KOCHI: Everyday, at sundown, Changampuzha Park witnesses a flurry of people pouring in not so much to watch the various cultural shows on schedule but to indulge in a game or two of chess. In no time, you see multiple groups huddled around every bench cheering on participants, insinuating moves and generally eyeing strategies they could deploy on their turn. What started as a leisurely activity among retirees over a decade ago has turned into one of the most important hubs of the game in the city.
The Changampuzha Chess Club was registered formally under the Chess Association of Ernakulam eight years ago. The club, which recently started free coaching every Sunday for children below 14, has been organising state-level tournaments for the past few years at the Edapally Government Higher Secondary School, the last one was held in December.
“For the last tournament, we managed to collect total prize money of `1 lakh. This was the biggest in the state. There are other chess clubs in the city at Aluva and Maradu but none of them is as popular as Changanpuzha,” says Sanoop P B, the secretary.
“Around 50 to 60 people turn up everyday. The park is filled with chess players from 5 pm and matches go on till 9.30 pm. It got so crowded that we had to introduce a timer system so that everyone gets a chance at a game. Thirteen years back, the park would only be frequented by amateur players or enthusiasts living closeby but now players come from all over, including state and national level players. Rated players from other districts also drop by when they are in the city. Twinkle Riju, the under-19 Kerala state champion is a regular,” says Ahmad Abid, a member of the club for the last five years.
The club has around 100 registered members but anyone is welcome to come and play. “It doesn't matter if one is an amateur or a professional, they will find a partner to play with depending on their competence. The club doesn't charge any membership fee, we only seek contributions once a while to replace worn out chess boards,” says Kabir, president of the club.
Joy Antony, a coach and the 1997 Kerala state chess team captain travels from Tripunithura at least thrice a week to play with other professionals. “I come here to keep up with the game, it is good practice. I bring along my daughter who is a sub-junior level under 15 state runner-up. She finds the atmosphere very invigorating and learns different manoeuvres just by watching others play,” says Joy.