The Black Knight Rises
Viswanathan Anand’s world title defence in November puts the spotlight on the chess revolution underway in India
Viswanathan Anand’s world title defence in November puts the spotlight on the chess revolution underway in India.
Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen struck the perfect pose that typifies the sport— one hand on the chin, body leaning over the board and eyes intense on the wooden pieces. The giant vinyl board, hanging from the first floor balcony, forms a perfect backdrop at the indoor auditorium of the Ludlow Castle Sports Complex, Delhi, where 300 children sit in neat rows of tables and chairs that hold a chessboard and a stop clock.
The National Under- 11 Boys & Girls Chess Championship is serious business, the pin- drop silence only interrupted by the occasional squeaking of chairs or children slurping mango juice from complimentary tetrapacks. One among them could emerge as the next Anand. The five- time world champion has single- handedly inspired generations of youngsters to take up chess and helped it graduate beyond being a mere pastime.
India today not only figures in the top 10 according to the rankings of the international body, FIDE, but also has more than 30,000 registered chess players, 32 grandmasters, 77 international masters, eight women grandmasters and 2,642 rated players. In 2012, it hosted 188 rating chess tournaments. Apart from Anand, India has stamped its status as an emerging chess power by winning the World Youth Under- 16 Chess Olympiad 2013 in Chongqing, China, and picking up 10 gold, three silver and six bronze medals at Asian Youth Chess Championships in Iran this year. Six- yearold Mahi Doshi became the youngest FIDE- rated player in Asia in March.
The ongoing black- and- white revolution, together with the CarlsenAnand world championship match- up in Chennai beginning November 6, that will cost Rs 29 crore to stage, is possibly chess’ biggest opportunity to go mainstream in a country where sports other than cricket have had to fight an uphill battle to grab eyeballs. “There’s a big boom in chess, with the number of children taking it up rising rapidly, from 14- 15 players in an age group tournament 10 years ago to 400- 500 now,” says All Indian Chess Federation ( AICF) CEO Bharat Chauhan.
Unlike cricket or football that kids take up after exposure on TV, chess is often introduced by parents. With an average of 48 decisions to make in less than two hours, chess improves decision- making, concentration, analytical abilities and logical reasoning in children. Countries such as France, UK, US, Armenia, Hungary and Azer-
baijan have included it in their school curriculum. The trend is catching on here too, with Gujarat and Tamil Nadu taking up the initiative. Students in Gujarat would be offered free chess coaching in all government- aided schools while plans are afoot to make it part of syllabus too. As part of that initiative, more than 1500 teachers underwent training to help spread the game. The Tamil Nadu government, too, has decided to implement the system this academic year. BRAIN, NOT BRAWN “If not a grandmaster, I know my son will at least be good at studies. He can’t normally sit in his chair for a minute, but give him a chessboard and he’ll concentrate for an hour,” says Ekta Kapur, whose son Arhaan took part in the September 1- 10 national under- 11 championship in Delhi. Parents have often asked JBS Negi for his advice after his son, Parimarjan Negi, became the world’s second youngest grandmaster at 13.
After all, apart from academic benefits, there’s money in the sweepstakes. Parimarjan gets around 2,000 euros as participation fee, sponsorship deals and a share of prize money. While Anand made $ 2 million in prize money last year, the average earning of a professional chess player is around $ 35,000- 40,000 a year.
“Parimarjan’s entry into chess was by accident. A friend of mine gifted him a chessboard when he was fourand- a- half years, and he used to play with it like he played with his He- Man or Spiderman toys. At that time even I didn’t know chess. A friend who used to frequent our place taught Parimarjan how to play. Within a week, my son beat my friend, a regular on the local
BUOYED BYTHE REVIVAL OF HOCKEY AND BADMINTON, AICF PLANS TO CASH IN ON THE HYPE OFTHE ANANDCARLSEN MATCH- UP
chess circuit. That is when, as parents, we got very excited. We entered his name in the Delhi state under- 12 tournament and he won it without breaking into a sweat. He was just six then,” says JBS Negi.
While Parimarjan is now busy touring the world, of the other nine batchmates of his Delhi chess group, three are now studying at IIT, two have been admitted to Delhi Technological University and one has got into a medical college. GRAND GAMBIT Chess doesn’t attract too much sponsor attention as it is not a spectator or TV- friendly sport. Organisers have tried to tweak new formats of the game like blind, rapid, blitz to arouse viewer interest with limited success. But buoyed by the revival of hockey and badminton in the country and the influx of big money with bigger star players, AICF is planning to cash in on the pre- event hype of the AnandCarlsen match- up. The federation has launched a ‘ meet- and- beat- the- GM’ competition, where anyone can play a round of chess with a grandmaster and test their skills. AICF is also planning an ad campaign highlighting the benefits of taking up chess, and hoping it makes potential sponsors, the corporate world as well as state governments, sit up and take notice.
Anand is busy preparing for what many say is his toughest challenge yet, but he is already in a win- win situation. Whether he manages to defend his crown against Carlsen or not, the undisputed world champion since 2007 may have just fuelled the sport in India to never- before heights.
Follow the writer on Twitter@ GSV1980
PLAYERS AT THE NATIONAL UNDER- 11 CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP IN DELHI