The metropolis of 17 Grandmasters | Looking again at Chennai’s tryst with chess


In the run-up to the forty fourth Chess Olympiad, the kings and queens from this Mecca of chess converse on how the sport has developed within the metropolis because the Nineteen Sixties

In the run-up to the forty fourth Chess Olympiad, the kings and queens from this Mecca of chess converse on how the sport has developed within the metropolis because the Nineteen Sixties

Chennai has a protracted and colourful historical past with chess, from temples of Shiva just a few hundred kilometers away celebrating its earliest iteration, referred to as sathurangam (at Thirupoovanur in Tiruvarur district), to it internet hosting the most recent International Chess Olympiad at Mammallapuram, the primary of its variety to be held in India.

So, it’s not stunning that, in response to FIDE (the International Chess Federation, or Fédération Internationale des checs) as of 2022, of the 76 Grandmasters (GM) in India, 17 are from Chennai alone and of the 5 Indian gamers within the prime 55 on this planet, two are from Chennai. The query stays although, on whose shoulders are these modern Chennai chess gamers standing?

Manuel Aaron in recent years

Manuel Aaron in recent times | Photo Credit: KARUNAKARAN M

Many take into account fashionable worldwide chess to have been popularized within the nation within the Nineteen Sixties and take into account Manuel Aaron, 86, India’s first International Master (IM), to have spearheaded the motion. He humbly rejects this notion: “When I came here (Aaron had moved from colonial Burma) international chess was already there in Madras. Since 1938, The Hindu has been publishing chess news, I have [newspaper] cuttings with me. I didn’t popularize it, I was a part of the system,” he laughs.

“There were no chess clubs at all in the 1960s,” says Aaron, trying again to how the sport was performed in Madras. “There were hardly any official places where people got together for chess. Some people’s homes were turned into impromptu chess clubs, like the Ramani Press in Mylapore [South Mada Street], It was the result of a family of chess players. ‘I’m going to Ramani Press,’ that’s what everyone would say. There was also a place in Egmore: Mayor Radhakrishnan [Hockey] Stadium. People used to play chess on the lawns, bringing their own sets. Another place was Victoria Public Hall, next to the Moore Market.”

Members of the Indian chess team en route to XIV Chess Olympiad, at Leipzig, East Germany on October 16, 1960. (Left to right) Mulk Raj Wahi (Delhi), Manuel Aaron (National Champion and Captain of the team), KN Sathe (Manager), Ramchandra Sapre (Bombay) and Ramesh Seth (Bombay).

Members of the Indian chess crew en path to XIV Chess Olympiad, at Leipzig, East Germany on October 16, 1960. (Left to proper) Mulk Raj Wahi (Delhi), Manuel Aaron (National Champion and Captain of the crew), KN Sathe (Manager), Ramchandra Sapre (Bombay) and Ramesh Seth (Bombay). , Photo Credit: STAFF

Word-of-mouth and newspapers have been how chess fans be taught the sport again then, remembers Aaron. “I used to be by no means taught… I simply watched my mother and father play and bought the dangle of it. It should have been the identical for a lot of different individuals too.”

While The Mail and The Hindu published chess pieces every week, The Hindu also hosted one of its oldest modern chess tournaments. “It all started with The HinduAaron says. “In 1940, before anybody else was hosting open tournaments, The Kasturi Cup came into being. This was hosted by Kasturi Srinivasan, he was a chess lover.”

Growing up in this environment, Aaron found that an organized approach to building a chess community would prove invaluable to those interested. Which led to him accepting the then-Soviet Consul’s offer of starting a chess club at the Soviet Cultural Centre.

Manuel Aaron

Manuel Aaron | Photo Credit: Special association

Tal Chess Club, named after the eighth World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal, was based by Aaron and different Madras chess fans in what’s as we speak the Russian Center of Science and Culture. The membership itself was supported by the Soviets, by offering chess clocks, wood boards and books made in Russia, and charged a nominal ₹6 annual price for upkeep. This membership was a number to many who maintain ‘India’s first’ titles in chess.

Venkatachalam Kameswaran, India’s first International Arbiter (IA), was one of many membership’s preliminary members. “At that point there have been golf equipment like YMCA Royapettah, with chess enjoying centres. Manuel Aaron, others and myself began a membership within the Soviet Cultural Centre. This was the place [Vishwanathan] Anand used to return very often along with his mom, Sushila Viswanathan,” he says.

How Aaron set the board for Indian chess

Despite him telling him he hadn’t popularized the sport, Aaron’s contributions to chess in Tamil Nadu and India are notable. He was a former two-time honorary secretary of the All India Chess Federation, the final secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Chess Association, India’s solely IM for 17 years, 9 time nationwide chess champion, and the consecutive champion from 1969 to 1975, India’s first chess Arjuna awardee, within the Karpov-Kasparov, 1986 Match, he was an appeals committee member. He was a member of the FIDE Central Committee, a facilitator to aspiring chess youth together with Vishwanathan Anand and the president of Tal Chess Club.

He can be a prolific writer of chess literature, having edited Chess Matea month-to-month chess journal based by him in 1983 and contributed to the AICF Chronicle, He has authored six books on chess, together with Tamil Chess and Indian Chess History: 570 AD – 2010 AD (co-authored with chess historian Vijay D Pandit)

Kameswaran believes the teaching camps, which they held three to 4 occasions every week, helped Anand and different youth within the membership enhance.

Meenakshi Subbaraman and her sister Vijaylakshmi have been additionally amongst those who attended the membership. Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman was India’s first Women’s Grandmaster (WGM) and feminine IM. Meenakshi holds the title of WGM as nicely and was one of many prime ranked gamers alongside together with her sister. “There have been hardly 10 of us once we began out. There have been women who could not break the district barrier and there have been extra who could not break the state barrier. There have been solely 10 who may go to the National degree. Maharashtra girls have at all times been robust within the girls’s chess scene and to interrupt that barrier was very troublesome. The first to do this was Saritha M Reddy after which my sister.”

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, 23-2-2013: India's first WGM Subbaraman Vijayalakshmi is all engrossed during the National women's team chess championship in Hyderabad on February 23, 2013.

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, 23-2-2013: India’s first WGM Subbaraman Vijayalakshmi is all engrossed in the course of the National girls’s crew chess championship in Hyderabad on February 23, 2013. | Photo Credit: SUBRAHMANYAM VV

She attributes most of hers, in addition to her sister’s, accomplishments to her father. “It was all my father’s work” she provides. “We have been from a humble background, so we did not have any backup. It’s not a straightforward factor to dream so large. Even now it is troublesome, take into consideration how it could have been 20-30 years again. He wished to interrupt the mould.”

In dialog with Bobby Fischer

Manuel Aaron has been the one Indian participant to have formally performed with Bobby Fischer, who has many credit score as being a serious affect in popularizing the sport. After his recreation Aaron remembers that Fischer used to “visit his hotel room, talk with me and chat about India”. Despite this temporary interplay, Aaron considers him a buddy “In 1990, he called me out of the blue and said ‘Can you arrange a match for me with [Vishwanathan] Anand?’. I said I’d try but he had some conditions, he said he’d be defending his world title against Anand and if it wasn’t accepted the match was off [Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975 against Karpov], But this was after so many years after Kasparov and many other people were part of the international game scene. He’s not been world chess champion for some time. This plan didn’t work out.”

Another parent-child relationship introduced nearer by the Tal Chess Club was Ebenzer Joseph and his father, Cecil Joseph. “When the club had no interest in paying the high rent Ebenzer stepped in.” Aaron provides. “He started running the Emmanuel Chess Center at the Russian Cultural Centre. His father Cecil Joseph was the last president of the club”

“I was the youngest participant to join the Tal Chess Club in the year it was initiated in, 1972. When I was five and a half” says Ebenzer, India’s first FIDE coach. “It was an excellent time, within the ’70s and ’80s. This was till the Soviet Union break up; and Tal Chess Club needed to shut down. Ebenezer was keen to pay the hire, which continues to today. And that is how the membership features to today in the identical premises. At the time [1995], I pleaded with them. I stated I’d pay on par with the American International School [the new tenants] for simply two hours every week. I nonetheless try this to today.”

Vishwanathan Anand being felicitated in his teenage years

Vishwanathan Anand being felicitated in his teenage years | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives



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