Chess like that! | Daily News

Chess like that!

Winning the Asian Schools Chess  Championship 2015 in Singapore
Winning the Asian Schools Chess Championship 2015 in Singapore

She has many International achievements and accolades to her name. From becoming an Asian and Commonwealth bronze medalist to the West Asia champion, National member of World’s first SDG Children’s Parliament, and the youngest Women FIDE Master in Sri Lanka, Menuri Sachintha Kodikara is a bundle of diverse talents rolled into one.

Though she took to playing chess by coincidence, the sport shaped her future and put her in the limelight. Menuri and her brother had gotten their first chess boards after their grandmother, who had been based abroad, had read an article about a small child who had won a chess tournament. Since none of the family members were familiar with the sport the two chess boards had remained gathering dust on top of a cupboard for years. After her brother had joined Thurstan College, Colombo, he had joined the school’s chess classes. He had shared his knowledge with his sister and the two had played the game together. Menuri had been around six years then.

“The Western Province Chess Tournament was held at Thurstan College during that period. My father was one of its organizers. Therefore my mother and I went to help him with the work. Some of my father’s friends had told him to let me compete as well but my father thought that I do not have enough knowledge about the game to take part. However, since I was not engaged in anything particular at that time, they let me compete. I ended up winning eighth place after competing with around 150 children in the under eight category in 2011,” Menuri recalled the roots of how she turned into a chess champion.

She notes that chess is a mind game. Since there are 64 squares to move the pieces and a lot of diverse tactics and techniques involved, it is easy to lose the game due to the slightest error.

“Before you move each of your pieces, you need to analyze at least 20 moves that your opponent is likely to make. It is especially difficult to beat contestants from countries like India, China and Mongolia because they have been trained well from their childhood. Facing them in a tournament is our biggest challenge because we have to juggle our training sessions with our studies,” she explained.

She says that in recent years more and more children have taken up chess but she advices them not to play a game just for the sake of winning it. There is so much to learn and know about the sport.

“There may be only 64 squares and 32 pieces in the game but there are an abundance of movements one can make using them. Therefore, you need to judge more than ten moves your opponent is likely to make before you move one of your pieces. We are still backward compared to the international chess community. Even our best players have to struggle with striking a balance between their education and playing chess. You also need a lot of patience to master this sport,” she added.

Menuri entered national level tournaments and beat national level chess champs when she was seven years. She was the country’s youngest national level chess champion till 2012. She won the Asian and Commonwealth bronze medal during this era.

Menuri considers winning three West Asian gold medals in UAE as one of her greatest achievements. This was special for her because she took part in this tournament when she was 11 years without her father or mother by her side.

“That was a very painful experience for me because my father could not join due to economic reasons. All the others who went with me had a parent by their side. I also developed a frightful headache during the flight. However, all the other parents who flew with us helped me and looked into my needs. That was a great strength for me,” she noted with gratitude.

She set a Sri Lankan chess record by winning three gold medals during the tournament. The World Chess Federation presented her with the title of the Youngest Women FIDE Master in Sri Lanka due to this victory.

A student of Wycherley International School, Colombo 7, Menuri says that she gets immense support from her school, staff and classmates. She had gotten into the school through a full scholarship. The most tedious part of the process was that she was not versed in English. However, she was determined to succeed and read short story books and followed YouTube videos related to her subjects. Soon she was able to score beyond 75 marks in most subjects.

“ I need to get a scholarship to attend a foreign university. Therefore, I made up my mind to do well at the Cambridge International O-Level. In 2019 I applied for the Sustainable Development Goals Children’s Parliament of Sri Lanka, in which I was chosen as the Minister of No Poverty. From then onwards I became a social activist working for people and participated in many volunteer activities. I have also been an English announcer for many international conferences and programmes at the Sri Lanka United Nations Friendship Organisation. While doing all these activities, I sat for the Cambridge O-Level and got 3As,” she mused.

Queried about her social service activities and Menuri says that it all began with a personal experience. Her father had faced a tragic road accident when she was 10 years. He had been bed ridden for a few months. Menuri’s mother had started stitching clothes to find an income. Menuri too had begun giving chess classes to help her out. During this period she had to give around 20 International chess tournaments a miss. She began pondering over the fact that there must be many more children who are suffering due to economic difficulties. She began researching on the web and was shocked to discover that around 22, 000 children who are under 15 years die of starvation per day. She vow to do all she can to create better living conditions for such individuals. Since then she has made social service activities a part of her mission.

She received the Volunteer Service Leader award from the Sri Lanka United Nations Friendship Organization at the International Traditional Medicine Summit and Awards 2019. She was selected as a delegate at the International Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign 2020 in Nepal. She became the first Glocal Teen Hero in Sri Lanka in 2020. The award was presented by Glocal Pvt Ltd Nepal in collaboration with the Commonwealth Youth Network of Sri Lanka.

Menuri has initiated many projects to help the needy. During the pandemic she prepared a notice on social media to get donations and distribute dry rations to families who have lost their income. She had spoken at many prominent events and even has a tree planted in her name in Nepal for speaking at the Glocal International Teen Conference 2020. She has been nominated by UNICEF Sri Lanka for the UN Conference on Youth and Children which will be held in New York this year.

Menuri’s father, Chaminda Kodikara, is a tuition master. Her mother, Manori Sumithra, owns a small scale business stitching clothes. Her brother, Malith Achintha, is a second year medical student at the Karapitiya Medical Faculty at Ruhunu University. Her maternal grandmother, Chandra Sriyani, too lives with them and helps out in her mother’s business.

Menuri’s ambition is to become an aerospace engineer. Her goal is to reach the pinnacle in this sector and to start a fund to help children who are dying of starvation across the globe.

“Many might think that I am simply going to provide food for these children. However I believe that everyone has a skill. We need to recognize it and help to polish it. They would be able to overcome poverty and stand on their feet through this,” she concluded.

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