Sheena’s will to win
Sheena Ramsay celebrated her 25th birthday three weeks ago. She likes boardgames and was an occasional badminton player. She had a dream that one day she would represent Barbados in that game. But she hasn’t.
Well, not yet.
But for right now she will represent Barbados as the current women’s national champion and member of the women’s chess team when they travel next month to Istanbul, Turkey, for the 40th Chess Olympiad.
The other members of the team are Corinne Howard, Juanita Welch, Katrina Blackman and O’Shara Mason.
Sheena’s start in the world of chess came at age ten when parents Jacqueline and Oswald bought her a chess set for Christmas. No one in the family knew how to play, including Sheena, so she taught herself how to.
In her last year at Alexandra School in 2004, she competed in the Ladies National Chess Championship and placed third. She went on to pursue her associate degree in pharmacy and chess became an online game for her because studies came first.
It was in 2009 that she took back up the game seriously.
“By that time I had finished my degree and I was contacted by national player Juanita Welch who asked me why I don’t return to the sport. I then entered a couple local tournaments.”
It was those matches that caught the eye of officials of the Barbados Chess Federation, who selected Sheena to be a reserve on the team of five that went to the Olympiad two years ago in Siberia, Russia.
After two days of travelling, the team arrived and Sheena got her first taste of international chess.
“It was a hobby for me so I didn’t really know much of what was going on. It was in Siberia that I knew how big a sport it was with international standing.”
Since she was self-taught Sheena watched a lot of videos, read books and chess material. At the tournament were 130 countries and each team played nine rounds. In her first game for Barbados, Sheena won.
“It was the quickest game I have ever played. Twenty-one moves and it was over. I won three games in all and tied one. At that Olympiad the women placed 90th.”
Those wins, to the novice, meant nothing, but to the chess world it meant she had won the title woman candidate master. Sheena returned home elated and started entering more tournaments. She competed in the national qualifiers but did not make the top five. She says leading up to the Olympiad her performances were not the best but mum, dad and sister Rhea were her cheering section.
“Dad would chauffeur me to games. He would pick me up from work, [take] me to the game and wait for me sometimes until it was finished. When I was in Siberia my mum would stay up to watch the matches on live feed despite the ten-hour difference. My little sister Rhea would text me afterwards with words of encouragement.”
Last year she made the extra effort in the Ladies National and placed first with 3.5 out of six points. She is now ladies’ champion of Barbados and will defend her title this year. It is a round robin tournament and the six women will play each other. With a timer, games can last up to four hours.
“It requires a lot. If you are not patient, chess is not for you,” says Sheena, adding that while it was a male-dominated sport she would love to see more women playing.
In chess circles Sheena is known for her two opening moves – the famous French defence of E6-Pawn when she plays black and the Scot opening of E4 D4 and Knight C3 when she plays white.
“I switch it around but it depends on my opponent,” she says.
One game that haunts Sheena to this day is a match she drew in the Olympiad. It was her last game and she was playing a woman FIDE master. Sheena, who had surprised her opponent early and taken her bishop, had the upper hand. The woman made a couple of tactical moves and won it back, causing Sheena to lose her fighting spirit and ask for a draw. After 30 minutes the woman agreed.
To this day, Sheena regrets how that match ended because she is adamant that she should have won that game.
“Never be arrogant. A chess player who is down will fight his or her way back. I should have won that match. I should have won,” she said solemnly.
The next titles for Sheena are the FIDE master, the women international master, then the woman grandmaster. For the FIDE a player has to achieve a rating standing of over 2 000 points. Sheena has 1 671.
“The Grandmaster is my ultimate goal. There is none in the English-speaking Caribbean. There is a Woman FIDE master in Jamaica. But I have time to improve. At the Olympiad you can get to FIDE if you win 66.6 per cent of your matches.”
The women’s team practises at least two days a week but Sheena still finds it challenging to attend those sessions so her boyfriend Corie, who is also a chess player, takes on the role of her sparring partner. He also helps her source material too.
Sheena still has all her scoresheets and cherishes the ones from the Olympiad.
“The chess world is a fraternity. I met people there from all over the world who I still communicate with,” mentioning the Ugandan coach, Grandmaster Nigel Short from Britain and the Aruban team.
Sheena says that for every game she plays she repeats this mantra: “The difference between successful people and others is not the lack of knowledge, not a lack of strength, but a lack of will.”
For Sheena, it’s not only about points but also the experience.
“You gain from every loss. The game is also mentally stimulating. Challenges derived from every game can be applied to everyday life. I say it is not only who is across the board, but it is also my will to win that determines the end of the game.”