The 1980 Chess Olympiad in Malta was a memorable one in Rafiq's career. He won the silver medal in the series and became the first Indian athlete to win a medal in the history of the Olympics.
Chess is a game played alone. But in some series like Olympiads, there is a practice of players participating in teams. Olympiads are a series of competitions held to recognize a country that performs well. Just like the Man of the Series awards are given in cricket and football World Cups, players who perform well in the Olympics are usually recognized with gold, silver and bronze medals. Carpenter Rafiq Khan became India's first individual medalist at the Olympics. Rafiq won a silver medal at the 1980 Chess Olympiad in Valletta.
Rafiq Khan was born in 1946 as the son of a carpenter in a poor family of Bhopal. He did not go to school due to lack of opportunity to study and started working as a carpentry assistant to his father. After a few years, Rafiq became a complete carpenter and made it his profession.
Rafiq used to return to a tea shop after work every day and saw some people playing chess there and wanted to play a game of chess. Rafiq started learning to play chess by watching others play and decided to play chess for at least an hour every day and followed it seriously. And then he played only Indian chess and not international chess! (In chess played in India the pawn moves only one square at the beginning. Two squares do not move. And the pawn cannot be promoted to a queen on the last move.)
Rafiq played international chess for the first time in 1975 at the Madhya Pradesh Chess Championship. He won the championship when no one expected it. Rafiq turned all eyes on himself by claiming victory in the series with many national A-level competitors participating in it. In June of the same year, he qualified for the National A level competition by placing second in the National B level competition at Patna. Also in 1976, he won 11 wins (9 wins in a row) in the National B level championship. Rafiq's total of 13/15 points remains an unbroken record.
For the first time in 1976, Rafiq did not play well in the national A-level tournament. But in 1977, in the final of the National A-level series held in Kochi, he defeated Tamil Nadu international master Ravikumar in a tie-breaker and won the champion title. The Indian chess world was surprised to see him become the champion.
Rafiq, who grew up in chess, could not use it to earn money and improve his life. He was stuck in a situation where he could not even get a government job due to his lack of education. It was then that an article was written in an English newspaper listing all the achievements of Rafik and mentioning that the government did not help. After it came to the attention of Lok Sabha member George Fernandes, he offered George Rafiq a job at BHEL in Bhopal in 1978.
The 1980 Chess Olympiad in Malta was one of the most memorable events in Rafiq's career, as he began to focus more on chess after getting a job. Rafiq won the silver medal in the series and became the first Indian athlete to win a medal in the history of the Olympics. This silver is not just a medal. It became a milestone in the history of Indian chess and gave hope to many players from our country. Since the open division team is not strong for this Olympiad series, the government did not sponsor them and only sponsored the women's division team. In this situation, the medal won by Rafiq was a fitting response to the government. Also the game of chess started gaining popularity in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
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Rafiq Khan continued to play chess even after 1980. He also won the honor of being the best player to play for India in the 1982 Chess Olympiad. He won the prestigious Piloo Modi series in 1984, 1986 and 1982. Rafiq also won prestigious series like PN Mehta Memorial Series in Nashik in 1990 and KU Achla Mudgal Series in Agra in 1994. Rafiq Khan continued to achieve many such feats.
Rafiq khan, who was living with his wife, 2 sons and 4 daughters, died of a heart attack on 19th July 2019. After Rafiq's death, Madhya Pradesh State Chess President Kapil Saxena said, "Rafiq Khan was playing chess at the Bhopal Chess Club till midnight on 18 July!"
This life of him who played chess from his days as a carpenter to the day before his death is an unavoidable part of the chess history of India. No one can deny that Kolocha has been an inspiration to Indian chess players worldwide, especially his Olympiad silver.