A hearty chess gesture from the Czech Republic to the Indian state of Kerala

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
7/7/2021 – The state of Kerala, India found a pleasant gesture from a land faraway, the Czech Republic, when ‘Chess Train’ organiser Pavel Matocha organised a charity chess simultaneous display at Prague to help in its vaccination drive, with the raised money going to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund of the Kerala Government. The motive behind this hearty gesture was no more than the attachment felt with the state of Kerala and its people, when Matocha participated in the ‘Chess Houseboat’ event held during early 2020. The event received support from the top echelons of the Czech Government, as well as the Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic. | Photo: Prague Chess Society

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Charity simul by David Navara in Prague

The Municipal House, an important ‘Art-Nouveau’ building in the centre of Prague, was host to a charity simultaneous chess exhibition by the top-rated Czech Grandmaster David Navara against 20 opponents on June 29, raising about 160,700 Czech Korunas (about 6,285 Euros) or 5,57,000 Indian Rupees. A brainchild of Pavel Matocha, organiser of the famous ‘Chess Train’ event, the simul in support of Covid-19 vaccination drive in the Indian state of Kerala received a massive support from the civil society when Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš himself turned up as one of the participants, in the presence of the ambassador of India to the Czech Republic, Hemant H Kotalwar.

The Municipal House at Prague, next to the Powder Gate, in the centre of Prague | Photo: Wikimedia

Simultaneous display by David Navara in progress | Photo: Prague Chess Society

David Navara making a move against the Prime Minister of Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš | Photo: Prague Chess Society

The thought behind the idea

This extraordinary event has a backstory, borne out of a friendship between two chess organisers who visited each other’s unique events and fell in love with the ambience and local culture, and extending a helping hand to the other at such trying times of the global pandemic.

A former national level player and Olympian, N RAnil Kumar (Correspondence International Master and retired English Professor), travelled to Prague in 2019 and participated in the unique ‘Chess Train’ event and enjoyed it thoroughly.

N R Anil Kumar as a participant at the Chess Train 2019 | Photo: Prague Chess Society

He liked the novel idea of playing chess ‘on wheels’, appreciating the uniqueness and the friendly touristic experience among a chess-loving crowd, the event being well crafted by Pavel Matocha with whom he formed a warm friendship.

How ‘Orient Chess Moves’ and ‘Chess Houseboat’ were born

He also realised the potential of the state of Kerala in conducting such an event ‘on waves’ around its abundant backwaters, subsequently forming the organisation ‘Orient Chess Moves’ with a few of his friends to create the unique ‘Chess Houseboat’ event at the ‘God’s own country’, the state of Kerala in India. Joe Parappilly and P Manoj Kumar, two former national level players, and Ajit Kumar Raja and Joju Tharakan, two educationists who are Principal and Director respectively of the Sakthan Thamburan college, Thrissur, Kerala were the other founder members of the Orient Chess Moves.

The Orient Chess Moves and Chess Train crowd. Sitting: Johann Linzer (Austria) Karel Glacner (Czech Republic) Norbert Krueger (Germany). Standing: Joju Tharakan, Mrs Jiri & Jiri Navratil (Czech Republic), N.R.Anil Kumar, Ajith Kumar Raja, Joe Parappilly , Walter Anema (Netherlands) and the Matocha family | Photo: Orient Chess Moves

The inaugural ‘Chess Houseboat’ event was conducted during Jan - Feb 2020, and attracted a moderate crowd. The uniqueness of the event caught the attention of Kerala Government’s State Tourism department, which also joined hands with the organisers, thus making it an ‘official’ event for the state. Pavel Matocha travelled all the way to Kerala with his family to participate in the event, enjoying the hospitality, sights, cuisine and the chess, strengthening his endearment for the land.

The most beautiful chess tournament venue ever — the chess houseboat floating at the Vembanad Lake, the backwaters of Kerala | Photo: Orient Chess Moves

Game on at the Houseboat | Photo: Orient Chess Moves

It was not just about the game — great cuisine was on offer too | Photo: Orient Chess Moves

...delighting the young and old alike | Photo: Orient Chess Moves

The ‘Kerala Tourism’, belonging to the state government, has an interestingly designed logo depicting various attractions of the land

The ‘Chess Houseboat’ event created a huge visual impact from its inaugural edition, encouraging the organisers to make more ambitious plans for its future, just when the pandemic unfortunately hit the state of Kerala, just as it did with the rest of India.

Chess Kerala and its pandemic relief activities

Anilkumar and Parappilly have also been part of Chess Kerala, a collective of chess lovers in the state who have been conducting events regularly since 2017, a short programme with Nigel Short during December 2019 being one of their major events before the pandemic.

Nigel Short arrives in Kerala | Photo: Chess Kerala

Nigel Short Simul at Cochin, Kerala | Photo: Chess Kerala

Ever since the beginning of 2020, Chess Kerala has been organising various fundraising events to contribute to the Kerala Government’s Covid-19 treatment and vaccination drives. Their recent initiative has been the Covid Vaccine Challenge Grand Prix series 2021 online event through which they raised Rs.3,46,106, contributing to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). The initiative was supported by the breadth of Indian chess community.

Anil Kumar and members of Chess Kerala presenting the Chief Minister of the state Pinarayi Vijayan (White Shirt) a contribution of Rs.4,55,000/- (about 5,155 Euro) raised from the online event Checkmate Covid-19 conducted during May 2020. Note the traditional dress worn around the waist by Anil Kumar and the Chief Minister - it is the Kerala special ‘Mundu’, denoting simplicity as well as majesticity | Photo: Chess Kerala

Chess Kerala is a vibrant organisation, with consistent chess activities of a charitable bend. A remarkable feature of the organisation is a band of hard-working women, who among themselves conducted the successful ‘Chess Kerala Women Grandprix 2021’ during May 2021.

The women team of Chess Kerala, who exclusively organised the Chess Kerala Women Grandprix 2021 | Photo: Chess Kerala

Support for the charity simul

Noting the efforts of his friends from Chess Kerala, Pavel Matocha too decided to engage the chess community of the Czech Republic to help the state of Kerala by organising a charity event in Prague. He roped in the top player of Czech, David Navara to play a Simultaneous Display for 20 boards, with the participation being free of charge but expecting everyone to contribute to the fund, to be in turn sent to the CMDRF.

David Navara with two young participants of the Simul | Photo: Prague Chess Society

The Government of the Czech Republic showed amazing enthusiasm for the event, with the participation of the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš, former Minister of Healthcare Roman Prymula (a FIDE Master) and Member of the Czech Parliament Patrik Nacher.

Prime Minister of Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš | Photo: Prague Chess Society

Member of the Czech Parliament Patrik Nacher | Photo: Prague Chess Society

FIDE Master Roman Prymula, a former Minister of Healthcare | Photo: Prague Chess Society

A short and well-produced video presentation of the event:

Charitativní simultánka pro Indii (charity simultaneous) for India | Video: Anežka Kružíková

No doubt, Matocha’s credentials and standing helps - he is the founder of the Prague Chess Society, organiser of the Chess Train, owner and CEO of the Sach Mat s.r.o. (CheckMate Ltd.) a trading company, and chairman of the Czech Television Council.

Sometimes, you have to get on the ground and push — Pavel Matocha in action during the Chess Train event | Photo: Prague Chess Society

The partner of the event was Motorpal, a.s, the Czech manufacturer of fuel injectors for diesel engines, with a contribution of  50,000 CZK (about 2,000 EUR), their chairman of the board and CEO Radim Valas personally attending the event.

The Municipal House was the grand venue, where a video message from Anilkumar was played at the beginning of the event.

With all the participants and organisers ready for the Simul, N R Anil Kumar’s video message was played out, conveying the gratitude of Chess Kerala and the people of the state for this hearty charitable gesture all the way from the Czech Republic | Photo: Prague Chess Society

A classy organisation

Navara won 18 games and drew 2 (against lawyer Michal Vavra and statistician Libor Nentvich).

Things always start briskly on the chessboard — Nacher makes a move on his board, keenly watched by Babiš | Photo: Prague Chess Society

Things may even seem to be going your way for a while... | Photo: Prague Chess Society

...but they are bound to get overwhelming, when the opposition is a David Navara — Nacher and Babiš do not seem to be doing well on the chessboard. But you have to really give it to their involvement! | Photo: Prague Chess Society

Organisation was classy, as these little details reveal | Photo: Prague Chess Society

The Indian Ambassador to the Czech Republic

An enthusiastic and involved support also came from the Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic, Hemant H Kotalwar, who made it a point to attend the simultaneous display, kept in contact with the Chess Kerala troupe back in India during the event, and also tweeted from the venue.

Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic, Hemant H Kotalwar delivers his address, flanked by Matocha and Navara. Note Matocha’s dress - he is wearing the Indian ‘Sherwani’ presented to him during his visit to the Chess Houseboat event | Photo: Prague Chess Society

When I contacted Hemant Kotalwar to understand better this warm and noble gesture of a Prime Minister of a country and other luminaries turning up for a charity simul just for one of the numerous states of India, I found someone who enjoys his job. “India and Czech have a historically strong friendship over centuries. The subject of Indology (study of Indian languages) and the ancient language of Sanskrit have been faculties of the Charles University of Prague since the 1860s. The famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore has a demi-god status in the Czech Republic, with a street (Thákurova) even named after him. His famous work Gitanjali was translated directly to the Czech language from Bengali in the 1930s, and many from Czech went over to India since the 1920s to study at his college at the Shantiniketan”. It is obvious from his narrative that such a historical tie between the two nations naturally leads to such hearty gestures as this charity simul.

A sample view of the beautiful Visva Bharati University situated at Shantiniketan, West Bengal India. Founded by Rabindranath Tagore in 1921, it is a much revered institution, where classes are still held in the open under the shade of huge mango trees and students and tutors alike still travel by cycles to keep pollution at bay | Photo: Wikicommons

Czech and India, the historic connection

The Czech connection can also be felt through Indian history, if one remembers names such as ‘Bata’ and ‘Jawa’. The popular brands are so etched in the commercial landscape that an average Indian has all the reasons to believe they are desi brands rather than originating from the Czech Republic. The Bata footwear started manufacturing in 1894 in India, and even got the neighbourhood named as the ‘Bata Nagar’. The Jawa motorbikes have a cult following in India to this day, known for their track record for maintenance friendly, enjoying a revival in the recent few years.

The Czech Brand ‘Bata’ which every Indian thinks of as Indian | Photo: Wikicommons

Kotalwar underlines many such reasons for this warm relationship, and also indicates a personal liking for the ‘cool’ culture of the Czech republic, where even a Prime Minister - also the fourth richest of the country - easily mingles in public, and turns up for playing in such charity events.

Former chairman of Grandmaster Association Bessel Kok who visited the event to support his friend Matocha, seen here with Hemant Kotalwar and his son Aditya Kotalwar | Photo: Prague Chess Society

Kerala Media’s coverage

Back in Kerala, the event was received with enthusiasm by the media, many of the leading newspapers and TV Channels of Kerala reporting on the event, the uniqueness of the gesture not being lost.

From the Kerala daily Desabhimani on 30th June 2021. The language is Malayalam, based on which the state of Kerala was originally founded

From another Malayalam daily Veekshanam on 30th June 2021, a large report

From The Hindu daily on 30th June 2021

From 24 News, a Malayalam news channel

From Kairali News, a Malayalam news channel

Persuading people to play chess

Overwhelmed by the event, I finally probe Matocha on what endeared him so much to Kerala to come up with this hearty and noble gesture. “One week in Kerala that I spent last year at the end of January! With my wife and our youngest child we took part in the Chess Houseboat, a wonderful chess and tourist event, organised by my friend N R Anilkumar. After the few days of Chess Houseboat, we became friends with many chess players of Kerala, of this ‘God’s own country’, and my conviction is that it is our duty to help our friends!”

The Matochas - when a visit to the ‘God’s own country’ forged a special friendship | Photo: Orient Chess Moves

Matocha typically started playing in his childhood, and turned into an active organiser about two decades ago. He has brought many of the Czech political heavyweights to chess events in the past, and quips when I ask how he convinced such luminaries as the Prime Minister of Czech and other parliamentarians to attend the simul, “It is not hard to persuade people who love chess to take part in a chess event!”

Rabindranath Tagore and the harmonies of the universe

It is simply impossible to stand in India and not to be overwhelmed by this hearty gesture from a faraway land, which worships Rabindranath Tagore, the ‘Bard of Bengal’, that crown jewel of Indian creativity who was the first to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore wove magic with words, found inspiration in - befitting of this event - the harmonies of the universe, and some of his famous verses from the Gitanjali offer the relevant poignant conclusion:

“On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.

The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.

They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.

They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.

...On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children”.

Rabindranath Tagore’s bust at the Thákurova area of Prague | Photo: Wikicommons

For more photos of the Navara simul, click here.


Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.


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