Shatranj ke khiladi

My ‘professional’ chess career got off to a start in late 1994 in a state level age group tournament. I became a regular on the ‘circuit’ and by mid-95, won my first packet of money from chess. It was a princely sum of Rs. 80.

Chess requires a really huge amount of mental concentration. You’ll have to simply forget everything else in the world and concentrate on the game at hand. This extreme concentration can be a little taxing at times. It can put immense pressure on you. Even a small deviation can result in nothing less than a loss.

It was towards the end of 96 that i formally retired from the ‘circuit’. yeah, i had attended a couple of rounds of formal chess coaching by then. my parents probably saw another anand in me and had invested a considerable amount already. and then i decided to throw it all away. to show my face only at a couple of inter-school events after this.

The amount of concentration can lead to a huge amount of stress. You start putting too much pressure on yourself. You start losing games from obviously winning positions. You cannot even think or dream of anything else when a tournament is on. You spend loads of time reading books. And at times you develop a really high fever at the end of a tournament and have to take a few days off from life.

IIT sparked off a new beginning to my chess career. On the very first day, I met Ranga who also said he plays chess as a hobby. The rest of the ‘orientation’ was spent playing “blindfold chess”. (there is no chessboard; we both imagine a board in our heads and communicate moves using the standardized international notation) The first game i played with Ranga as we toured the Central Workshops is one of the best ever I played. with hundreds of twists and turns until we agreed to a draw with a bishop and pawn apiece.

Sometimes, when you play a game competitively you lose the love for it. You stop enjoying the process. You start focusing too much on results. You think you have a reputation to protect everytime you play it. You unduly put pressure on yourself. In effect, it stops being “fun” and becomes a chore.

So many classes of Basic Electrical Engineering and other courses were spent in the backbenches playing blindfold chess with Ranga. Used to be great fun. Sometimes we used to carry the games back to the hostel and continue to play it on a board. Glorious days. And then there were these inter-hostel events and some “open” tournament. As I had expected, I didn’t do too well in them.

Once you’ve stopped loving something or someone, its really tough to restart. On a few occasions, with great effort you can convince yourself to give it that one more chance. However one or two jhatkas can be enough to dash all your hopes. You would need an extraordinarily long streak of good luck to have even a remote hope of restarting on your lost love.

Today I went for selection trials for the IIMB Chess team for the upcoming IIMB-IIMK sports meet. I seem to have totally lost my power of concentration. I have this tendency of rushing things and try to get over with the game quickly. And my mind keeps wandering towards other things. Needless to say, I lost both games I played today. Made really obvious mistakes. Felt like kicking myself. And for the record, I’ve been picked as a reserve player.

When I started playing contract bridge four years ago, i made a conscious effort to keep away from competition. I wanted this to be a hobby and not a profession. I didn’t want to kill my love for the game by way of excess competition. I just wanted to be able to enjoy the game whenever I wanted to play it. So far, I’ve largely stayed away from tournaments except for a few at the Tamil Nadu State Level which I took purely as a learning experience. And I still love the game.

Is there a lesson in this?

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