CHENNAI: With the lockdown in Tamil Nadu being extended further to curb the number of COVID- 19 cases, there is no relief coming forth for the sporting fraternity. Stadiums are sealed, training has come to a halt, and athletes and coaches are in a battle for survival. Amid these distressing times, there is perhaps just one sport that has not been affected severely by the pandemic, it seems — chess. While players are unable to play over the board at the moment, the fact that the game lends itself to online competitions and virtual training has offered respite to them over the last 15 months.
Besides players who have been taking part in online competitions, coaches too have made a seamless transition to online training. Take Grandmaster Vishnu Prasanna, for instance. In February 2020, he took the call to open a chess academy and started scouting for a space in Chennai. A month later, a nationwide lockdown came into force due to COVID-19 and put Vishnu’s plans on hold. Eventually, the coach decided, in August 2020, to open an online chess academy. “We have around 40 students in the academy right now. We haven’t done much marketing, but quite a few beginners have got into it since last year,” he says. In stark contrast to other sports where there are clear limitations to online training, chess is not hindered by those disadvantages.
Grandmaster RB Ramesh, who runs Chess Gurukul in Chennai, has great expertise in honing the skills of young chess players and feels that he doesn’t lose out in any aspect while coaching students online. “There is no difference with online coaching. It doesn’t affect the way we teach. I have been teaching online even before the pandemic. I am used to this kind of training. To some extent, you won’t get the same experience as when you teach in person, but it doesn’t take away too much,” he says. But taking the virtual route wasn’t easy for everyone, especially for someone like AL Kasi, who has been running the T Nagar Chess Academy in Chennai for more than two decades.
When COVID-19 first began making its presence felt in India, he was apprehensive about the future of his academy since he wasn’t convinced about virtual t r a ining . Tho s e doubts were quickly dispelled though. “I wasn’t convinced about online coaching to begin with, but I now feel it is even better than in-person training. We began online classes for our students in April last year, once we realised that COVID-19 was here to stay for some time. I have been able to monitor every student and the improvements they are making far more than earlier,” says the 52-year-old.
The introduction of online classes has also allowed him to cater to students from different cities rather than be confined to geographical boundaries. “My students used to be those who lived in a 1-kilometre radius around the academy. Now, I can train students from other cities as well as people from abroad. Even people in the US are beginning to show interest in my academy,” he says. While we continue to be the pawns in the hands of the pandemic, chess players seem to know how to manoeuvre the obstacles, indeed.