A scheduled maintenance power cut from 9AM to 5PM in Viswanathan Anand’s locality in Chennai almost derailed India’s hopes of progressing past their quarter-final tie against Armenia in the first-ever Online Chess Olympiad.
At the end of the tournament, the Indian chess team was basking in the glory of their joint victory with Russia at the Olympiad, but it was the absence of electricity at a crucial juncture that was one of their biggest worries in a format that was supposed to be the future of chess in Covid times.
On Monday, Anand revealed that India’s non-playing captain Srinath Narayanan arranged for the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) to provide electricity to his building despite scheduled maintenance in the Kottupuram locality in the Adyar zone. The power cut was scheduled to end around an hour into India’s tie with Armenia.
“I was worried because this tournament was already giving some difficulties to Vishy,” Srinath told The Indian Express.
“He had to do all this screen-sharing and had to be on the camera – all new and unfamiliar things for a few of our players. On top of this, he had to worry about his internet (connection). I didn’t want these kinds of distractions for him and felt that a few seconds could be lost. Losing that time is not a big deal, but the loss in concentration is,” felt Srinanth.
“I spoke to Dr Darez Ahamed, an IAS officer who is currently in London and asked him for help. He used to work in Tamil Nadu. He immediately got in touch with people in Chennai and I got a call from the executive engineer in Anand’s area. I gave him the match timings and requested him to ensure that no work would be going on during that time and in the next two days. They were more than happy to stop the renovation work and within an hour, power was restored.”
IAS officer, a fan, helps
Dr Ahamed, whose WhatsApp display picture is of Anand himself, refused to take any credit for helping out and told The Indian Express, “What Anand has done for chess in India is revolutionary. He made kids dream. I have always been a fan of his and even if I hadn’t made that phone call, this would have been done. But it was easier this way because I was the sub-collector of Pankaj Kumar Bansal (Chairman of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board) earlier and have known Srinath for a long time now because of our mutual love of chess.”
The issue of power cuts had earlier affected India’s group-stage tie with Mongolia. Cuts in their respective localities had hindered Grandmasters Koneru Humpy and team captain Vidit Gujrathi. This incident was one of many that players from different countries had to face in Chess’s premier international tournament contested over the internet.
Be it poor connections, server outages or electricity issues, chess suffered and the Indian team was forced to find ways to deal with a host of problems thrown in their direction. After the initial struggles in the Mongolia match where India went from 3-1 up to 3-3 after dropping two points due to power problems, they had a window of 3-4 days when the problems could be fixed.
“Koneru Humpy’s house was having power fluctuation problems in the league stages itself. That is why in the last two days of the league, she chose to take two quick draws against Georgia and China because we didn’t want the game to keep going for too long as we didn’t know when she could lose connection to the Chess.com website,” said Srinath.
In the later stages of the tournament, the fluctuation issue was taken care of, with Humpy herself admitting in Monday’s press conference that line workers were present under her house during her matches.
Besides, the Indian chess team started to keep multiple backups. All of their homes were already equipped with power generators but the problem came down to the 10-15 second delays when power sources were switched that led to them getting logged out of the host website.
“I think when the incident happened with Mongolia, that’s when we realised that we have to be extra careful about this. I think that moment of caution probably happened for our own good. After the match, we got a gap of 3-4 days and everyone started taking extra precautions and Srinath had the idea for us to download the Speedify app and get multiple connections,” confirmed GM Harika Dronavalli.
Thinking out of the box
Speedify is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app that allows channel-bonding. With no guarantees against power outages, Srinath came up with the idea to avoid the 10-15 second delays that Indian players would face if they lost power in their homes, by using the app and multiple internet connections.
Srinath explained the need for the VPN to The Indian Express. “Let’s say I have a wired Airtel connection and I use Jio on Wi-Fi and set my wire connection as a primary (source). Now for whatever reason if my primary connection fails, the app ensures that I connect to my backup internet connection within a second. If your router fails, or there is a problem with one network provider, then you can immediately connect to your alternative within a second and not the usual 10-15 second delay.”