Magnus Carlsen. Hikaru Nakamura. Bobby Fischer. Garry Kasparov. Mikhail Tal. Viswanathan Anand. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

            If you recognize these names, chances are you are familiar with some of the top names in chess history.

            Malika Handa. Yehuda Gruenfeld. Tatiana Baklanova. Zlatko Klaric. Abraham Glasser.

            If you recognize these names, chances are you are familiar with some of the top names in chess history who happen to be deaf.

            Chess. The game of kings. Played on a checkered board where thirty-two pieces rest poised for battle, sixteen on each side. White pieces line the first two ranks of the board and black pieces line the last two ranks. The game requires strategic planning, and being able to think two steps ahead of your opponent is crucial. There are over 1,300 possible openings in chess, and the first move can determine the outcome of the war ahead of the two people sitting at the board.



Bona FIDE Masters

            The International Chess Federation, or World Chess Federation, is referred to as FIDE due to its roots. Established in Paris, France in 1924, FIDE is an acronym for Fédération Internationale des Échecs. In 1999, the International Olympic Committee recognized FIDE. Its Latin motto, “gens una sumus,” translates to “we are one family”.

            25 years later, the International Chess Committee of the Deaf was founded, though originally named the International Committee of Silent Chess. Its founding came into existence not long after that year’s Deaflympics, known then as the International Games for the Deaf. In 2012, the organization changed its name.

            The ranking system of FIDE also applies to how players are ranked in the ICCD. FIDE determines your ranking based on a point system. The way to earn points is by playing against opponents in official FIDE tournaments.

            Points range from a general scale of 100-3200. Along with this scale, there are many titles players can earn once they rank high enough. International Grandmaster is the highest title a player can earn, while the second-highest title is International Master.

            FIDE has awarded 1,995 Grandmaster titles to date, not counting three revocations. Of those 1,995 FIDE-named Grandmasters, only two are deaf: Yehuda Gruenfeld and Zlatko Klaric.


Chess at the 2019 Winter Deaflympics

            Deaf Chess made its official debut as an Olympic-level sport at the 2019 Winter Deaflympics in Italy. Teams from all over the world gathered to compete in this event, including teams from America, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Mongolia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Germany, and the host country of Italy.

The American team consisted of coach Dan DeLuca and four male players: Abraham Glasser, Oscar Petrov, Branton Stewart, and Byron Bridges. In addition to competing, Abraham also played a part in tracking down the coach and other players for the U.S. team at the event.

“It was an incredible experience,” said coach Dan DeLuca. “It was our first International competition as a team, so I was satisfied to field a team and compete at that level–some teams had International Masters and International Grandmasters.”

But silent chess is not without its struggles.


Gens Una Sumus

            Deaf chess players have their fair share of obstacles to overcome, which makes their achievements that much more incredible.

            “Generally, I would say one major challenge for Deaf chess players is the communication barriers they have when becoming involved in chess,” Abraham explained. He also noted the importance of having someone to help with strategy reviews, puzzles, and conversations about chess, especially when starting out with the game. “Otherwise, a Deaf chess player has to have a lot of perseverance to push themselves to continue playing the game and learning by themselves.”

            He also mentioned that going to chess tournaments presents opportunities to watch other players and pick up on their conversations and analyses, but this is very difficult for Deaf players.

“I think the greatest challenges for deaf chess players are connected with the issue of lack of community and lack of accessibility to training materials in ASL,” Dan commented. “These challenges manifest themselves when, for example, a deaf chess player searches for instructional materials online like training videos, lessons, one-on-one instruction, and other teaching materials, and finds that none are offered in ASL.”

            Dan also mentioned that one of the greatest assets to a chess player for improvement and learning is playing in over-the-board, or OTB, tournaments. After a game, players have the opportunity to discuss plans, strategies, and even hidden possibilities in the game they have just finished playing.

Dan explained the purpose of what is known as the “skittles room” during OTB tournaments. “In the skittles room, players will play speed chess…banter, discuss openings, tactics, strategy, endgames, and do analysis of their own games, games in the tournament, or current or historical games played by accomplished players.”

“With barriers to communication, these resources are much more difficult to access,” Dan stated, further noting that there are nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing opportunities to overcome these barriers. Such organizations include the American Chess Association of the Deaf, the United States Deaf Sports Federation, and the International Chess Committee of the Deaf.

            Dan and Abraham are two of the five members of the board of the American Chess Association of the Deaf. The organization is still relatively new, and Dan stated that its mission is “connecting deaf chess players and promoting the play, study, and competition of chess in US deaf communities.”

            Dan also organizes online tournaments for members of the lichess US Deaf Chess Players team on a website called A Zoom link is utilized by these players so that they can use ASL to communicate with each other.

            There is very clearly a lack of accessible resources for the majority of deaf chess players. Luckily, there are many people and organizations pushing past the barriers holding back these players from mastering their craft in the game of kings.

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