Taking Bangladesh to new heights

Ziaur Rahman: The country produces yet another GM

Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

“Playing chess is about the only thing that I do currently,” relates a tranquil Ziaur Rahman after a strenuous game that just about ended in a draw.

And it shows, as Rahman is far and away the highest ranked Bangla-deshi player at the moment. All that effort one would say is definitely paying off.

Not quite.

As far as Rahman is concerned there is still a very long way to go. “ I may have achieved the pinnacle in terms of titles, (with the recent acquisition of his GM title), but I still have a lot more dreams that I want to realize,” relates the ambitious and determined Rahman, who is commonly known amongst his peers as, Zia.

“Chess is also the only sport that I wanted to play. I had always and still do find it a very interesting and challenging sport and one that tests my limits,” says Zia who started his chess career at the age of ten in 1984. At that time he was a student of class 4.

During that time, chess was big in Bangladesh. Niaz Murshed was setting the world alight with his exploits and although just a handful of years older than Zia himself, the man who would go on to become the first GM from South East Asia proved to be a great motivation for the young man.

“At that time chess was quite big in Bangladesh. Niaz Murshed was someone we all looked up to as he had already lived through the path,” says Zia.

His ubiquitous talent was quickly spotted in that very tournament. In the next year he firmly established his growing reputation with a superb performance in the Capstan International Masters tournament where he beat the reigning national champion. That performance made everyone sit up and take notice and within a very short span of three years, Zia found himself playing the nationals. Then even more surprisingly, he was being drafted into the national squad. It proved to be a turning point in his life.

“It was at that time that I first really thought of taking up chess professionally. Before that it had been an idea that I had only flirted with. But getting drafted into the national team was a thrill and also an added bonus. It convinced me that I had enough talent to make it.”

Also at the same time there were a number of talented players in Bangladesh and abroad and playing with them provided Zia with enough competition and thus aided in keeping his interest firmly focused towards chess.

“At home we had Niaz Murshed and just across the border we had Anand. Both were talented players and thus the environment was very conducive towards chess.”

Also in 1987, which in retrospect turned out to be a landmark year for the young man, Zia found himself being touted by Bangladesh Biman, the country's premier chess club. He signed up and it is an accord that he keeps even to this day.

“ All things considered I was a tad bit lucky to be signed up by Biman,” admits Rahman. “Biman have been the top chess club in the country for a while and it came as a great confidence booster to me to be selected to represent them. It convinced me more of the fact that I had the talent that was required to succeed at this level.” Understandable because Zia realized that if Biman thought of him as a good investment than he really
did have it in him.

He signed up and thus began the transition to the player he would ultimately become. He repaid Biman's faith in him by become National Champion in the very next year. Also in 1988 he toured different parts of the globe gaining experience and pitting his skills against the best in the business. His travels took him far and wide to the oil-rich kingdom of Dubai, the cold grey climates of England, the aristocracies of Greece and the wide expanses of Australia. It proved to be a learning experience for the young man not just in terms of chess, but also his character build up. His travels helped him nurture his natural instincts and develop his talent.

In 1989, he continued his good run by finishing third in the nationals but his first greatest triumph came in the Asian Cities Championships in 1990. A meet of 33 cities across Asia bought together some of the brightest players from the region. A Bangladeshi team comprised of four players, each with the surname of Rahman, came back from the proverbial dead to win the championship in a humdinger of a finish. Zia who was the youngest player in that team, played his part to perfection and contributed ably to the teams cause. As Zia puts it, “ There were some tense and tight matches but I managed to pull through against some very good opposition.”

In 1992, Zia gained his GM norm in the Olympiad before making the grade at the Kazu Motowar Hossain tournament in Dhaka. In early 1993 he gained his IM title and reached his primary goal in chess.

“ It was a very happy time for me. I managed to reach my first real landmark in chess and I felt like I had really achieved something,” relates Zia. But he also readily admits that while the IM title should have thirsted him on towards greater things, he became a bit complacent and took it easy. This led to him missing the GM norm in 1994 and led him to become a bit dispirited.

“Looking back, the IM title, made me highly complacent. Where I should have pushed on towards greater things I took it easy and paid for it.”

The next four years were compounded by, bare misses and a period of stagnation, where his private life for the first time interfered with his profession. He enrolled into Dhaka University in 1994 and graduated four years later in 1998 as an Anthropology major.

“There was a distinct lack of up to the standard tournaments that I participated in during that time. Also, computer information technology and software were not really that well updated as in other countries, which meant that our players suffered when pitted in an international stage. Even though we had the computers we did not have the software available so it was of no use.”

The post 1998 years however saw a distinct upturn in Zia's fortunes as he set forth a renewed charge towards the elusive GM title. In 1999 he toured England with the Biman team and he felt his confidence grow as he went abroad to play more tournaments pitting himself against quality opposition.

In 2002 he finally managed to reach the GM norm after good showings in tournaments in India and France. The much-vaunted holy grail for chess players- the GM title was bestowed upon him in February of 2002. Zia had achieved his second biggest dream.

This time however, he was wary of making the same mistake as before.

Since the GM title, Zia continues on a steady upward trend and is relentlessly in pursuit of his other big goal- to play in the World Championships of Chess- a chance he had missed out on by a whisker a number of times.

Zia has much advice for young players wanting to take up the sport. “Its vital to take chess seriously and to respect it as a game. You must be sincere and single minded in your pursuit. As they say, specialization is the key.”

And what will help more people take up the sport?

“Well, we should consider dividing the national tournament amongst the numerous districts and cities. It is very centralized now and that means we might be missing a lot of good talent,” says a slightly rueful Zia.

Zia is quick to thank his teachers and his parents for their ceaseless support over the years. He admits that it would have been impossible for him to pursue his chess career unless he had the support of the people around him. His father, especially, who was the one who showed him how to play chess in the first place.

The ever-smiling Zia who is Bangladesh's premier player at the moment has a bright future yet ahead of him. His zeal for the game and single-minded pursuit for his goals will likely bring him success in the not too distant future.

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