As Indian world champion Viswanathan Anand and Norwegian chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen play each other in the World Chess Championship 2013 at Chennai, the passion for the game is at a tipping point in Ernakulam.
Ernakulam is considered the most active and most chess-aware district in the state’s chess circuit. M S Ananthakrishnan, secretary, the Chess Association Ernakulam, says there are various factors that have come together to bring recognition for the game among the people in the district.
“The Chess Association of Ernakulam has been one of the most active chess organisations in the state. A lot of chess events happen in and around Kochi. There are schools that support the game and students who are willing to take it up. Traditionally we have had a huge following for chess in this part of the state,” he adds.
The combined effort has resulted in the number of FIDE-rated players in the district crossing the 100 mark in recent years. It comes as no surprise then that Kerala’s only Grand Master, G N Gopal, is from Aluva, Ernakulam .
The breeding grounds of the future chess stars in the district are the inter-school tournaments held on a regular basis. The five prominent events in the district chess calendar are Varuna, Viswajyothi, MPM, SDPY and Don Bosco inter-school tournaments. Apart from these, two FIDE- rated tournaments are organized by the district associations - the CUSAT International Rating Chess Tournament and RSC International Rating Chess Tournament.
As M B Muralidharan, the state’s first player to cross 2,400 FIDE rating points and the reigning state champion, puts it, the popularity the game has achieved in Kerala is “reflective of the rise of Viswanathan Anand at the world level”.
“Anand’s dominance in the 1990s and then again in the noughties was a major motivation for many to take up chess as a career,” says Muralidharan, who also runs the MBM Chess Academy, Ernakulam’s only dedicated chess training facility. “Anand is for chess what (Sachin) Tendulkar is for cricket,” he says.
“We have over 50 youngsters being coached at the academy. There is great response from students and parents alike,” he says. Muralidharan believes that only strong opposition can bring the best out of the players and ensures his disciples test their mettle in tougher tournaments.
Yohan J, an upcoming player from the district, says Ernakulam is the place to be for budding chess players in Kerala. “There are enough and more chess tournaments that take place in the city. And the support for players here is good”. An undergraduate sophomore, Yohan is now looking to improve his ratings by taking part in three upcoming grand master tournaments, starting this month.
Though the appetite for the game is on the rise, with the lack of top quality tournaments and the attitude of some sports authorities who do not consider chess as a ‘proper’ sport, the hurdles in front of a chess player in Kerala are formidable. One could always learn from the Tamil Nadu government which provides its chess players with adequate facilities and support. Not for anyother reaosn chess players from our sister state have proved to be world conquerers.