Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar is now thriving with more than a hundred rated chess players in the country and has become a hotspot in the state for the sport. But even a decade ago, there were none and it all started with Shardul Gagare. Hailing from the village of Rahuri, Shardul took up chess at the nascent age of five and since then there has been no stopping. In 2016, Shardul became a Grandmaster and his ascend continues.
While speaking to The Bridge, Shardul said, ” I began playing chess there was not a single rated player in Ahmednagar. I was five when I visited my uncle’s home and found a chessboard, which drew my interest in the game and eventually I became hooked with it. He joined a local chess coaching centre and within a year, I won the under-7 national championship title.”
Well, Shardul was not alone in his journey. As there were no players who could practice with Shardul, his sister Shalmali also learnt chess and the sibling developed an invincible bond over the sport which saw both of them reckoning success.
“My introduction to chess came when Shardul needed a hand to play with. And with him, I also found a knack for the game. Eventually, I started playing well also became the national champion in my age group within a year,” says Shalmali.
Shalmali is a Woman International Master (WIM) and has already achieved her first Women Grandmaster Norm in Czech Republic International Grandmaster Tournament in 2019.
While Shardul then won under-10 Asian title in 2007, Shalmali also won the bronze in under-12 world championships. The brother-sister duo travelled together and annexed many titles. Subsequently, Shardul went on to become a grandmaster and Shalmali a WIM. Together they have changed the landscape of Ahmednagar chess. From zero-rated players, the city now boasts of over 100 rated players.
The Ahmednagar siblings conquering world
At home, mostly the sibling practice together or are taking up challenges online. “We practice a lot, almost eight to ten hours every day. At home we are either playing against each other or competing online. However, it’s always like we complement each other and don’t let rivalry go in our head. We help each other play better chess,” says the duo.
Both Shardul and Shalmali have been lucky to get their parents support to pursue the sport. Their father, who is a doctor and also their mother knows the sport well and lend them important suggestions and feedback while following their games closely.
Apart from being a WIM, Shalmali is now also a dentist and Shardul is studying in the final year of his B.A course. “After becoming a WIM in 2012, my mother asked me to choose another career option and that’s why I chose dentistry. I didn’t do MBBS, because I needed time to focus on my chess as well,” says Shalmali.
Along with their parents support, both Shardul and Shalmali received invaluable help from Narendra Firodia, who is sponsoring their chess journey since 2014 and making sure that the sport grows in Ahmednagar.
“In 2014, while playing under the Maharashtra Chess Association, Mr. Narendra Firodia spotted me. And since then, he has helped me in every stage of my career. He ensured us proper coaching and even lending help from grandmasters around the world. Without such help, I don’t know how far I could have made, and had got this help earlier, I could have been one of youngest Grandmasters in India,” says Shardul.
Shalmali also share the same thoughts as Mr. Firodia has been like a pillar of strength for her and helping to reach the milestone of becoming a Grandmaster.
Shantikumarji Firodia Memorial Trust’s impetus to sports
Mr.Narendra Firodia has organized many Chess Tournaments in Ahmednagar district for Open to all chess players. He is one of the owners of Team Ahmednagar Checkers in Maharashtra Chess League Event which includes the participation of all the top Grandmasters from India.
Under his able leadership, the Maximus Sports Academy was found in Ahmednagar which is an intiative of Shantikumarji Firodia Memorial Trust. The focus of the academy has been to provide the best resources to the people of the city and beyond and help them climb the ladder of success in Sports. From badminton to chess, the academy has been rearing some of the finest talents in the state.
The Shantikumarji Firodia Memorial Foundation was established April 2007/. The trust’s core area of focus are Medical and Educational help at the same time helping growing sportsmen and to promote Cultural Activities.
Mr. Narendra Firodia’s dream project is to start a world-class sports academy in Ahmednagar for children who possess extraordinary talent and determination.
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