Chess and I
Posted on January 26th, 2020

by Senaka Weeraratna

“One of the things that first attracted me to chess is that it brings you into contact with intelligent, civilized people”  Magnus Carlsen

“Chess as a sport requires a lot of mental stamina, and this is what that makes it different from a physical sport. Chess players have an unique ability of taking in a lot of information and remembering relevant bits. So, memory and mental stamina are the key attributes. 

You bring to chess facets of your personality and what you are.” Viswanathan Anand

It was by chance that I found myself entering the world of chess. It so happened that I had a young tutor to help me with my studies in Physics and Maths, when I was in the fourth form at Royal College, barely 14 years of age. The year – 1963. The tutor was a student at Ananda College, four years senior to me albeit a close relative. It was my uncle Asoka Weeraratna, a man driven by inexhaustible energy and remarkable vision and foresight, who had persuaded this tutor to take me under his charge and guide me to clear the GCE (Ord.) level exam due the very next year (1964).

One day in 1964, I came across a news item stating that Asoka Thenuwara had won the Ceylon Chess Championship, the youngest to achieve that honour. He was 18 years of age. Asoka Thenuwara was my tutor. My interest in Chess started from that point in time. It was the triggering factor to pursue Chess with the knowledge that I was highly privileged to have the Ceylon Chess Champion as my instructor.

Asoka Thenuwara not only gave me a basic coaching but also introduced me to a group of avid Chess players meeting every Saturday afternoon at a house in Wellawatte (near the railway track) belonging to a retired lawyer. They comprised the small circle of Chess players at that time. I can recall the names of G.A.S. Dissanayake, Vijendra, Ambalavanar among others. To this list must be added the names of Sali Parakrama, Anandan and B.R. de Silva (Accountant). They dominated the Chess scene. The other venue for playing Chess was the YMCA in Fort.

There was no proper focal point for Chess at that time as we have today. Nevertheless, there was a Chess Association of Ceylon, which was in charge of promoting Chess in the country and conducting Chess Tournaments. A major landmark event in the Timeline of Chess in Ceylon was the participation of eight or nine players from Ceylon in a major Chess tournament held in Madras in 1965. All paid for by the Indian sponsor. This was the first time that a team of Chess players from Ceylon had taken part in a major international tournament held overseas.

Jaffna was also a centre of Chess in addition to Colombo. Regular matches were conducted between the Colombo group and the Jaffna group. The National Chess Championship tournament was conducted on the basis of Double Rounds between six or seven players. Each player had to play against the same opponent twice and the one who gathered the most number of points was declared the National Chess Champion. Asoka Thenuwara beat every opponent twice in the two rounds, collected ten points (the maximum number of points possible) to become the National Chess Champion in 1964.

Asoka Thenuwara went on to win the Fritz Kunz Prize for the most outstanding student of Ananda College (not confined only to studies) in 1965. This was the equivalent (in 1965) of the prestigious Dornhorst Memorial Prize for General Merit which has been awarded annually at Royal College, Colombo since 1930 in the memory of Frederick Dornhorst, K.C. In 1994, the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Award for the Most Outstanding Royalist was instituted.

Asoka Thenuwara represented Ceylon in Badminton at the GANEFO Games held in Pnom Penh, Cambodia (1966). He won the Lanka Plate for Tennis at the Junior National Tennis Championship held in Colombo.

He entered the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya) in 1965. Having obtained the B.Sc. in Civil Engineering in 1969 he proceeded to UK to obtain a degree in Mining Engineering at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, University of London. Thereafter, he proceeded to read for the Ph. D. in Geo – Physics at the Imperial College.  

Chess at Royal College

Dr. C.A. Hewavitarana (brother of Anagarika Dharmapala) founded the Chess Club at Royal College at the beginning of the 20th Century. He organized Chess tournaments in school enlisting the help of the Ceylon Chess Club that was brought into existence by the inputs of Lewis Walker (Mathematics teacher at Royal College) and two other Europeans namely C.A. Wicks (Chemistry lecturer) and J.W. Poulier ( Master of Remove B class at Royal College).

I was a member of the Royal College Chess Team from 1965 – 1967. K.K. Amaradasa (now a lawyer known as Amaradasa Kodikara) captained the College Chess Team from 1965 – 1966. I was appointed Captain of the College Chess Team in 1967.  Mr. M. E. Gunaseelan (Master in Charge) and Mr. R.M.D. Wickremasinghe (Teacher at school) extended support to the team. Royal College played against St. John’s College, Jaffna and the German Cultural Institute in 1965 and won at both encounters. The school provided facilities for playing Chess during the lunch interval and after school.

The Royal College team in 1965 comprised the following: K.K. Amaradasa (Captain), N. Jayanthan, J. Satchithanandan, J. Wickremasinghe and Senaka Weeraratna.

Senaka Weeraratna   

Photo – Royal College Chess Team – 1965

Source – Royal College Magazine 1965 (Third Term)

PS

This article ‘ Chess and I ‘ was published in the Souvenir released on January 05, 2020 to mark the holding of the ’24th Battle of the Kings’ Inter -School’ Chess Championship 2019 at Royal College, Colombo

One Response to “Chess and I”

  1. aloy Says:

    Sorry to say that it is a waste of time. Also it seems to me that these games are addictive. Like him many engineers during my time in the state engineering corporation wasted a lot of time in designs office playing bridge. I see that these guys still get togther and wastes lot of time. It is enough to know the rules of the game. Once the algorithm is written any low cost computer can beat the best player.

    I too was in line for a Colombo Plan schol on Mining for two years when I was working day and night in SEC work sites. But a bridge playing Colombian was given that Schol by the GM who was one Silva. Now I know that it is better I didn’t get it. Our talented and bright guys should be sent to the US, Japan or Korea, never to places like Cambridge as they will not be exposed to things that are really important to the country.

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