Soumya Swaminathan was busy calling up many in Kochi on Wednesday to check whether an artificial football ground was available for an hour’s sweaty action. Soumya is no way connected to football; in fact, she belongs to the quieter world of chess where she is the former junior girls world champion. But now, she has found new friends in chess who loved football and she clearly wanted to help.
Soumya, a Woman Grandmaster, is part of a select Indian chess team which will play a star-studded Spanish side in a series of games in Kochi on Thursday. The event, backed by La Liga World, is being held as a part of the La Liga World pre-season football tournament here.
“I love football; in fact, I’m a decent player at the amateur level,” Grandmaster Ivan Salgado, the Spanish national champion, told Sportstar at the Lulu Marriott after solving a few complex chess problems with the Indians, here on Wednesday.
Ivan is keen to watch Girona FC, which made an impressive La Liga debut last season, when the Spanish side plays in Kochi on Friday. And he wants to have a feel of the beautiful game here, too.
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Many may not be aware but some of La Liga biggest names, including FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez along with Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann — France’s hero in the recent World Cup triumph — are now virtually helping Indian chess stars like Soumya and Grandmasters S. L. Narayanan, Abhimanyu Puranik and Diptayan Ghosh understand European chess better through the ongoing La Liga World event, which includes many quality women players, too.
Football's helping hand
“We have a project, LaLiga4Sports , since 2014 that offers one per cent of La Liga’s earnings through television rights to help all other sports in Spain. It runs into millions of euros,” said La Liga World ambassador Ander Mirambell, the three-time Winter Olympian.
“We have been supporting Olympic champion Carolina Marin since 2015 and we also had an event with her in Thailand. We also had events in hockey, rugby and taekwondo earlier. This chess event, between Spanish and Indian players also happened through this.”
Special games on the Rainbow bridge at the Marine Drive in Kochi and in a boat have been planned for Thursday to take the sport to the streets and make it popular.
Every year, a good number of Indian chess players travel to Spain to play tournaments there. And when Soumya came to know that the La Liga chess event was happening here, she was thrilled. “I had planned to play in some other event but when I heard of this, I dropped everything and came here. This is such a huge opportunity,” said Soumya, a former national champion.
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“We had a six-hour session yesterday, solving and discussing chess problems and we were some very tough positions. I’ve never attended a mixed training camp before, not with foreign players. This is the first time,” she added.
Grandmaster S. L. Narayanan said, “We get to understand Spanish strategies better, they don’t think the way we do. And they are stronger positionally.”
And apart from Ivan Salgado, the other stars guiding them were GMs Anton David Guijarro and GM Miguel Ruiz. “Almost all of them are part of the Spanish team which will play the Chess Olympiad in Georgia in September,” said Javier Ochoa, the president of the Spanish Chess Federation.
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