Sherab Lhamo

Karma Kelzang, 16, from Bajothang Youth Centre, emerged victorious in the second Youth Center Chess Championship in Thimphu yesterday.

Twenty-six participants from 13 youth centres in the country took part in the championship.

Lhendup Namgyal Dorji, 14, representing Thimphu Youth Friendly Integrated Service Centre, came second. Pema Yangsel Dorji, 14, from Thimphu Youth Centre, was declared the best female player.

Khenrab Wangchuk, an 11-year-old Khenrab Wangchuk from Phuentsholing Youth Friendly Integrated Service Centre and Sonam T. Zeeyang, 10, representing Samdrupjongkhar Youth Friendly Integrated Service Centre were the youngest participants.

The championship featured a series of league matches, consisting five rounds. 

UNICEF Bhutan’s Representative, AJ Fawzia Hoodbhoy, said: “It is heartening to see that our youth centres have become a learning hub for many young people to acquire new sets of 21st-century skills. UNICEF has long supported sport and Sports for Development initiatives globally.”

Karma Kelzang, a student of Dechentsemo Higher Secondary School, Punakha said that it was his first time participating in the Youth Center Championship.

The participants were part of a larger group of 294 youths, including 88 girls, who attended a three-day coaching camp at youth centres last week, in preparation for the championship.

Local tournaments were held on the last day of the coaching camp, and the winners, a male and a female from their local youth centre competitions, aged 10 to 21, were selected to participate in the championship.

Sonam T Zeeyang from Samdrupjongkhar Primary School said: “I got nervous as I was the only one in my age group, and the participants were strong, but I feel proud to represent the dzongkhag. I plan to compete in the future.”

The three-day coaching was facilitated by School Sports Instructors with technical support from Bhutan Chess Federation. An international coach from Sri Lanka also conducted some sessions virtually.

Research indicates that playing chess from an early age helps children and young people develop self-confidence and acquire better planning and organisational skills.

A nationwide program, launched in 2022 in partnership with UNICEF and the Chess Federation, introduced professional chess to all 13 Youth Centres, engaging 610 youths, including 200 girls.

Tashi Namgyal, the Director of the Department of Education Programmes at the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, said, “We shall continue to promote the game of chess through Youth Centres so that more youth get the opportunity to learn and become professional chess players who can represent Bhutan in international tournaments.”

Sangay Dema from Khasadrapchu Middle Secondary School, a participant, said that it was her first time participating and, despite initial nervousness, she felt proud of competing.

Tenzin Jigme Choden, a student of Thimphu, said that chess is a game that demands total concentration.

Thinley Palden Dorji, the president of Bhutan Chess Federation, said: “Such tournaments allow us to identify potential chess players and groom them so that they become national champions in the future. We hope that such programs would make chess a game all children learn to play.”

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development, Bhutan Chess Federation, and UNICEF Bhutan organised the championship.