Quick News Bit

Chess Olympiad 2022: Cradle of masterminds assemble at Mahabalipuram


Express News Service

CHENNAI:  The banlieues of Paris are celebrated for producing elite-level footballers at an industrial level. The mats of Haryana are famous for churning wrestlers. The maidans of Mumbai are renowned for creating cricketers daily. Iten, a small village in Kenya, is famed for the way it chisels and sharpens the best runners the world has ever seen. Chennai, too, has a similar sporting moniker. Chess factory.


May 31, 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited the two finalists of the World Chess Championship, Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand (the final was held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow). Over a cup of tea in Putin’s residence, the Indian told the Russian that he had picked up the game at the Soviet Cultural Centre in Madras. To this, Putin quipped: “so we brought this on ourselves” (apart from Bobby Fischer, Anand was one of the first non-Soviet world champions in over 50 years).
Putin’s repartee may or may not have been a joke, but Anand accurately captured the trailblazer’s early years and how it led to him becoming ‘The Tiger of Madras’. You talk to old-timers and they will tell you that very little has changed in Madras between when Anand was in school and now. Sure, the city is renamed but the core characteristics remain the same. Laidback, unassuming, hasn’t majorly changed its political hues, loves its movies, Test matches, music and chess.

Even if chess had been part of the lexicon before 1970 – the Madras Chess Club, which ultimately became the Tamil Nadu State Chess Association, predated Independence by a few months – a confluence of factors conspired for rapid growth around the time Anand was born.
Chess was an important weapon in the soft power armoury of the Soviet Union. They were bloody good at it; they already had multiple world champions, they had some of the best chess literature going around and some of their theoreticians knew what they were talking about. So, it was only natural they started exporting the language and grammar of their chess to friendly cities and countries.

Manuel Aaron, India’s first International Master (IM), a Russian student at the time, was a periodic visitor to the Soviet Cultural Centre. The staff and Aaron got talking to see if he would be interested in playing a key role in the creation of a club on campus. Aaron, who had a keen interest in passing on knowledge to the younger generation, jumped at the chance. With the club being backed by funding from the Soviet Union, he knew this was his one opportunity. That was how the Tal (named after Mikhail Tal, a world champion from the Soviet Union) Chess Club came into existence in Madras (other metros got their own versions).

Armed with magazines like ‘Shakhmaty Bulletin’, ‘Chess in USSR’ and so on, Aaron, around 35 at the time, started giving lessons. Considering most of these magazines had the fingerprints of the best chess players at the time, the information contained in those pages was basically a ‘101 on how to win at chess’. Aaron picks up the story. “He (Anand) used to attend some classes I used to throw open for free,” Aaron, now 86, tells. “There would be weekly translations of Russian magazines. People used to come after I used to put advertisements in the newspaper. 10-15 people would come, and Anand would be among them. Even back then, I knew he was going to be good. He was just seven or eight but would ask all these questions that I had no answers to. I was just translating what Russian theoreticians had noted in the magazine.”

In his book, ‘Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life’, Anand wrote about the role Tal Chess Club played in his formative years. “I was among a roomful of schoolchildren against whom he (Latvian GM, Vladimir Bagirov) played a simultaneous exhibition game,” he wrote. “At one stage of the game, I offered him a draw. He looked at me, then at my board, picked up his rook and my bishop and asked me why I had made him the offer. It was my first lesson in piece evaluation and his spurning my offer made me realise that you don’t always get a draw when you offer one.”

Young kids in Chennai not only had access. They also had a federation willing to listen to their demands. This time, too, Aaron played a big role in shaping the TNSCA. When Yuri Averbakh – a USSR GM – made a visit to Chennai in the 1970s to take part in simul matches apart from giving lectures (another way to expand Soviet Union’s soft power through chess), one industrialist from Pollachi called for a meeting with Aaron. Thus began N Mahalingam’s (chairman of the Sakthi Group who became president of the TNSCA) long, fruitful association with Aaron.

Between them, the pair went to extreme lengths to make sure that players who represented TNSCA didn’t suffer. It may seem routine today but in the 1970s, the norm was very much ‘paying to play’ with the federation playing moral support. The TNSCA was like that when one incident changed the dynamics. Aaron narrates it.

“We had no money in the association. The women’s team had gone to play in a national championship. The mother of a girl who was taking part was the manager of the team. When the girl lost, the mother assaulted her own child. The girl fainted and it became a very big issue. I reported this issue to Mahalingam (Mahalingam was the president and Aaron, secretary, of the TNSCA when this happened). He asked, ‘why did I send the mother?’ I told him ‘We had no money and only a mother will go as manager. Who else will go?’. That was when he told me ‘A president should never tell he has no money and a secretary should never tell he has no time’. If you have no money, you come ask me’.”
Till this day, TNSCA, Aaron says, follows these two maxims.

In the Open category, India ‘A’ are among the favourites to finish on the podium. Including the reserve, all five players have an Elo rating above 2630. But to truly understand this unprecedented modern chess boom in Chennai – where the quantity of players has seamlessly married the quality of players coming through the system – one must look at India ‘B’ in the Open category.

Nihal Sarin (18, Elo 2651), D Gukesh (16, 2684), Adhiban B (29, 2598), R Praggnanandhaa (16, 2648) and Raunak Sadhwani (16, 2611) comprise the team and both their ages and ratings catches the eye. Out of the five, four are teenagers, three are from Tamil Nadu and two from Chennai (one of the five in India ‘A’ is from Chennai). Team captain, RB Ramesh, who has coached the likes of Pragnanandhaa for more than six years now, explains the demographics behind this.

“In India, we don’t frown upon hard work,” he says. “It’s considered a virtue, unlike in the West. When we work hard in one aspect of our life, in the West there is a tendency to say ‘you are missing out, you are not having a complete childhood’. Here, we fortunately appreciate it. Many children take it up seriously at a very young age when they have fewer distractions (social media and video games). So, they are more hopeful and energetic. It’s the best age to learn. Anyone who starts young and works hard, they have a better chance.”

Working hard is just one part of the equation. Because of the competition and the accessibility to modern technology, methodology, trainers and academies, the players hoping to swim the tide must be excellent. Otherwise, they may be caught up in the whirlpool. Ramesh, a GM who swapped his cricketing whites for a chess board as a 12-year-old after seeing Anand’s exploits, explains. “These days, everything is in excess. Too much of everything. What is relevant? The good things are largely hidden. Most of it is complete shit. This is where the trainers come in. The competition is also huge as a result. You must be excellent to even survive.” This is what Praggnanandha, Gukesh and the rest of the kids from Chennai are doing.


Chennai already had a foundation in place in the 1990s. Young chess players were winning international age-group tournaments. New academies were cropping up everywhere (Tal Chess Club had lost its significance after the fall of the Soviet Union), TNSCA was playing a proactive role in organising events and former chess players were willing to become coaches to ensure that transfer of knowledge took place. By 2004, Chennai had added two more GMs, Krishnan Sasikiran and Ramesh. The sisters, S Vijayalakshmi and Meenakshi (both coached by Aaron) also broke a barrier in that they showed girls that they could also play and be very successful at it.

But what changed the growth trajectory was Anand’s first world title in 2000. Now, a chess set is ubiquitous in most Chennai households. They are cheap, are great gifts – especially the miniature magnetic ones – and are a powerful bonding tool between kids and grandparents. Parents also encourage their children to play chess because it is considered ‘safe’. It is indoors, chances of getting hurt are minimal and there is an element of intelligence attached to it.

It also helped that Anand’s five world titles came in a relatively short period of time. It kept chess on the front and back pages of newspapers so there was always that period of continuity. He also became part of pop culture. In fact, in one of the biggest Tamil films (in terms of commercial success) ever, a dad flat out refuses to acknowledge his son’s hall of fame-worthy kabaddi career because ‘I would have felt better if you had picked chess and become like Anand’. In effect, Anand’s win served the dual purpose of telling kids that there was a Garry Kasparov in their own backyard apart from informing parents that chess could be a viable career option.

Here’s Ramesh explaining this further. “One big aspect is Viswanathan Anand. He’s a very big role model. In general, when good players come along, more people want to take up the game. Every few years, good players keep coming out of Chennai. That is also one reason. So, these names keep inspiring the next generation.”

From Aaron (86) to Anand (52) to Ramesh (46) to Vijayalakshmi (43) to Krishnan Sasikiran (41) to SP Sethuraman (29) to Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh (16) to R Vaishali (21) to Bharath Subramaniyam (15), who achieved his third and final GM norm, in January, it’s easy to visualise what Ramesh is referring to.


This latest batch of players, according to people who watch and play the game, could even give the country its second champion in the Classical format. If and when it does, a new figurehead will arise. Another cycle will begin.

For all the latest Sports News Click Here 

 For the latest news and updates, follow us on Google News

Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! NewsBit.us is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a comment