Singaporean teen raises funds for Ukraine by teaching chess

Goh Zi Han (right) is pictured with Dmitry Gerasymov, whose family is from Ukraine. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

SINGAPORE - When 13-year-old Goh Zi Han heard about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he immediately thought of his former coach, Ukrainian chess grandmaster Yuri Vovk, and wanted to do his part to help.

He decided to organise an event, #ChessforUkraine@BartleySG, to raise funds for the Singapore Red Cross' humanitarian efforts for Ukraine.

"Grandmaster Yuri Vovk used to teach me chess and he's still in Ukraine. When I used to travel, I also played against people from Ukraine and Russia. That's why I feel like I should do my own small part to help out," says the Secondary 1 student at Raffles Institution.

As part of his fund-raiser, Zi Han, an only child, invited 10 participants to his home in Bartley for chess classes on March 17 during the March school holidays. His father, who works in a technology company, and his mother, a housewife, were fully supportive of his initiative.

All the participants donated to his fund-raiser to join the classes, with more than 40 other people donating to support the cause.

Zi Han is a candidate master of chess, with a peak Elo rating of 2,140. The Elo rating is a measurement of a chess player's ability. A hobby player has a rating of 1,200 to 1,400, while a world champion, the top category, has a rating of more than 2,800.

He has been playing chess since he was five. He was the youngest qualifier for the Singapore National Men's Championship 2020, and was named the Best Young Player at the Malta Open 2018.

At the fund-raiser on Thursday, he held an "over the board session" for beginners, using a display board to show them "the positions, the pieces, the board and the different things about chess".

Participants also had the chance to try their hand at the game.

For intermediate players, Zi Han prepared personalised coaching, introducing tactics and basic openings for players to "get a good position for the game".

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Dmitry "Dima" Gerasymov, 12, a Primary 6 pupil at Punggol View Primary School whose family is from Ukraine, took part in the basic chess session.

He used to play football together with Zi Han when they were neighbours.

"I already knew how to play chess, but I participated because I want to support Ukraine," says Dima, whose paternal and maternal grandparents still live in Ukraine.

His father, manager Mike Gerasymov, 37, says: "Although we became Singaporean citizens, there is a really strong connection to Ukraine, and we are trying to support our family and friends in this terrible war. We donate to help and we'll keep helping."

Zi Han aims to raise at least $6,000. By March 18, he had raised more than $4,000.

"Our target was $3,000, but because people donated a lot, we felt like we should try to aim for more," he says. "After all, we just want people to donate as much as possible to do our part for the cause."

  • For more details about Zi Han's fund-raiser, go here
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