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Russian Chess in the Heart of Africa

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Russian Chess in the Heart of Africa


Sergey Vinogradov

The fact that the Russian chess school is the second to none in the world is well-known to everyone in Africa who is aware of how the pieces move on the board. The fact that this is so is best known to Nadezhda Marochkina, an athlete and coach living in Senegal. On the continent, Russian chess players are treated with true reverence and even concealed fear - almost as if they were magicians.

During seven years of her life in Africa, Nadezhda Marachkina, a native of Kirov, has managed to join the national chess team of Senegal and become the champion of West Africa. She has been admitted into the country's Chess Federation and opened a club where she trains children of different nationalities and races and does it in three languages.

This year, our compatriot was one step away from fulfilling her dream - to play and bring her students to tournaments in Russia, but the Chess Olympiad in Moscow was cancelled due to the coronavirus. However, there was no lack of tournaments. In Africa, they appreciated all the advantages of online competitions and the unifying role of chess.

Going through life with chess

Nadezhda Marachkina came to Dakar with her husband, who was assigned to Senegal for work. According to her, fears and concerns about an unknown country were there, but vanished in no time. The toughest part was to get used to the climate. According to Nadezhda, there are periods in Senegal when the heat and humidity are unbearable, though they last for three months only. The rest of the year the weather is comfortable. “I fell in love with Senegal, but, I won’t dissemble, this love was not at first sight,” she says. Chess helped this Russian woman make new friends and acquaintances, as well as find something to her liking, which turned into a kind of mission.

Chess came to my life when I was a child, Nadezhda told the Russkiy Mir. I started practicing at the age of seven. I went to a chess club in Kirov, played in Russian tournaments and other competitions. My father was the one who sent me to practice chess as he also played. For the first four years, it did not really spark much interest in me. Chess seemed boring because I did not understand much then due to my age. Now I think that chess is not for every child. I began to enjoy it after my first victories. I still gratefully remember my chess school that gave me so much despite the fact that it was free.

It is common to say that chess develops the brain, especially for the exact sciences. Nadezhda is a living proof of this statement. Her juvenile years and youth were linked to mathematics and physics. She finished the Physics and Mathematics Lyceum in Kirov, then graduated from the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys and is a certified engineer. All that time I continued to play chess, including for the institute team, she said.

Chess vs. checkers

Once in a new country, the Russian woman looked around in search of like-minded chess players, but could hardly find any of them. As to the sports field, the Senegalese authorities channeled all their efforts to development of football and basketball. Nevertheless, I found amateur chess players through Facebook and came to their tournament, she recalls. Gradually, I began to delve into the organization of chess life, joined the chess federation, and now I am able to manage some organizational issues, make some decisions so that the chess movement in Senegal is more or less official. There was a lot of confusion before. There are four of us in the federation, including the president. I am in charge of marketing and sponsorship. Having joined the federation, our first accomplishment was making a good website.

It is checkers that chess has to compete with for the attention of local youth, not football or basketball. Checkers enjoy country-wide popularity in Senegal. The locals even use cardboard to make improvised boards and bottle caps as checkers.

Chess is a much more exotic game here,says Nadezhda. "Our tournaments are mostly attended by professors from local universities, employees of international companies and other educated people."However, the situation may change in a few years: Nadezhda takes part in the Chess in School program being implemented together with the International Chess Federation. We are making active efforts in this direction in the capital city and regions of Senegal,she said. Training materials have been prepared, there are qualified coaches.

The Russian woman also works with children. In September she opened a chess academy. Some children know the basics, others have to be trained from the very beginning, she says. Recalling my childhood experience, I realized that the main thing is to be able to shift attention of children (especially five-year-olds) so that they are not bored. We use techniques where children play and learn at the same time."

"Chess is my hobby"

Nadezhda Marochkina's classes are attended by representatives of the local population, as well as foreigners - Lebanese, Spaniards, Americans and, of course, Russian compatriots. Classes are held in Russian, English and French. The Russians who live here came to the country on a contract. They work, have children who turn to Russian culture, says Nadezhda. Here, in Dakar, there is even a Russian ballet school with a Russian teacher. I am a representative of the Coordinating Council of Compatriots. We celebrate New Year, Victory Day, Pushkin's birthday and other events. In Soviet times, there were extensive exchange programs between the USSR and Senegal. Then all those efforts came to nothing. But after the Russia-Africa summit, the ties have been reviving. "

What motivates her in working with Senegalese children? Chess is my hobby, the Russian woman continues. I have a job; I'm quite a busy person. What motivates me? My main goal is to open a teacher training center where teachers can learn to teach chess to children."

Nadezhda said that she was inspired by people in Senegal who had learned to play chess on their own and reached a high level. There is a boy here who has never attended a chess school, but he learned to play chess through the Internet and books, says the Russian woman. "These are the people that make it worth trying to help others succeed in chess with less difficulty."

Open days are held to make children and youth interested in chess. Such days become real holidays. There are also some mobile apps in Senegal that help excite childrens curiosity in chess. Such apps are gaining popularity and Nadezhda has already tested some of them on her little son.

Pandemic is not an obstacle to chess

Besides success in the federation and in the coaching field, Nadezhda Marachkina excels as an active athlete. Her biggest achievement was the title at the women's championship in West Africa. The native of Kirov represented Senegal at the tournament in Sierra Leone. Nigeria, Liberia and other African countries leading in chess sent their participants there.

When they found out that I was Russian, everyone lost courage, although there were world-class athletes, says Nadezhda. In Africa, our chess players, especially Soviet ones, are regarded as the strongest ones in history. And then many people watched the series about the superiority of Soviet chess players. The tournament organizers thought that there were not enough female players and arranged the mixed field. Women played against men as well. For example, I played against the champion of Nigeria. Of course, it had a different difficulty level compared to tournaments in Senegal. The longest game lasted five and a half hours. What is special about African chess players? They are very emotional and therefore attack more often.

The tournament title brought Nadezhda a qualifying place to the African Championship, which will take place after the quarantine restrictions are lifted. In the midst of the pandemic, the Senegalese team took part in many online tournaments, including the Chess Olympiad.

This year we have fully tested this online chess world, and we really liked it, says the chess player. Chess is an amazing sport where gender, age or nationality does not matter. You can play and win. Let's say a child from Russia can play with a pensioner from Ethiopia, they can play a game of chess via the Internet and understand each other."

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