The Black Knight Rises

Viswanathan Anand’s world ti­tle de­fence in Novem­ber puts the spot­light on the chess rev­o­lu­tion un­der­way in In­dia

India Today - - INSIDE - By G. S. Vivek

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

RAJWANTRAWAT/ Photographs by www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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