Ziaur Rehman: An imaginative risk-taker who didn’t play for draws

Ziaur Rehman: An imaginative risk-taker who didn’t play for draws

Ziaur Rehman often showed up for tournaments with his wife and son in tow. Almost as if he didn’t want them to miss out on the most exciting part of his life. “I loved that about him,” said Adhiban Baskaran, who’s played Ziaur a number of times over the years. At the 2022 Chess Olympiad in India, Ziaur and his son Tahsin Tajwar Zia became the first father-son duo to compete on the same team. “I thought his son was accompanying him, when Ziaur told me that they both are part of the national team. He was a happy father, beaming with pride,” Pravin Thipsay recalled. That was the last time they met. Ziaur suffered a stroke during his Round 12 game at the Bangladesh National Championship on Friday and died. He was 50.

Bangladeshi chess player Ziaur Rehman. (Madelene Belinki/FIDE)
Bangladeshi chess player Ziaur Rehman. (Madelene Belinki/FIDE)

His peers are in shock. “I still can’t believe it,” GM Reefat Bin Sattar told HT. “We grew up together and were rivals for four decades and he’s perhaps the nicest guy I’ve ever known with not a shred of ill will towards others.” Reefat turned GM in 2006, four years after Ziaur. “We inspired and pushed each other. He was kind-hearted and an introvert and I still can’t imagine that he’s gone. His impact on the Bangladesh chess scene, both as a player and coach, has been huge.”

A 15-time Bangladesh national champion, Ziaur was the country’s most decorated chess player. He was unbeaten at 8/11 and seemed to be comfortably cruising through the tournament when he collapsed during his Round 12 game against Enamul Hossein. Dibyendu Barua, who’s known Ziaur since he was a young boy, last met him at a closed tournament in Bangladesh in February. “I was slightly off form. He told me ‘Dipu da, udiye khelun’ (play with your natural flair). He was a talented player, a fighter on the board and an introvert off it. Since there weren’t many tournaments conducted in Bangladesh he would often travel to India to play. He was family to me. I can’t believe he’s no more. It’s a huge loss for the chess fraternity.”

Ziaur was Bangladesh’s second Grandmaster, after Niaz Murshid, and became the country’s highest-rated player with a peak Elo of 2570 in 2005. Thipsay played a pre-teen Ziaur in the mid-80s – a quiet boy who wasn’t a livewire like some of his peers. He recalled it being a long game in which young Ziaur put up a decent resistance.

They played with each other multiple times over the years.

“What was most striking about him was that he was imaginative and a risk-taker, a bit like (Hikaru) Nakamura. He would sometimes develop a piece at a very unusual place linked to an immediate calculation or tactical activity and not necessarily a long-term strategic idea. They may not have always been accurate but they could put opponents in a spot of bother. He had originality and some of his ideas were quite interesting. He was sharp and always tried to play for a win. He was very strong against the King’s Indian Defense and gave me some anxious moments. You had to be tactically alert and exploit his play if you wanted to beat him.”

Adhiban’s most indelible impression of Ziaur is that of an imaginative player who wore a warm smile and didn’t play for draws against higher-rated players. “He always tried to find his own path in openings. I learnt some interesting ideas by looking at his games and approach. I’m going to miss him.”

Thipsay pointed out that most successful chess players don’t usually get their kids into professional chess. “It’s not very common. But Ziaur did. For him, I think chess was everything.”

Perhaps Ziaur wouldn’t mind the way he went out – unbeaten in a tournament, close to a winning position in a game and with his son playing at the adjacent table.

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