Saliah, India’s visually impaired chess champion, can teach you a few things about dreaming with open eyes
Mohammad Saliah was born blind. Today, the young law student is a state and national chess champion, beating opponents who can see. The players he competes with are India’s best; they have had every facility to practice their game, they have their vision. In contrast, Mohammad’s parents could not afford his training fee.
Click the video for a snapshot of this modest man with an invaluable talent.
What is his secret?
“I was drawn to chess in primary school,” he shares. Mohammad’s father is blind; his modest wages fed, housed, and put his children through school. Of them, Mohammad and his two sisters were blind. “My parents could not afford specialized training. So I practiced with my friends,” he explains.
A small-town boy hailing from a family of modest means in Calicut, Kerala, Mohammad has certainly come a long way. In India, he is an A list player, ranked fourth. Worldwide, he ranks at 1463, according to FIDE, the chess rating authority.
“I memorize the board. My opponents call out the position of their moves. I feel around the board, and then make my move,” Mohammad reveals. But what he does not openly flaunt is the fact that he memorizes not one board, but 10. At a time, he can play 10 different chess games, against 10 different players.
Caption: Mohammad Saliah plays against Ravi Narayan, the Head of Microsoft Ventures in India.
How far has chess taken him?
Chess has brought Mohammad recognition. Watching him play, members of the audience come up and shake his hand. They congratulate him. A few offer words of sympathy on learning of his situation. A handful help through donations.
A few years ago, he was appointed Brand Ambassador of Intelligent Games by Schogini Systems, where he provided valuable input that would make their chess board interfaces more accessible to visually impaired players. His input resulted in a talking chess board that can help blind chess players compete at par with normally-sighted players.
But with an ageing blind father, mother, and two blind sisters to support, Mohammad needs to have a long-term stable income source. There is only so far the modest personal donations last. There is only so much his salary can cover. And Mohammad has big dreams. He has a gift to share.
What are his plans?
Mohammad’s chess-playing techniques are a result of years of focus, practice, and hard work. He has developed the amazing ability to memorize and win 10 chess games simultaneously. “I was not born a genius. These are carefully cultivated methods and strategies. If they have brought me so far, they can take others even further,” he shares.
Caption: FIDE rated champion Mohammad Saliah sets up the Chess Club at Sarvodhaya School, Trivandrum.
In a small beginning with the help of Kerala Startups, he started the Chess Club at the Sarvodhaya School in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He wants to setup his own academy to train other chess players, and to coach students in memory improvement techniques; lessons that will go a long way.
In a cricket-worshipping country, he wants to offer interested children access to quality chess coaching. Inspired by the Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand there is no dearth of students seeking to make their own mark in chess. So, Mohammad’s chess academy will, of course, serve as a secure livelihood for his family. Over time, it can also provide employment to other impoverished blind chess players. He has a plan. The only hurdle now is money.
The organizations LetsVenture and Milaap are fundraising to help Mohammad gather the funds needed to setup his academy. The amount (about Rs 30,000) will go towards establishing office space, infrastructure, and equipment. If you want to contribute, click here.