Cap­i­tal now makes smart, win­ning moves

CHECKMATE Delhi has emerged as a ma­jor hub of chess in the past few years, pro­duc­ing six grand­mas­ters

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - METRO - Manoj Sharma manoj.sharma@hin­dus­tan­times.com

NEWDELHI: It is late af­ter­noon and Puneet Jaiswal is ex­plain­ing to his stu­dents — chil­dren aged 7 to 12 years — the con­cepts of ‘iso­lated pawns’ and ‘pawn is­lands’ on a wall- mounted mag­netic chess board. The chil­dren are a pic­ture of con­cen­tra­tion as they sit at their desks with chess­boards laid out be­fore them.

Soon, the the­o­ret­i­cal les­son ends and the chil­dren get busy push­ing the pawns ahead as part of a prac­tice game. Jaiswal sits at his desk, which has a pro­jec­tor and a lap­top. A book­shelf next to his desk has dozens of books on chess.

Jaiswal started his academy, Cham­pi­ons Chess Cen­tre, at Delhi’s east Pa­tel Na­gar three years ago with 10 stu­dents. Lo­cated in a brightly-lit base­ment, the chess school to­day has over 150 stu­dents. “Delhi is play­ing chess like never be­fore,” said Jaiswal, a well- known chess in­struc­tor.

“Par­ents are re­al­iz­ing that chess is a game that teaches lessons about life such as de­ci­sion mak­ing and fore­sight. One of the most pro­found lessons we learn through it is un­der­stand­ing the con­se­quence of our ac­tions,” he said.

Chen­nai has of­ten been called the chess cap­i­tal of In­dia, what with its vi­brant chess cul­ture and the record of pro­duc­ing the max­i­mum num­ber of In­dian grand­mas­ters, in­clud­ing for­mer world cham­pion Viswanathan Anand, but Delhi has emerged as a ma­jor hub of the board game in the past few years.

The cap­i­tal , which un­til a few years back had only five chess acad­e­mies, to­day has over 50, where one can see chil­dren and teenagers with bum­fluff beards learn­ing to make win­ning moves. Delhi is also home to six grand­mas­ters and as many in­ter­na­tional masters. Women’s grand­mas­ter Ta­nia Sachdev is also from Delhi.

Grow­ing recog­ni­tion of the fact that chess im­proves chil­dren’s cog­ni­tive and aca­demic skills has helped pop­u­larise the game and spurred de­mand for in­struc­tors in schools, said Bharat Singh Chauhan, pres­i­dent, Delhi Chess As­so­ci­a­tion. “In the past three years, we have trained over 300 school teach­ers and other staff to work as chess in­struc­tors ,” said Chauhan.

CHESS IN SCHOOLS

The All In­dia Chess Fed­er­a­tion, the apex body of chess in In­dia, has also been in­stru­men­tal in pop­u­lar­is­ing the game through its ‘Chess in Schools’ pro­gramme, which seeks to in­tro­duce it as a teach­ing ac­tiv­ity, said Chauhan. Over 1000 schools in Delhi-ncr have adopted chess as a sport in the past few years .

“Par­ents are as se­ri­ous about their chil­dren’s progress in chess as in any other sub­ject. Dur­ing PTMS (par­ent­teacher meet­ings), they are very keen to know how their wards are do­ing in chess, and how they can im­prove. For many par­ents, chess is a way to con­nect with their chil­dren” said Ji­ten­dra Ku­mar Choud­hary, who teaches chess at Delhi Pub­lic School, Mathura Road.

The num­ber of chess in­struc­tors has grown ex­po­nen­tially in the past few years—about 200 chess coaches are work­ing in schools, acad­e­mies, of­fer­ing pri­vate tu­itions, and giv­ing on­line lessons. San­deep Chitkara, 42, the founder of Ge­nius Chess Academy in Chit­taran­jan Park said, “When I started play­ing, we used to look for chil­dren in­ter­ested in chess, but now chil­dren look for us.”

The chess cul­ture in Delhi has picked up thanks to avail­abil­ity of qual­ity in­struc­tors and in­creas­ing num­ber of tour­na­ments, said Vaib­hav Suri, who started play­ing chess at the age of seven and be­came a grand­mas­ter at the age of 15. “Par­ents are en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren to play chess at a young age,” he adds.

Delhi now hosts over 100 tour­na­ments a year – most of them or­ga­nized by the grow­ing num­ber of acad­e­mies. The city’s big­gest event is Delhi In­ter­na­tional Open Grand­mas­ters Chess Tour­na­ment with a to­tal prize money of ₹1.01 crore. Or­ga­nized by Delhi Chess As­so­ci­a­tion in Jan­uary ev­ery year, it saw the par­tic­i­pa­tion of 2,400 play­ers in 2018, mak­ing it the largest chess tour­na­ment in Asia.

“Now we have many cor­po­rates com­ing for­ward to spon­sor tour­na­ments,” said Chauhan. “We are also get­ting a lot of sup­port from the govern­ment; chess is a pri­or­ity sport in the coun­try.”

HOBBY PLAY­ERS TURN PRO

It is 6.30 pm and Jaiswal’s class has con­cluded. Most stu­dents say they joined the class at the be­hest of their par­ents, who are con­vinced that chess can be a game-changer for their aca­demic per­for­mance.

“Be­fore I started play­ing chess, I just could not fo­cus on what the teacher was say­ing in the class; I would look at the class­mates or the walls, but now I fo­cus bet­ter on lessons and my per­for­mance in class has im­proved,” said 8-year-old Saransh Varma. Ayaan Sachdeva, his fel­low stu­dent, added, “My mother sent me here be­cause she feels it will help im­prove my con­cen­tra­tion.”

Ma­trix Chess Academy in south Delhi’s Malviya Na­gar prides it­self on pro­duc­ing sev­eral top-rank­ing play­ers, in­clud­ing two grand­mas­ters. On a Wed­nes­day evening, about a dozen stu­dents, mostly teenagers, are pre­par­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the first Goa In­ter­na­tional Open Grand­mas­ter Chess Tour­na­ment. The Academy’s founder and coach Prasen­jit Dutta said most of his stu­dents are those who want to play chess pro­fes­sion­ally—and many come from out­side Delhi, and rent room near the academy.

“My stu­dents have won many na­tional and in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments un­der dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. Many of them joined as hobby play­ers and went on to play chess at in­ter­na­tional level,” said Dutta, whose academy of­fers coach­ing for be­gin­ners, and at the in­ter­me­di­ate and ad­vanced lev­els.

Walls at Ma­trix have the posters of world chess cham­pi­ons and his fa­mous wards such as Vaib­hav Agar­wal, who won the Mil­lion­aire Chess Open in 2015 in Los An­ge­les, and of grand­mas­ter Vaib­hav Suri, who is de­scribed as ‘Academy Pride’. One of the rooms has dozens of tro­phies won by the academy’s stu­dents in var­i­ous tour­na­ments. Many of Dutta’s cur­rent stu­dents have a FIDE (World Chess Fed­er­a­tion) chess rat­ing of be­tween 1,700 and 2,000. “I want to be an in­ter­na­tional mas­ter and am here to im­prove my present rat­ing which is 1,400,” said Rahul Ya­dav, 18, a stu­dent of the academy.

SPEC­TA­CLE OF THE MIND

Founders of these acad­e­mies are chess play­ers them­selves and some of them, like Dutta, and Jaiswal are Fide-cer­ti­fied in­struc­tors. Dutta and Jaiswal had FIDE rat­ings of 2,317 and 2,284 re­spec­tively. Dutta was also the coach of In­dia’s un­der-16 at World Youth Olympiad team, in 2017, which won a sil­ver medal. “Ev­ery in­struc­tor has his own tech­niques of teach­ing. I fo­cus on teach­ing po­si­tional judg­ment,” said Dutta.

Chess lovers say their favourite game may not of­fer the phys­i­cal spec­ta­cle of out­door games like foot­ball or cricket, but it in­volves an in­vis­i­ble spec­ta­cle of the mind. Peo­ple have been fas­ci­nated by the sto­ries of grand­mas­ters play­ing the games blind­folded, and play­ing sev­eral games si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Chess has had ex­alted sta­tus in pop­u­lar cul­ture too --- sev­eral movies have been made on the lives of play­ers such as Amer­i­can chess prodigy Bobby Fis­cher, in­clud­ing the 2014 Pawn Sac­ri­fice, which chron­i­cles Fis­cher’s strug­gle be­tween ge­nius and mad­ness, and how he finds him­self caught be­tween the two su­per­pow­ers dur­ing the Cold War. Well-known au­thor Stephen Fry wrote in a re­view of Child of Change: an Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy by Garry Kas­parov, “Only mu­sic and math­e­mat­ics share with chess the phe­nom­e­non of the child prodigy.”

Ac­cord­ing to Vaib­hav Suri, “Chess is not so much about in­tel­li­gence as it is about the dis­ci­pline of the mind and abil­ity to think crit­i­cally. Chess has helped me de­velop a dis­ci­plined ap­proach to var­i­ous is­sues in life and taught me to make in­formed de­ci­sions.”

Chess, which has var­i­ously been de­scribed as a game, a sport, art, and sci­ence, has had its share of crit­ics too. Amer­i­can au­thor Ray­mond Chan­dler once said: “Chess is as elab­o­rate a waste of hu­man in­tel­li­gence as you can find out­side an ad­ver­tis­ing agency.”

But that is not what thou­sands of young as­pir­ing grand­mas­ters in Delhi think. Ask the stu­dents of Cham­pi­ons Chess Cen­tre to name their favourite grand­mas­ters and they reel off the names: Mag­nus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Bobby Fis­cher, and Garry Kas­parov. “I want to be a ge­nius like them,” said seven-year-old Che­han Singh Sethi.

SANCHIT KHANNA, BURHAAN KINU/HT

(Above) Puneet Jaiswal at Cham­pi­ons Chess Cen­tre in east Pa­tel Na­gar and (right) chil­dren learn the right moves at Malviya Na­gar’s Ma­trix Chess Academy.

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