "Good job, keep going, there are 30 more!". "30????? Grandpa, I’m bored, let’s better go to the field and pick some blackberries and maybe some flowers for grandma!". "Dear, you see, my bike is still not fixed, have patience, we’ll go after you find all the mates in one, I promise." "Ok…", and the little girl ran back upstairs to the wooden board with small chess pieces carved by her grandfather…

"Irina! Come, I’ve made some mint tea!". "Oh, thanks grandma!". "Let’s have a look at this encyclopedia with bird species while we drink it!". "Grandma… I go to school only next year and I’m busy anyway, grandpa and I are on a secret mission!", and the girl ran away with the mint tea glass in her hand.

Irina Bulmaga and her grandparents

This is the beginning of a love story – my love story, my chess story…

A year later, in a basement full of chess boards, the same girl was sipping soup from a jar. Her grandpa was sitting next to her looking around, at the portraits of World Champions hanging on the walls. "And, how was school today, darling?". "Mhm, I got three tens at chess and one at English. The soup is so tasty! Yummy!". "Your grandmother made it this morning and asked me to bring it to you…" "Will mom pick me up after chess?". "Yes, your mom and dad will come in three hours, after work, when you finish the training…". "Great, I will tell them about the tens as well! Do you want to play a game?". "Finish your soup, darling, we’ll play at home." Little kids started to enter the basement and take their places in front of a big demonstration chess board. The girl lost the interest in the tasty soup and took her place as well, whispering "Grandpa, the lesson is starting, tell grandma I ate all the soup!", and she winked.

A few months later, outside a big, historical building, a woman was trying to cheer up her crying daughter. "Let’s go, mom, let’s go!", said the girl dragging her mother’s coat nervously. "We have to stay for the prize-giving dear, you will be getting a prize!". "What prize, I made 1 point out of 9, I took last place, there is no prize for that", said the little girl sobbing heavily. "You’re the youngest participant, you did well for your first tournament, let’s stay, you’ll be getting a diploma and some chocolates!". The girl looked angrily at her mom and through tears said, "We’re going home. Now. Next time I will win this stupid tournament!", and she stepped on a ‘dog’s mine’. "Did you do it on purpose? Irina! Look at you, you’re all dirty and smelly now…". "Very well, let’s go home and clean me up." There was nothing to do other than comply… At home, the whole family was waiting for them. The girl left all the dirty things in the hallway and ran to her grandfather, saying "Let’s go for a walk! Please…". He exchanged glances with her mother, who just rolled her eyes and sighed… They walked silently along the boulevard. She took his hand and hid hers inside his palm. "Tell me a story, grandpa!". A few hours later, they were back home, the girl smiling again.

Irina Bulmaga and her grandfather

Months passed with the same 'jar in the basement' routine. One day, when the grandfather came to pick up the girl after the training she said "Grandpa, you know, today, the teacher asked me to mate him with two knights and a king versus a lonely king, and I tried and tried but couldn’t mate him. He said to try again and again but I still couldn’t find a way. He finally said it’s a theoretical draw and the reason I couldn’t find the win was because there’s none! Can you imagine?". "Yes darling, sometimes no matter how much you want something, things are not up to you." "Does it mean that if I want to become National Champion it might be not up to me?" "No, this is different, if you continue training, I’m sure you can do it!" "Maybe we can analyze this endgame with the two knights for a little longer and we’ll discover a win then!" "Let’s get off the trolleybus 2 stations earlier and walk home!" "Your mother won’t be happy with us being late, you have homework to do…". "Grandpa, please! We can say that the trolleybus broke…".

At home, the girl happily threw all her stuff in the hallway and ran to the kitchen. "Mom, we’re home!". "Why did it take you so long?". "Our trolleybus broke and we had to walk…", she said looking back at her grandpa innocently. "Ok, wash your hands and come have dinner, you still have homework to do and tomorrow your tournament starts and I have to leave early in the morning for work… Your father will take you to the tournament after school… I wanted to come too, but unfortunately I will be still at work…". "Don’t worry mom, I know that sometimes things are not up to us!" The old man looked at his daughter and they smiled.

A passion for chess

The next morning, the girl was woken up by her father. "Irina, breakfast is ready." "I’m coming, dad, but could you please braid my hair first, I want two braids, to look beautiful today when I receive my medal." "Darling, your mom left for work already, I’m not sure I can braid your hair…". "Dad, please, let’s try!" "Ok…". An hour later, the breakfast was still waiting for them cold in the kitchen. "Dad, I love you, thanks!", said the girl looking at herself in the mirror. "Hurry now, we’ll be late for school!" A few hours later the man came to pick up his daughter. She was waiting for him in the schoolyard with her long hair flying in all directions. "What happened?", he asked. "Sometimes the things are not up to us, dad…". "Ok, Irina, we don’t have time for it, let’s go to the tournament, we’ll fix it on our way."

When arriving at the old building, where the chess club was located, the man told his daughter "Irina, remember, you can do this, with your hair braided or not! Some things are not up to us, but others are- you worked hard, just focus and you’ll win." "I know, I have new shoes and I don’t plan on getting them dirty!" "What does it have to do with the tournament? Irina, where is your mind flying?", but the girl didn’t hear, she was already running towards the entrance. A few hours later she came out with a victorious smile. "I won dad, I qualified for the National Championship!". "Good job! I knew you could do this! You see, there are things which are up to us!". The girl hugged her father and said "Let’s go in, the prize ceremony is about to begin!"

Focused: a young Irina Bulmaga

Back at home, the grandparents were waiting for them with a nice dinner. "Grandpa, I won, I’ll be playing the National Championship next month!". "Let’s go for a walk after dinner, I want you to tell me more stories!" "Well done dear, of course we’ll go! Let’s eat first."

Irina Bulmaga and her grandfather

Many months and years passed since then. I won National and International Championships and got various titles. Chess has become my profession and I cannot be more grateful to my family who has supported me greatly along this uneasy road! No matter how many successes or falls I have had, I feel their love and that’s what really matters! What I miss the most when I go to visit them are the walks on the boulevard with grandpa… He’s walking in a different world these days, but I can sometimes still feel his hand squeezing mine…


Playing and loving chess during the pandemic

Irina Bulmaga is a WGM/IM born in Moldova, currently representing Romania. She became the youngest Moldavian Champion among Women at the age of 14 years old. Since 2010, she has been a part of the Romanian Olympic team, successfully representing it at 5 Olympiads, winning an individual bronze medal in 2014.


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