MY STORY: How Chess Turned out to Be a Valuable Educational Tool for Underprivileged Kids

17-year-old chess player Devanshi Rathi launched Project Checkmate in April 2016 with the vision of introducing underprivileged children to the game of chess. This is how it is helping the kids learn valuable life skills.

17-year-old chess player Devanshi Rathi launched Project Checkmate in April 2016 with the vision of introducing underprivileged children to the game of chess. This is how it is helping the kids learn valuable life skills.

A 10-year-old boy sat at the chessboard lost in thought, pondering his next move. He noticed his opponent’s eyes oscillating between the board and his face. This young boy was already thinking about the future and was sensing the environment around his position, and was even observing his adversary — all the skills one needs to possess, not only in the game of chess but in life as well. Incidentally, he didn’t even know the rules of chess just a month back.

Chess, time and again, has proved to be an ideal educational tool for children to develop skills that are useful in life, in more than one ways.


The recent impetus that the concept of ‘Chess in Schools’ has gained, is ensuring that chess spreads to the grassroots level. Indeed, it is a valuable education tool for school children. But what about underprivileged kids? To fill this gap, I approached an NGO named International Society of Human Welfare and Rehabilitation (ISHWAR) in Delhi and started teaching the children the basics of chess. I christened it Project Checkmate.

The response, to my surprise, was heartening. Project Checkmate was launched in April 2016 with the vision of introducing underprivileged children to the game of chess. I teach a group of around 20 students who are enthusiastic about learning the game. They had no idea about the rules of chess and I had to start from scratch. Eventually, I also taught them the basic openings and their names. They learned about the history of chess and evolution of modern chess as well.

The classes are held at the ISHWAR’s centre in New Delhi – twice a week for two hours each.


Six students went to the Delhi State Rapid Chess Tournament in May 2016. I picked them up from the NGO and gave them their new chess kits prepared by me. The chess kit consisted of a notebook, a pen, simple tips written by me, and a chess board with pieces. The children also took with them the bags and bottles that I had given them earlier. They were extremely excited to play in their first tournament – that too a state level one. The entire car ride to the venue was an eventful one. I gave the children some tips for the tournament and how they should play to their best capacity.

I saw their smiles and their hunger to do well was truly inspirational. In the next session, since the children had just returned from a tournament two days back, I wanted to discuss with them all that they had learned from it and their experiences.


I showed them one of Mikhail Tal’s masterpieces and asked them their ideas about the game. I talked about strategy and planning and how to win a game. New students had joined as the class by this time. It is amazing to see how these kids can concentrate and focus so hard.

The work I was doing was noticed by IM Tania Sachdev. The project was taken up by ‘Chess for Children’, who sponsored the certificates for the 1st ISHWAR NGO Tournament. I was extremely excited and looked forward to organising a tournament for the very first time in my life. The tournament was a single round robin event and was played with the latest FIDE rules and the latest chess clocks.

There were a total of 5 games and one boy managed to win all his games.It has been an eventful two months for this programme and we hope to take it to further heights. Children have also started learning chess on the computer by the new online chess learning program started at the NGO. We have started a board games club and a library at the NGO. Chess books are also available in the newly created library.

The biggest lesson of this programme is that nothing in life can come easily. It has to be achieved with hard work and dedication. Even though one may not have the means, one can achieve his/her dreams provided they have the passion and will to work towards it.

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Written by Devanshi Rathi for Project Checkmate and republished here.
About the author: Devanshi is a 17-year-old rated chess player. She has been playing chess for the past nine years and has competed in many international, national and state level tournaments. She is passionate about sports and writing, and is a dedicated blogger. She also swims, reads and is a fitness enthusiast.