My Swedish Career

Costa Rican chess fans keep website in check

Costa Rican chess fans keep website in check
In this week's look at foreigners who have made a name for themselves in Sweden, we talk to two Costa Ricans who have started a successful chess website and aim to eventually see the game taught in Swedish classrooms.

Miguel Espinoza and María Cascante swapped their native Costa Rica for Malmö in 2009 and now the husband and wife team are aiming to share their love of chess with their adopted country.

The couple recently launched their website enabling users to play their favourite game with the benefits of social media. It has already proven to be popular with over 1,000 registered players signing up for the new concept in just a few months.

“I love chess and I love programming so creating a site like this has always been an ambition of mine,” 28-year-old Miguel Espinoza tells The Local at the couple’s home in Malmö’s western harbour.

Espinoza, who works as a lead developer for Benc Enterprises, inherited his passion for chess from his father who was a domestic champion in Costa Rica. His wife Maria Cascante, 24, recently quit her job to focus on the chess site full time and is in charge of the marketing and design for the project.

“We want to change the image of chess, as traditionally it is associated with old people and being a bit boring,” she says.

“Our ambition is to introduce the concept of heroes by making it more fun for young people with the tournaments we have planned for later this year. With ‘blitz games’ you have just three minutes to play so it is very exciting,” she adds.

The Costa Ricans made the big move across the Atlantic to Sweden immediately after their wedding four years ago when Espinoza was offered a transfer to his company’s Malmö branch. Leaving the tropical climate of their native country was initially difficult, but they are now settled in Skåne.

“I’d never heard of Malmö until I was offered the transfer,” Espinoza says with a laugh.

“I came here alone for a few weeks in 2009 and was then asked to stay. When I told the company I was getting married they said they would sort everything for us.”

María Cascante was just 20 when she embarked on her new life in Scandinavia. Cascante learnt Swedish after taking an internship with Malmö City and later working as a service desk analyst with QlikView in nearby Lund.

“It’s not that different from English so I learnt quite fast as I was working with Swedes every day. Often I had to ask them to speak Swedish as many wanted to practice their Spanish with me,” she says.

Cultural differences between Central America and Sweden are inevitable. The couple admit that Swedes are less open than Latin Americans but they have embraced the lifestyle and are here for the long-term.

Getting their business off the ground was made considerably easier by being in Sweden as opposed to Costa Rica, says Espinoza.

“They give you everything at the Swedish Jobs and Society Foundation (Nyföretagarcentrum) in order to succeed with your business. We had a consultation with a lawyer and an accountant who inspected our business plan and gave us a lot of advice. This was all for free so it really helped us at the start,” he explains.

“In Costa Rica you don’t get this kind of help. A friend back home is starting a company and he needed to hire a lawyer for a lot of money before he even did anything.”

“We intend to raise our children here when we start a family. Sweden is a very welcoming country and has been good to us.”

For now though, the couple is intent on spreading the message of chess through their new project. They have ambitious plans to work with grand masters and collaborate with the prestigious Siegman invitational tournament, which is held annually in Malmö.

“Playing chess has so many benefits like improving your memory. In some countries like India and Armenia they are making chess a subject in school and that is something we would like to help achieve here in Sweden,” adds Espinoza.

Patrick Reilly

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