CHENNAI: My first brush with chess was as a four-year-old, and I was introduced to the game by my father, who was deeply passionate about it. At that age, I was simply excited by the fact that it was a game of animals,” recalled Professor Tanmoy Chakraborty, experimental physicist and chess player. “My father was employed with the railways and also had a bit of a reputation as a chess player, having won several trophies in local chess tournaments, so by the age of five or six, I was playing chess with him and some of his friends who would visit us,” he added.
Growing up with chess
Sharing his tryst with chess over an Instagram live session The Krea Prelude II moderated by Vishesh Agarwal, SIAS cohort at Krea University, the professor narrated how he had become familiar with the rules of the game by age six, and how his father refused to show him any mercy while playing. “He wouldn’t soft-pedal me just because I was a kid, because he knew one can master this game only through the hard way, through repeated defeats,” he added. It wasn’t until he was 15 years old that professor Tanmoy equalled his father’s prowess.
Throughout his life as a student at IIT Bombay, and later post-doctoral research at TIFR, chess has remained a constant that he finds it hard not to see parallels betwe e n t h e game, his life and his career as an experimental physicist. “As a researcher, one keeps stumbling onto the wrong path and it is through repeated failures that one finally achieves success. It is the same with chess and the same with life — the path is strewn with more defeats than success,” he added.
While the game of chess involves strong logical reasoning (is it mere coincidence that famous physicists like Einstein and Feynman were fond of chess?), there are also life lessons to be taken from it, the professor explained. “Multitasking is one — a seasoned chess player can foresee six to seven moves at a stretch, while a grandmaster like Anand can foresee at least 25 such moves. The other is strategic thinking, where one has to consider the number of possibilities over a single move,” he said. And yet, the game can also be read philosophically.
There are no easy routes to success in chess, he explains; one has to be aware of one’s shortcomings and work on them if one is to move forward and improve one’s prowess, and it’s the same with life. A small error of judgement could make the difference between victory and defeat, Professor Tanmoy said, adding, “Like those moments in a game when I wished I had that one pawn, there are setbacks in life where one ends up regretting not having done such and such a thing.” For someone whose profile on the chess. com website shows a ninety percent accuracy, this is certainly interesting life advice.