In a thrilling display of strategic prowess, Karma Kelzang, a 16-year-old prodigy hailing from Bajothang Youth Centre, clinched victory at the second Youth Center Chess Championship held in Thimphu yesterday. The event witnessed intense competition, with twenty-six participants representing 13 youth centers from across the nation.
Lhendup Namgyal Dorji, 14, of Thimphu Youth Friendly Integrated Service Centre, secured the second position, showcasing the depth of talent in the competition. Pema Yangsel Dorji, 14, from Thimphu Youth Centre, claimed the title of the best female player, breaking barriers and setting a precedent for inclusivity in chess.
The championship, featuring a series of league matches comprising five rounds, saw the youngest participants, 11-year-old Khenrab Wangchuk from Phuentsholing Youth Friendly Integrated Service Centre, and 10-year-old Sonam T. Zeeyang from Samdrupjongkhar Youth Friendly Integrated Service Centre, displaying exceptional skill despite their tender age.
Expressing her enthusiasm, UNICEF Bhutan’s Representative, AJ Fawzia Hoodbhoy, lauded the role of youth centers as learning hubs for 21st-century skills. “UNICEF has long supported sport and Sports for Development initiatives globally,” she remarked, underlining the importance of such events in nurturing holistic development.
Karma Kelzang, a student at Dechentsemo Higher Secondary School in Punakha, shared that it was his debut in the Youth Center Championship. “It’s heartening to see our youth centers fostering an environment where young talents can thrive,” he commented on the impact of such initiatives.
The participants, part of a larger group of 294 youths, underwent a three-day coaching camp in preparation for the championship. Local tournaments held on the final day of the camp identified the winners from each youth center, ultimately earning them a spot in the national championship.
Sonam T Zeeyang, a participant from Samdrupjongkhar Primary School, expressed both nervousness and pride, emphasizing the desire to compete in the future. The coaching camp, facilitated by School Sports Instructors with technical support from the Bhutan Chess Federation, included virtual sessions by an international coach from Sri Lanka.
Chess, known for its cognitive benefits, was introduced as part of a nationwide program in 2022 in collaboration with UNICEF and the Chess Federation. The initiative engaged 610 youths, including 200 girls, across all 13 Youth Centres, aiming to cultivate chess as a professional pursuit.
Tashi Namgyal, the Director of the Department of Education Programmes at the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, pledged continued support for promoting chess through Youth Centers. “Our goal is to nurture professional chess players who can proudly represent Bhutan on the international stage,” he affirmed.
As the championship unfolded, Sangay Dema from Khasadrapchu Middle Secondary School, a first-time participant, expressed pride in her accomplishment. Tenzin Jigme Choden, a student from Thimphu, highlighted the game’s demand for total concentration, emphasizing its value as a mind-sport.
Thinley Palden Dorji, the president of Bhutan Chess Federation, articulated the long-term vision behind such tournaments. “These programs help us identify and groom potential chess champions for the future. We aspire to make chess a game every child learns and plays,” he concluded, signifying a strategic move towards a checkmate of success for Bhutan’s burgeoning chess community.