Summer of Chess & The Return of Kasparov

The St. Louis rapid and blitz tournament was no doubt the chess event which was the most popular this year. It even caught the attention of those people who think about chess sometimes when they come upon a puzzle in the Sunday column of their local newspaper. Kasparov’s return after 12 years of inactivity was no doubt like an attempt to defy the laws of nature which garnished the attention of almost everyone that knows about the game.

But his performance was less than satisfactory, to say the least and it was only on the last day of the tournament that he actually managed to get his game straight. So what happened? We will need to begin with the basic nature of comebacks like this. The first major comeback took place in 1992 when Bobby Fischer came back to the game to play after 20 years of inactivity! Fischer did manage to confidently win the match (17.5-12.5), the win was truly Pyrrhic, which totally stained his legacy. For that generation, Fischer was considered as a chess God a level that was above his peers but during his days of inactivity that clearly changes.

This comeback by the 54-year-old chess player, who is also regarded by many as the all-time No1 even ahead of Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen, caught the interest of people around the world, it attracted six-figure internet viewers who reportedly watched the live video. The match was no doubt very interesting too, Kasparov showed some of his old skills with deep strategic plans yet for most of the event simply could not or would not handle his clock time sensibly. Kasparov took 22 minutes to his opponent’s four in a 25-minute rapid game and spent two of his five minutes for blitz on a single move. He was mostly down to a few seconds at the end of his games.

The legend had the threat of ending up in lasts place for a while but apparently, on the final blitz day he got into the zone and got through his last eight games unbeaten, performing his Najdorf Sicilian with a magnificent dominant knight dance on the dark squares and made everyone recall his memories of the vintage years.

Experienced chess players who watched the final day were frustrated and tantalized by this match. Only if Kasparov was as practical and sharp on the first three days also like he was at the end, he could have bagged a top position. He could have even gotten third place behind Aronian, who was powerful throughout the series, and Sergey Karjakin, who ruled the blitz.

So, what went wrong? Those who followed the tournament have the absolutely clear answer to this question: apparently Kasparov’s time management was completely off. Perhaps this is why its so important to stay on top of chess openings theory which is hard to do unless you are a professional. He stayed a long way behind his opponents mostly and in the game against GM Liem he even set a sad record when at one point he had less than four minutes vs. 22 minutes of his opponent, which was really shocking. In the end, Kasparov has 16 points in total and gave some really fine plays in this tournament which was likely his last participation in competitive chess for another few years at least.

Kasparov came out of retirement after a period of 12 years to participate in this event. Kasparov has gone as far as to claim that his comeback was mostly to help promote the Grand Chess Tour, and he thought it worked – which we can all say for certain, it did! Thanks Garry!

The Indian village that played chess!

This is not really a beginner’s chess post but I just had to write about this. Chess is such a phenomenal game and due to many believing it originated from India, a major power in South Asia is more than familiar with this game. But imagine can a game like chess save someone’s life? Surprisingly, yes! This is exactly what happened to the residents of Marottichal, a village in Thrissur district of Kerala are the example of this phenomena. Almost everyone in the village, irrespective of age and gender, is a player of chess and alcohol is the last thing which comes in the villagers’ minds

In the latter half of 20th century, the main occupation of the villagers was brewing the liquor. In addition, they were also addicted to drinking the same locally brewed alcohol. Soon this addiction started showing disastrous effects on the people’s lives and they realized that this habit must be stopped to save their community. So they decided to stop brewing liquor by convincing the officials to raid their village and stop this illegal occupation.

But there was another problem they had to face; they had no other hobby than drinking. They had to find a new interesting and harmless hobby to focus their attention. This problem was solved by C. Unnikrishnan, then a 10th-grade student.

He read about Bobby Fischer, who became a grandmaster at a younger age of 16. This inspired Unnikrishnan and he decided to learn chess. He used to attend chess classes in a nearby village. When he became a good chess player, he decided to share this game’s skills with others and convinced the other villagers to learn and play the game as a hobby. He gave free lessons on chess in his home.

The villagers who were dealing with the after-effects of drinking; readily accepted this game and soon, chess grabbed their attention and passion. Now, villagers will be seen either playing chess or thinking about tactics and moves. Almost 600 people have been trained by him in 40 years, many of them have won state and national level chess tournaments.

Chess has become an identity of Marottichal. According to Sreenivasan, president of the local Gram Panchayat – an organization for self-governance in Indian villages, about 90% villagers are chess players. Last year in August, Marottichal has been announced as the only “chess-village” in India. Grandmaster and five times World Chess Champion, Viswanathan Anand congratulated the residents’ efforts for creating such distinction.

Because of increasing enthusiasm of villagers for chess, Unnikrishnan had to shift his chess classes from his home and now he runs a restaurant where everyone interested in chess is welcomed and many people, playing chess can be frequently observed in the restaurant. Unnikrishnan once said in an interview, “Chess is my passion. Once I start playing, I forget everything. It’s kind of an addiction.”

The villagers give all the credit of their community’s success in chess to Unnikrishnan. In 2013, a Malayalam movie “August Club” has been made which shows the love and passion of the villagers for the chess. What an amazing story!