UAE: Meet The Blind Chess Player Who 'Plays In His Mind', Aims To Compete At Global Stage

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Mon 17 Jun 2024, 6:30 AM

Last updated: Mon 17 Jun 2024, 7:47 AM

In a quiet corner, 30-year-old Omar Abdullah Al Hashmi sits at a chessboard – his fingers gliding over the pieces as he ponders his next move. He's solving chess tactics and trying to sharpen his understanding of his favourite openings - the London System and the Caro-Kann Defence. There's nothing unusual about his routine – except that he is blind.

Despite many challenges, Al Hashmi is a consistent achiever who is now pursuing chess mastery with great determination. "Chess gives me confidence and helps me make decisions," he told Khaleej Times, adding:“It taught me to trust myself and how to manage myself."

Al Hashmi completed his Human Resource Management studies from Zayed University's College of Business. He loves music and taught himself how to play the violin. A passionate learner, Omar listens to audiobooks and enjoys immersing himself in novels and various subjects.

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Now, his sights are set on a new challenge: To become the first blind chess player to represent the UAE in the World Chess Olympiad for people of determination.

Determined move

Al Hashmi lives in Abu Dhabi and trains at the Abu Dhabi Chess Club and Mind Games. He is already making big strides toward achieving his goal. Marlon Cunanan, one of the coaches at the chess club who has been working with him since he first stepped into the club in November, said that Omar only started playing chess nearly six months ago but he has already made great progress.

“He is really determined to achieve his goals and that is his biggest asset,” added Cunanan, noting his condition“adds an extra layer of challenge to his pursuit of chess mastery.”

Al Hashmi counts Grandmaster Salem Abdulrahman Saleh, the country's number one player, as his chess inspiration.“I study his games. He is my favourite player,” Al Hashmi noted.

'Playing the game in my mind'

To follow in the footsteps of his chess idol and compete on the global stage, Al Hashmi has been training rigorously under the guidance of his coaches. He said:“I use two methods when I train. One is by using the special tactile chess set, where the pieces have special shapes so I know whether they are the white or black pieces. The other is through visualisation, where I don't use a physical board and just play the game in my mind.”

As part of his training, Omar recently travelled to Dubai from Abu Dhabi to play with members of the Philippine Paralympic Chess Team, who were in the UAE to compete at the recently concluded Dubai Open Chess Tournament. The 11-strong team included players who won gold medals during last year's Asian Para Games in China.

“It was a great experience playing against fellow blind players who have competed at the highest level,” noted Al Hashmi.“We also had a short training session and I learned a lot from them.”

Support for Al Hashmi is growing strong, and he is grateful for the recognition and encouragement he receives from the chess community.

“I am thankful to the Abu Dhabi Chess Club and the UAE Chess Federation for the opportunities they have given me,” noted Al Hashmi.

"I want to show and hopefully inspire others that disability is not a barrier to achieving our goals in life. I am a chess player of determination,” he added.

Philippine para-chess team

Meanwhile, the 11-man strong contingent from the Philippine Paralympic Chess Team snatched one of the coveted top 10 places in the final standings, courtesy of Menandro Redor, who is one of four partially blind players in the team.

“It was already a great experience for our team to compete at this level in Dubai, so winning one of the major prizes was really a great achievement for us,” said head coach James Infiesto, whose team in Dubai also included wheelchair-bound players Henry Roger Lopez and Felix Aguilera; as well as partially blind players Darry Bernardo, Arman Subaste and Israel Peligro. The completely blind players were Francis Ching, Rodolfo Sarmiento, and Cecilio Bilog, and team trainer Carl Zirex Sato.

Redor won a gold medal during the Asian Para Games last year in China, along with Lopez, Bernardo, and Subaste.


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