LAHORE: Mehak Gul, 12, will leave for Istanbul this Monday as part of the 10-member team which will represent Pakistan in the World Chess Olympiad.
Gul will be the youngest participant to represent Pakistan in the tournament.
Gul- who has been playing chess since the age of six- recently came in the limelight after securing positions in chess championships at provincial and national levels. A student of the Lahore Garrison School in Township, Gul won school chess championship back in 2010 after which she participated in the Punjab Chess Championship in June this year. She came third in the competition.
Her father and her coach, Mohammad Zahid said he was proud of her daughter’s talent.
“Her performance in all the tournaments has been beyond my expectations,” he said while talking to The Express Tribune.
After her performance at the provincial championship, Zahid said, he decided to help his daughter participate in the National Chess Championship.
“Obviously her chances were not as bright as she was inexperienced. Her confidence helped her win,” he said.
Gul participated in the National Chess Championship in Karachi in July and came fifth, qualifying for the team which will represent Pakistan at the world championship.
Zahid, who is also a chess coach at the Punjab University and the University of Management and Technology, feels there is a dearth of coaching facilities and encouragement for young children with potential, especially young girls. He regrets that in Pakistan girls are not encouraged to play any sport at a professionally.
Zahid says Gul is the youngest person to have qualified for the Olympiad from Pakistan. In 2008, the youngest participant was from Karachi and was 15-years-old.
For Gul, a trip to Turkey is as exciting as being able to make it to the World Chess Olympiad. “My friends are also very excited about me going to Turkey,” she said.
She said most of her friends were fond of playing chess, making play time more of a practice session.
“Though at times I have to teach them how to play,” she said,
Gul says she practices for at least three hours every day with her father. She has her eyes on becoming a Grandmaster, a title conferred by the World Chess Federation. She said she plans to offer training sessions at schools to help other children interested in the game.
Ghulam Fatima, Gul’s paternal grandmother, said Gul’s interest in the game had worried her at first.
She said, “Gul was so engrossed in the game that I worried it would have an adverse affect on her studies. But her father helped her focus on both her studies and the game.”
Though Ghulam Fatima is nervous about her 12-year-old grand daughter heading to Turkey, she wishes her luck in the competition.
Gul’s airfare to Istanbul has been sponsored by the Chess Federation of Pakistan, but Zahid complains that there is a lack of support offered to the players by the federation. He says players, especially young ones, require training and grooming for which the federation should provide opportunities.
“Recognising talented players is very important,” he said.
Gul is the only member of the Pakistan Women’s National Team who belongs to Lahore. The rest are from Karachi. On Friday, she left for Karachi to join her teammates, from where she will leave for Istanbul on August 27. The World Olympiad, a biennial event, will be held in Istanbul from August 27 to September 10. More than 160 countries will participate in the tournament.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2012.