MAMALLAPURAM: As one walks down the playing hall No. 2 at the ongoing 44th Chess Olympiad here, one can’t miss Natasha Morales Santos --- Puerto Rico’s top-rated women’s player. At first glance, the 24- year old looks like any other player. But once Natasha settles down to play --- you will find she makes her moves on a braille chess board.
“I can’t see with my left eye and that’s been the case since my birth. And, I only have partial vision in my right and can’t stretch myself too much,” Natasha told TOI. Natasha lost her opener to USA’s Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova but went on to win her second-round clash against Divania Spinola of Cape Verde. I make my moves on the (braille) chess board. I have a specifically-designated person who informs my opponent of the move I made. Once my opponent makes a move, I am alerted about the same, and that’s how the game progresses. Also, I keep myself updated about the timings on the clock,” the only visually-impaired player in the event, said.
Natasha took to the sport only at 12 but quickly rose through the ranks in Puerto Rico. Though her parents do not know much about the sport, they have always supported Natasha. Does she ever feel limited while taking on players who are not physically challenged? “Not at all. Chess is an inclusive sport and that’s what makes it so special. At the end of the day, the moves I make on the board are what will help me win or otherwise. Nothing else matters,” she pointed out.
Donato Rivera De Jesus, Puerto Rico women’s team captain, believes Natasha is an inspiration for many in her country. “I have had the privilege of coaching her for some time in her early years. She is someone who always sees the positive side of the things in life,” Jesus said.