SINGAPORE - The pandemic has been deadly, disruptive and depressing for many, but it has helped some chess enthusiasts regain their passion for the sport.
Zhang Taiyang played regularly until he was 10 before focusing on his studies and his career. But during the pandemic, the 25-year-old found himself turning to his old passion as a means to cope with the isolation.
"It started during quarantine, and a few of us started playing chess every week and it became something that really brought the community together a lot more," said Zhang, who is a venture partner of Alameda Research Ventures.
His reconnecting with the chess fraternity has paid rich dividends for the sport.
Zhang, together with fellow chess aficionados Zhang Changjie, chief executive officer (CEO) of Theme International Trading but who is not a relation, and Zhu Su, CEO of Three Arrows Capital, banded together to donate $180,000 to the Singapore Chess Federation (SCF).
"I reached out to (SCF vice-president) Kevin Goh on LinkedIn, and that's how everything came together," said Taiyang of the donation.
The sum will be doubled to $360,000 under the One Team Singapore Fund which offers dollar-to-dollar matching grants from the Government for donations that contribute to the high-performance system which supports national athletes.
The trio's donation was unveiled at a press conference at the SCF's headquarters at the Singapore Intellectual Games Centre in Bishan on Tuesday (April 5).
Changjie, a member of the national junior squad almost two decades ago, attributed his career success in part to chess, saying: "Chess has given me strong foundations to become who I am right now (and) I've been able to perform well in my work scope as a trader because of the fundamentals that chess taught me.
"So it has always been my desire to give back to the chess society in Singapore and I hope that the monies contributed will help in bringing forward the chess scene here."
The 34-year-old had also contributed to the #ChessAgainstCovid charity initiative - started by Goh in April 2020 - which helped raise over $180,000 in total for the Lakeside Family Services' Caring Amidst Covid-19 Fund. The fund offered assistance to needy individuals and families adversely affected by the pandemic.
Goh, who in 2020 became the first Singaporean grandmaster since 1999, said the contributions are "extremely significant".
"We will enhance our training set-up, we have plans to send our players to high-quality, world-class tournaments where they can play the best athletes around, and we are in the midst of organising our own grandmaster tournament, and we want that to be a signature event in the region," he said.
SCF president Hsu Li Yang said the federation was "deeply grateful" for the support: "These funds will allow us to better identify and develop existing and future talents, so that we will have our own Gaprindashvilis, Beth Harmons, and Carlsens."
Mr Eric Chua, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth, thanked the three donors and said their contributions "will help groom our talents and encourage other organisations to consider giving back in their own ways to our community".
Singapore will be represented at the May 12-23 SEA Games in Hanoi by Gong Qianyun and Tin Jingyao, who will each compete in the classical, rapid and blitz categories.
Gong, 37, won the Republic's only gold in chess at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines. National University of Singapore undergraduate Tin, 21, will make his SEA Games debut.
At Tuesday's ceremony, the SCF also honoured schoolboy Siddharth Jagadeesh, who in February became Singapore's 14th international master and its second youngest to attain the title, which is just one rung below the highest title of grandmaster.