MAHABALIPURAM: AT the Olympiad, there are two playing halls. The smaller hall is seemingly reserved for the countries that have the best traditions in the sport. The bigger second hall, where approximately 50 teams are in action on a daily basis, is the place to geek out to understand what drives people towards the game. There is Jamaica's Ras Malaku Lorne, whose dreadlocks alone are enough to grab eyeballs. Then, there is Djibouti's Abdallah Hussein Ali, who works as a traffic cop back home. Comoros has sent teams in both Open and Women's categories. The catch? None of their players have a rating.
Even among the myriad stories, Tallulah Roberts stands out. She is a part of the Jersey team that has sent a women's side to the Olympiad for the first time. According to the FIDE website, she's only the eighth player from the country to have an ELO rating. Here, she's playing the top board for her country. Considering she's the only woman to have a rating, that's not a surprise.
The surprise is the fact that she is here, playing the top board. Until the end of 2020, she didn't really like chess. One of her close friends had asked her to give it a try but she didn't have any interest in the game whatsoever. That was before she binge-watched Queen's Gambit two times in quick succession. The critically-acclaimed Netflix original, based on a chess prodigy set during the Cold War era, made a lot of centennials look at chess through a different lens. Roberts was no different.
While she was inspired by Beth Harmon -- the show's protagonist -- to pick up a chess board, another wave of restrictions following a second wave of Covid-19 in Jersey, largest of the Channel Islands with a population of over 10,000, meant they were all in lockdown. That was when she called her friend, as she wanted to give the game another try. She has fallen in love since. "I have become addicted to it," she told this daily on Sunday.
"I got into chess during the pandemic. In lockdown and couldn't go anywhere. I binge-watched Queen's Gambit twice. My best friend taught me because he was really into chess. I had known him for 3-4 years and I was like 'I will never play chess'. Then Queen's Gambit came and it looked pretty cool. We were all stuck inside and I was like 'maybe I should consider chess. When I started playing, I kind of got addicted to it."
Roberts, who has built up a substantial following thanks to Twitch, hopes Jersey's Olympiad debut will result in something substantial like inspiring a cultural shift in her country. "We don't have a chess culture," the 24-year-old says. "If I tell my friends I play chess, they don't care. One of my goals in playing this Olympiad is developing more of a culture back home because there aren't many women playing the game."
On Monday, the Jersey women's team -- without the resting Roberts -- quietly ticked off another first. Facing South Sudan in the fourth round, they picked up their first win of the tournament.