Chennai already has the reputation of being home to a ‘knowledgeable crowd’ in India’s most popular sport,but what of its chess virtu? Ahead of the World Championship match,the claim that Chennai is Indias chess capital is almost as ubiquitous as giant images of the chief minister and sponsor of the event J Jayalalithaa that adorn most uncovered walls at the venue.
There are numbers to back that claim,though. Twelve of India’s 31 Grandmasters are from the state,most of them from the city. The country’s first GM,International Master and Women’s GM are all from Chennai. But for a sport that famously arrogates that there are more possible chess moves than there are elementary particles in the universe,the above figures are piffling.
Chess is forbiddingly complicated at the elite level. But the magnitude of the world title bout has forced people who otherwise have little interest or understanding of the sport (journalists included) to engage with it more meaningfully. So it is not surprising when the accidental fan and even the reasonably proficient practitioner turn to other sports to get a handle on the buzz that the match has created.
Listen carefully,and you will hear cricket,tennis and F1 talk,but all in an effort to enlighten a bewildered soul about a chess nuance. RB Ramesh,one of India’s earliest GMs,describes how tough it is going to be for Anand to defend his title. “Its like having Dravid open when you are chasing 350 in an ODI. He may be a great player,but you can see hell have to change his style completely. Maybe at the peak of his form he could do it,but itll be tough.”
Somebody else says how foolish ruling out a great player could be. “Just because Federer is struggling,it doesn’t mean he can’t win the year-end championship or the Australian Open.”
RR Vasudevan,a rated player and an international arbiter,explains how it could be deadly for black to mishandle the king pawn opening as opposed to the queen pawn opening. “It is the difference between hooking a short ball wearing a helmet and hooking without one. Against 1. d4 (the queen pawn opening) you might miss,but you won’t get hurt,” he says.
Talking about the importance of having a strong team of ‘seconds’ behind you,Vasudevan says it is like having a great technical team that will put the racer in a top notch F1 machine. “You keep testing repeatedly and when you get it right,even if the player is mediocre,the power of the preparation,the vehicle,will take a driver through,” he says.
It is not just the regular philistine who is left blinking when the giant screen flashes the chess board midway through a game. Says Eric Van Reem,a member of Team Anand,”Either me or Walter-Schmitt (another Team Anand member) are in the player hall with Aruna (Anand). Almost after every move,she is like ‘what is this,what is that,what is going on’. Maybe as far as chess goes,she has no idea what is going on,but she can see the body language,so she reads Anand to see if he is doing well or not.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines