Chess: A Sport That Continues To Captivate The Mind Across Generations

Chess: A Sport That Continues To Captivate The Mind Across Generations

As many of you may already know, Chess (shatranj and buddhibal in Hindi and Marathi respectively) is one of the oldest board games, having its roots in India in the form of Chathuranga

Soumya SwaminathanUpdated: Saturday, October 14, 2023, 12:57 AM IST
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As many of you may already know, Chess (shatranj and buddhibal in Hindi and Marathi respectively) is one of the oldest board games, having its roots in India in the form of Chathuranga. It is also one of the most engaging games — around 600 million people around the world know how to play Chess! In fact, many of us have a core memory that involves chess — bonding with our grandparents over a game during summer vacations, rooting for Ron to win that crucial game of Wizard Chess in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, chuckling at Viswanathan Anand’s wit during his famous rendezvous with Simi Garewal, or, in case of newer chess fans and Gen Z, being in total awe of R. Praggnanandhaa’s meteoric rise at the same time as the Pragyan Rover, and most certainly fighting over the rules of the game with our siblings! I too learnt to play Chess exactly this way, at home, just by chance.

One lazy Sunday afternoon in 1996, aged seven, I found my mom and older brother hunched over a Chess board, and& ‘Queens’. Once the game was over, they started discussing ‘attack’ and ‘defence’, ‘manoeuvring of pieces’, ‘combination patterns’, and ‘Checkmate’. Although we spoke four languages at home, I couldn’t grasp a word of their animated exchange. I recall the bewilderment with which I learnt from my brother that a ‘Knight’ jumps two and a half squares on each turn and that a ‘Pawn’ can advance upto two squares from its beginning square but later moves only one square further each time…and it can even become a ‘Queen’ when it reaches the eight rank! Also, did you know that there is a timer called a ‘Chess Clock’ beside the board and if your time runs out before your opponent’s you lose the game irrespective of the position? Certainly a big lesson on time management for a seven-year-old!

“Why does it work like that?” I protested. “Why do all the pieces have their own way of moving around and who decides that?” My mom? My brother? “No, no, no, we haven’t made this up, these ARE the rules of the game!” they explained. This fascinating yet most confusing experience made me want to explore the magical world of chess and I have been hooked ever since! An ancient yet ever-evolving game, Chess has continued to feed curious minds with more information, and wisdom, than one
expects to carry. As former World Champion Garry Kasparov explains through his famous book on business strategy, life does imitate Chess in several ways, and our learnings through the game can be directly applied in day-to-day life.

Chess helps children and young adults develop patience and concentration abilities, while the decision-making, rational thinking and analytical skills learnt through the game can be beneficial to people across all age groups.
Additionally, the unending permutations and combinations over the board provide an attractive canvas for our artistic pursuits. Through this fortnightly column, I hope to pass on the joy and wisdom of Chess, to you!  Here is what you can expect from the column:

Chess improvement strategies

Game analysis

Learning more about famous players and prodigies

Indian Chess scene

Puzzles to keep you sharp. Trivia to keep you guessing.

An old Indian proverb describes Chess as ‘a sea where a gnat may drink from and an elephant may bathe in’ . I hope you enjoy taking a dip or two in the coming weeks!

(Soumya Swaminathan is an International Master and Woman Grandmaster in Chess. She has been World Junior Champion and Commonwealth Gold Medalist)

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