How Leon Mendonca pursues a GM standard in Europe
Leon Mendonca is perhaps the only Indian chess player on the planet right now to roam the country for regular tournaments. It has been at least five months since the 14-year-old International Master (IM) from Goa returned home.
Now in Paracin, a small town in central Serbia, for a 100-player open tournament that ended on Thursday, Leon and his father Lyndon were previously stranded in Budapest for three months after being denied boarding on their flight back to India on March 18 after the nationwide lockdown was announced.
Another family member has faced particularly difficult challenges in recent months due to the pandemic – Lyndon’s wife is a frontline doctor. She has worked long hours in the virology laboratory at Goa Medical College and Hospital, which tests several hundred samples daily. This is also one of the reasons Lyndon missed the opportunity to return to India with his son two months ago as part of the evacuation flight operations run by the repatriating government “Vande Bharat Mission”. Indians stranded abroad.
“Taking a flight didn’t seem like the safest option at the time,” Lyndon explains, “We knew the situation in India was getting worse. It would have cost around Rs. 2 lakh (~ US $ 2,655) anyway. for our tickets. It’s like that too expensive for us. Also, with my wife on the front line, we didn’t want to be an extra responsibility with quarantine standards and all the rest and thought we’d rather stay put until the virus scenario subsides. “
The wait has only lengthened.
The father-son duo, who left the country in February for the Aeroflot Open in Moscow, live in Airbnb rentals, cook their own food and wait for news on a tournament opportunity that arises anywhere in Europe.
Leon is also pursuing a GM standard (he will have to earn three standards to be titled GM). Currently, Anurag Mhamal is Goa’s only general manager and Leon hopes to be the second player in the state to win the honor. He put them in a nine-seater van for their 370 km journey from Budapest to Belgrade, followed by an hour’s journey by bus to Paracin. That Indian nationals be allowed to enter Serbia visa-free was the kind of bonus they were looking for.
The Paracin Open, which was scheduled to run through Friday, was hastily concluded a day in advance following Serbian President Aleksander Vucic’s announcement to reimpose the lockdown and restrict gatherings to five people in maximum from Wednesday, with coronavirus cases increasing in the country. He then retracted his decision following chaotic protests.
In a climate of online blitz, Leon, who became MI at 12 years, 11 months and 3 days in February 2019, has managed to participate in two regular tournaments in two different countries in the past two months. He won the open section of the Balaton chess festival in Budapest with one round to lose in June and finished second at the Paracin Open on Thursday.
For someone who made his way to the IM title – winning three standards in three consecutive events in 17 days – Leon narrowly missed a chance at a GM standard in Paracin after being matched with a lesser player. well noted in the final round. The tournament experience for Leon, however, was a first spike in the new normal. Players underwent thermal checks, received jets of hand sanitizer before entering the game room, and sat across the board with masks throughout the rounds.
Lyndon had left armed with an induction stove and vials of spices to feed on cooked meals throughout his time abroad. This came in especially handy when they were invited to their home by the Hungarian general manager and the strongest chess player of all time, Judit Polgar. Lyndon cooked him a Bolo di Laranja, a traditional Portuguese pound cake and cooked him an Indian meal.
Cooking is a skill Lyndon learned after quitting his job (as an engineer) six years ago so that he could accompany Leon to tournaments. “After winning an Under-8 tournament in Durban in 2014, my wife and I knew that one of us had to quit his job to be with our son,” he says. “I volunteered to do it and learned early on that if you have to cut costs while you’re abroad, you have to learn to cook.” The 22 euros (INR 1800) per day Airbnb the studio in which they are currently housed, in Paracin, has an induction hob to compensate for the lack of a kitchen. That’s all Lyndon really needs.
It might still be some time before the Mendoncas are back home. Leon has another tournament today, a GM round robin July 11-17 in Paracin. Two more GM round robin tournaments were due to take place in Belgrade, which have now been canceled. The duo are long past the length of their 90-day Schengen visa, but they hope it would be overlooked in such extraordinary times. “If no other tournament is happening in the area,” said Lyndon, “we’ll know it’s time to come home.