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!