Chess Could Become India’s Global Sport
Subhagata Bhattacharya
7th January 2017

For a country which once dominated the Olympic hockey circuit, winning eight gold medals from 1928 to 1980, the lack of supremacy in global sports ever since has been a harsh reminder of the fall in India’s sporting culture. The search continues for players and champions who could redefine glory in Indian sports in the past few decades. Cricket in India gained tremendous popularity; but the other games continue to remain in the shadows. The feats of Leander Paes and Viswanathan Anand remained consigned to the background as the Sachin Tendulkar era loomed large. However, with cricket being confined to a few nations, the quest for superstars who would bring laurels in a truly world-wide sport remained an elusive search.

India’s performance in global quadrennial events like the Olympics remained disappointing with victories being few and sparse. The victories of Abhinav Bindra, Vijender Singh, Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu have sparked interest in their respective sports, but not enough to light a revolution.

But Cricket – and Kabaddi – despite the victories, cannot be defined as truly global sports. While the hockey, shooting and archery teams’ performances remain sporadic and inconsistent. Indian tennis has failed to find a worthy successor to the legendary Paes or Bhupathi, though Sania Mirza has achieved a great deal in recent years. Only badminton has started a journey toward global triumphs.

Old contender with new vigour

India has seen a surge in skilled youngsters crowding around chess boards all over the country. The sport is fast emerging one where India could once again reign supreme after the Vishy Anand era. The Madras tiger’s reign might have seen its end ever since the loss to Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, but the skilled youngsters would be looking to take back the throne once again.

After all, Chess has a 1000 year old history of being played in India.

Along with Anand, players like Tania Sachdev, Koneru Humpy, Parimarjan Negi, and P Harikrishna have been instrumental in the game in recent years. Without much governmental support in the initial days, they scripted victories worth remembering. The active players in present time have the ability to compete against just about anyone in the world of chess.

Quite recently Indian GM SS Ganguly held the world champion to a draw during the world rapid and blitz championship.

Anand’s status as a world beater has played a huge role in children taking up the sport in India. The value of the game in developing these young minds is a major reason for a large number of juniors venturing into chess. It not only helps sharpen the memory, but also enables analysis and decision-making at crucial junctures. Chess has also been credited for helping people become more creative and intuitive.

Introduction of age-groups in Chess, bliss for India

Another reason for such growth is the emergence of a number of age-group tournaments, which began in the 1990s. By continuously playing against competitors belonging to the same age group at the district, state and national levels, a chess player could gain valuable experience by the time they reach the senior level.

But the most important factor is the development of a well-formed database and computer-aided analysis techniques. Software’s like Fritz, Hiarcs, Rybka and Stockfish sharpen the skills of the players and enable them to find flaws in their own and opponents’ techniques.

The large number of Grandmasters in India also means that many of them turn to coaching when they are done with their professional career. Hence, youngsters are guided from an early age. Take Grandmaster RB Ramesh’s Chess Gurukul in Chennai – India could now produce the youngest Grandmaster in Chess R Praggnanandhaa, who is training at Ramesh’s academy.

With a growing list of sponsors, Chess in India is receiving all the support it needs and it would not be a surprise to see India lift the gold medal at the coveted Chess Olympiad. India has come close, narrowly missing out on the bronze in 2016 Baku.