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Chess in India: Tournament memoirs and two friends at battle

sportsguru
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
751   //    21 May 2016, 12:30 IST

Chess, nowadays, is not a battle of two minds. Rather, it has changed into a battle of two chess engines or a chess engine versus a mind. I am a chess player with a rating of 1268. India is the 5th best Chess nation. There are 42 Grandmasters from India at present. But how many of them have managed to break the 2700 Mark? Barring Harikrishna and Viswanathan Anand, there is absolutely no one to replace them.

B. Adhiban seems to be the only one who could break the 2700 ELO barrier. Meanwhile, China, a country that was nowhere in the world of chess 10 years back, has produced eight 2700+ players. Most of them are really young and have the chance to become a great force to reckon with in the recent years. Why is this so? This article is about my experiences playing in district tournaments and the way engines destroy chess.

I’m from Tamil Nadu. My state boasts a history of producing a lot of Grandmasters, from Viswanathan Anand to Aravindh Chithambaram V. R. and Karthikeyan Murali. I’ve travelled all over Tamil Nadu to take part in tournaments. Any tournament you go, people will address you by your rating and not by your name. “Hey one-two (1200+ rating people are called one-two), I guess I met you at the previous tournament at (some random place)”.

Tournaments usually don’t start on time. The highest rated player is usually the last person to arrive at the tournament hall. No, I’m not talking about the players rated above 2000. The district level tournaments usually have their highest rated player around 1400 or 1500. But the ego that they have can’t be explained by words.

They think they are Grandmasters. They go around the waiting rooms (yes, tournaments are usually held in schools. Unoccupied classrooms are the skittles area), bragging to small kids about their best games. They sit down, look at the 14th move in the Dragon variation of the Sicilian defense and say, “I played this move right in the last tournament against a 1900+ player and got a huge advantage. But due to rime pressure, I lost the game.”

Any sensible player out there would have rolled on the floor laughing. But the group of people will go “wow”. Then the parent of some kid will say this line – “Can you please teach my son a tactic or two?” And a wide grin appears on the face of the top rated guy.

The gang start playing mind games. For example, they go near the 3rd or 4th seed and say, “Dude, all are lower rated players only. Title is yours. So when is the party?!” All these things make you feel they are incredibly difficult to beat. The tournament progresses smoothly till the last round. Once the standings after the penultimate round are published, the pairings of the last round are printed.

Players start begging their opponents for draws. Sometimes it happens right after they arrive on the board. Without even a move being played, they agree for a draw. I’ve even had experiences of the top-seeded player’s gang threatening me to draw that game so that their ‘friend’ could win. Shockingly, I’ve heard arbiters saying things like, “All those players agreeing for a draw, please decide fast and give your results!”

Another experience is that people hate losing. Kids, when they are down in material, look at your eyes in such a way that you feel sympathetic for them. They stretch their hands towards you, confidently saying “Draw”. They can’t accept defeat. Out of curiosity, I once asked my opponent why he offered a draw in a lost position and he said, “My coach will hit me if I lose this round.”

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Failure is the stepping stones to success. The people who should teach chess to children don’t seem to understand this; children are forced into the game by parents and coaches. Parents think that playing chess will increase their kids’ mathematics score. That it will make them do things better. I've seen such attitudes first-hand while playing in a few district level tournaments.

So why am I saying all of this? These kids are actually around 15-16 years old. Them achieving a 1500 rating is not bad, but at the same time they need to realise that kids become GM’s at an age of 13 or 14. Thanks to the computers, all that these kids do as a part of their training is open their computers.

See the opening line they are going to play that day. They’ll look for the best computer moves, and memorize it. That’s all! The opening is sorted out. Again look for strong moves in the early middle game. Hold that advantage. What happens when you forget a move? You blunder. The game is gone. Then comes the excuse: “Time Pressure”. 

What I want to say is that computers are helpful in the development of a player, but they also kill the creativity of a person. Most chess players in local tournaments do not have the creativity to generate new ideas on the board. If they’ve seen the position on the engine, they win it – else they lose the game. 

Imagine a scenario where there are two students in a class. One of them is highly creative. He understands each concept and he is fit enough to crack all those top-level entrance exams that every parent wishes their child would one day clear. There is the second kid who memorises all the answers without any understanding and in the school exams, he scores three marks above the creative student.

This is the exact scenario of chess in the district levels of Tamil Nadu. Players think that playing by the engine would always secure them a victory. Where did all the creativity go? Mikhail Tal’s games would not have been that interesting if he had followed an engine. Bobby Fischer’s World Championship victory over Spassky would have been boring if they had used computers.

This creativity is what makes chess interesting, and when it’s not there, how can we ‘dream’ about creating another World Champion in the future?

A day will come when all chess games would be drawn. All the excitement would be gone. Finally, just the engines would remain. Calculating 20 moves ahead against its friend: another engine. We will be left looking at two friends (engines) playing chess and waiting for the opportunity that will never arise. 

Yours truthfully,

An aspiring chess player wishing for an Indian GM breaking the 2700 barrier and someday doing it himself.

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