Avoiding a chess war for South Sudanese players

South Sudan’s best rated chess player Deng Cypriano hates talking about war. The 40-year-old says his world goes numb when he thinks of war. The rattle of bullets pierced his ear. The military jeep with the nose of Kalashnikov jumps before his eyes. “An everyday reality for us, not a piece of news,” he says.

He and his team are a universe away from reality. Almost an alternate reality. “And I look at this beautiful world of chess, sunshine, people all over the world and I feel positive and hopeful for humanity and peace. I hear the voices of the friends I have made and I think it is a beautiful world.” is,” he says.

Almost everyone on the team has a story to survive, but they don’t want to re-live their stories of war and famine, death and desperation. “These are some days to be celebrated, because these are some of the best days of our lives, and we don’t know whether we will see such days,” he says.

South Sudan vs Andorra (Europe) South Sudan vs Andorra (Europe) game during the Chess Olympiad.

Eleven years after South Sudan broke away from Sudan, the world’s newest country, after a long and bloody civil war, continues to see repeated bouts of conflict between the government and rebel groups, as well as severe flooding and Localized such as climate shocks are also being observed. dry. According to the United Nations, approximately 8.3 million people currently need humanitarian aid (about two-thirds of the total population), while 1.4 million children under the age of five are severely malnourished. The country also has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

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The game of chess seems trivial when people are fighting for food and life every day. But for Cypriano and his team, the game is an escape from the unimaginable realities of life. “The game we play is war again, but a peaceful war. It has really changed our lives a lot. We can see the world, represent our country, make friends and possibly : can show the fighters that there is a better world outside,” he says.

Several indigenous versions of the game have been popular in South Sudan as well as other Central African countries for centuries. Cypriano and his friends picked it up in childhood and played it wherever they could squeeze into their ripped chessboards, in the corner of the house, or under the shade of a tree in the park.

“When we couldn’t buy chess boards, we used to make them out of wood. The rules were somewhat different, but the basics were the same,” he says.

Serious chess often began at the Munuki Chess Club in the capital city, Juba. The country’s chess fraternity falls into the club, which also organizes tournaments to build brotherhood among the country’s diverse and often feudal castes. Club president Jada Albert Modi told the Juba Post, “It helps to bring people together and what South Sudan really needs is for people to get to know each other, not through a tribal lens or an ethnic lens, but rather through abilities, abilities and hobbies and mutual interests.” ,

There is no official advice, as players choose and polish the game on the go. They barely fix their games online, which is an integral part of modern-day chess development, as internet access is hard and the connection is often weak. That’s why they often congregate in bars, where there is free internet access, although they may not stay at the bar forever. Moreover, it is a difficult place for women to enter as well. “But the data, the online subscription, all these are very expensive for us. We can manage it for a day or two, or maybe a week. But not for a month, ”says Supriyano.

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Most of them neither have laptops nor PCs. When FIDE-appointed trained Vedanta Goswami met him online for the first class, he was in shock. “He had only one laptop. During the Zoom meeting, about 10-15 people, including all these players and officials, used to enter a screen in a small room. It was difficult because you don’t know who’s who. It was difficult to give personal coaching like that. Then we finally arranged some more laptops for them. Internet connection will also be shut down,” he says.

His game, he felt, was crude. “They were better than I expected. Obviously Deng Hai who has a rating of over 2000 (2105), but most of them were crude. Every move they wanted to attack and their defense was weak. So I found them defensive and positional. Had to prepare on the front. The women’s team was very weak, then I found out that it was difficult for them to go out and play in bars or clubs because it is unsafe,” he says.

Tournaments are few and far between but this has stopped him from continuously working on his game. “We do not have the resources, but we see people in our country and we ourselves struggle for food. That’s why we don’t complain about resources. We just find our own ways to survive and get better, get famous and show the country and the world that a sport can change lives. Chess can bring people together, it can build relationships between us, it can also bring peace to South Sudan,” says Cypriano.

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Her eyes are bright and fresh now. They do not show signs of war. Chess has fixed some of them.