Newsbook.com.mt recently had a chat with current National Chess Champion, 26-year-old Jake Darmanin who learned most of the basic moves of chess when he was around seven years old. Jake played in his first tournament at secondary school when he was 12 years old, so he has been playing chess competitively for around 14 years now.
What or who initially inspired you to play chess?
A friend taught me to play. I have always enjoyed playing all sorts of games: jigsaw puzzles, board games, card games, video games and the works, especially the classics; to me, chess was just another game. I believe that I became enamoured by the logical and artistic nature of the game when it dawned on me that every move had to have a purpose.
Who are your chess idols and mentors?
I have had numerous teachers over the years. Initially, I was taught by Alexander Farrugia, who teaches chess at the secondary school I used to attend St Michael School, St Venera. Later that year, I started taking lessons in Summer at St Benedict College Chess Academy, Kirkop, by Mr Farrugia and Mr Azzopardi. Subsequently, I took lessons from more experienced players, including the former eight-time Maltese champion, Colin Pace. It was probably at that point when I made a significant improvement in my understanding of the game. I have also had some sporadic training sessions with arguably the best Maltese player ever Geoffrey Borg. Other than that, nowadays I mainly practise by myself.
I try to echo (Bobby) Fischers so-called universal style with a tendency towards sharp and aggressive attacks.
As far as chess idols go, the eccentric and legendary, American world champion Bobby Fischer is definitely a prominent figure; his whole life was a rollercoaster. Apart from having played beautiful games with clinical precision at a time when computers were not around to aid in preparation, he pretty much singlehandedly overcame a 24-year period of Soviet domination over chess at the peak of the Cold War era when he beat the reigning world champion Boris Spassky of the USSR in 1972 in what was termed the match of the century. The championship had plenty of controversial and dramatic moments, naturally amplified by its political significance during a delicate period in history.
He was completely immersed in chess insofar as during the world championship, Fischer demanded to have the worst hotel room so that he would not have any distractions. Moreover, he had studied Russian so that he could understand Russian chess literature.
I try to echo Fischers so-called universal style with a tendency towards sharp and aggressive attacks.
How did you feel when you were crowned National Chess Champion last year?
Having tied for first place with the outgoing four-time consecutive champion, Robert Zerafa, with 7/10 points in the six-player double round robin championship finals, we played another two-game classical play-off the following weekend to determine the champion.
I won the first game of the play-off and only needed a draw in the following game to secure the championship title for the first time. During the second game, my opponent threw everything at me and at one point I was afraid that he would succeed in his attack; however, I found a calm, retreating knight move which forced him to exchange queens, which essentially nullified his attack. Even though he had no winning chances and that I could have played on to win the second game too, I offered a draw which he immediately accepted.
As soon as I won, I felt normal as though it was just another game. Soon after, the feeling sank in and I was over the moon.
What would you say to encourage people to take up chess?
I tell them that it is fun to play and that since I form part of the Malta Chess Federation Council, I can help them get acquainted with the chess scene in Malta.
What has been your best or favourite tournament/competition to date?
Without a shadow of a doubt, every time I competed abroad. There were three memorable tournaments for me: The first was when I travelled alone for the first time to compete in the Mediterranean Junior Championship in Chania, Crete in 2012; the second was my debut in the national team in the European Small Nations Team Tournament in Guernsey in 2015; thirdly, in the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia in 2018. The latter is the grandest and most prestigious global chess event. It takes place biennially.
Did you watch The Queens Gambit? If so, did you like it? Was it factually correct? What do you think of the fact that some people have taken up or gone back to playing chess after watching it?
Most chess scenes in films or series are either cheesy or have the pieces set up incorrectly, so I started watching The Queens Gambit with some trepidation. To my surprise, it turned out to be so good that I binged it over a weekend. Without spoiling anything, it featured lots of chess scenes with positions from real games to keep chess aficionados happy while appeasing to the non-player by showcasing plenty of drama and an entertaining storyline. Nevertheless, I didnt like the way Beth and the other strong players moved their pieces and pressed their clocks, in that I was not convinced of their confidence. Another issue which irked me was that Beth seemed to have it too easy.
I think its incredible that a miniseries could create such a thundering impact on the chess scene globally
It was factually correct and, in fact, one of the consultants for the show was former world champion Garry Kasparov.
I think its incredible that a miniseries could create such a thundering impact on the chess scene globally. Sales of chess sets skyrocketed; some websites reported five times the amount of traffic that they were accustomed to; some friends of mine who were hitherto indifferent were suddenly interested in learning. Thanks to The Queens Gambit, perhaps the perception that chess is solely a game for nerds or for old men will slowly dissipate.
Chess is thought of mainly as being dominated by men. How true is this in your opinion? Are there many female chess players in Malta?
There are sadly only a few female chess players locally
I agree completely with the statement, unfortunately. Out of the current top 100 players of the world, only former Womens World Champion Hou Yifan from China is a female. Historically and by far the best female player of all time the Hungarian Judit Polgar was in the same league as the top players of the world and even made it to the top 10 of the world.
There are sadly only a few female chess players locally. I encourage any interested player to take up the game since our community is supportive and welcoming.
How do you juggle your day-today job with playing chess?
Its not easy since my job involves lots of reading and mental work, so studying chess after work can be draining. I usually play some online blitz games during the week to unwind and commit to more intensive training during weekends.
What is up next for you in your chess career?
Even though I am the champion, I am currently number 5 in Malta on the active rating list, so I will try to reach the coveted number 1 spot. Moreover, I hope that soon enough, the pandemic will subside and that travelling becomes a more attractive option so that I could compete in more international tournaments and aim for higher titles.
Other than that, I hope that in due time I could contribute, amongst other things, to the implementation of a long-term chess-in-schools programme in order to bolster the level of chess in Malta.
We all wish Jake the very best of luck in his future endeavours.
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