In the age of ADHD, kids still sit across a chequered board waiting for the opponent’s next move, which could take hours. What keeps children (such as 12-year-old prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa), and their parents, still fascinated by chess?
By Shilpa Mehra
Two solitary figures in an apparent freeze across a chess board. Or the lure of floodlights on the pitch with exulting audience and cheerleaders. Ask your kids. Don’t be surprised if they pick the 64 black and white squares. Chess has romantically survived the onslaught of our attention deficit, see-me, hear-me permanently switched-on society. Rather, the fascination is growing. Worldwide studies to evaluate chess’ unfading popularity and impact on personalities, mental skills and health benefits warranted the regular printing of a scholarly publication like the Journal of Chess Research.
Just last week, India gave the chess world its latest poster boy—Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa—the second youngest person ever, at age 12 and 10 months and 13 days, to achieve the title of grandmaster. What’s this charm of chess? It’s a double positive. Chess has evolved as a professional sport while retaining its traditional popularity as a hobby that helps kids improve personality, intelligence and analytical skills.
Also, online gaming has been the Big Bang for the chess universe. An entire industry providing livelihood to thousands of people has evolved with chess teachers, trainers, writers, bloggers, publishers, photographers, tournament organisers, arbiters (as referees in chess are known), programmers, app designers, software developers and video makers. There’s even a market for chess motif clotheslines, jewellery and accessories along with chess equipment—chess clocks, tournament chess sets, antique sets, theme sets and more.
You could pick up a regular chess set for Rs 200, an electronic one that connects to the Internet for Rs 50,000 and an antique one (hold your breath) for Rs 3 lakh to begin with. Then there are DVDs and software. A single online chess site—whether paid or free—can claim as many as 20 million members and subscribers. Big-ticket advertisers are scouring for game designers.
It’s not just two people playing a board game—there are new twists in chess adventure—limited time to complete a game, time increments for each move, shuffling of the starting position to prevent memorising of opening play and other tournament dynamics. That’s both for online and OTB (over-the-board) chess events. It’s as exciting as it gets, minus the din. Building on the image that chess is an intellectual sport, our generation’s top professional players have contributed by flipping the nerdy chess master image. The current world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen, 28, from Norway, is also a modelling star.
There’s a chess tournament starting every day somewhere on the planet with organisers offering discounted lodging and star boarding facilities. Chess tourism is an exciting call for the family even if just one member plays. You end up visiting cities, exploring cultures, meeting people you might not otherwise.
In India, the All-India Chess Federation has definitely done its bit. Delhi Chess Association has popularised a cool chess-in-schools programme. The Delhi International Grandmasters Chess tournament in January 2019, has a plus-Rs 1 crore prize pool. The association will be hosting almost 5,000 chess community members from across the world.
It’s hip to play chess nowadays. But, here’s the alert for parents. Start off your kids on chess as a hobby. It takes at least a year to get around to playing a good game. Possibly more. At the professional level, chess requires hard work quite like dedicating an entire lifetime to music or art. Regular travel to tournaments can be a drain on resources with sponsors not too easy to find. There’s also a risk of losing more practical professional options. To begin with, chess as a parallel career for the love of the game is financially more viable.
You can’t force your kid to make that choice too soon. Unfortunately, most parents fall into the trap. Prodigy tales abound in chess and so do failure and burnout stories. Beating your dad at chess at home and hoping to play a tournament even marginally well is like going to Formula One after getting your learner’s driving licence. Believe that! You need professional training with loads of hard work to turn pro. The competition is beyond tough.
As a parent introducing your kids to chess should be giving them a gift that would contribute to their personality and last a lifetime as a mental fitness tool even in their senior years. Chess is highly recommended for girls. Gender complexes do fade away at the chess board. Girls can beat boys by sheer skill and at an equal level. In fact, that goes for colour, race, religion as well. Kids learn early on to meet other humans as individuals in their own right. Give your kids the keys to a magical kingdom by introducing them to chess, but let destiny take its course thereafter.
(The writer is a child psychologist with research interest in developing analytical skills at a young age. As founder-member of Chess Club Black & White in Lucknow, she published India’s first chess features print magazine from 2004 to 2012. Follow her on Facebook at BlackandWhiteChessMagazineIndia)