Chess at my home place

I have been in the US for 4 years and my 22 years of life and 5 years of chess career is in India. The difference in terms of chess is 'steep' to say the least.

I have been inspired to write this article after going through top chess countries on fide's rating site. It is amazing to see number of GM's ratio vs the place India has on the list. India has only 21 GM's but it is still in 5th position(in the last list it was in 3rd) well ahead of the US in 8'th position and 68 GMs! I have been part of the chess fervor that's going in India and I would like to document it.

My native place is Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The place is borne with chess prodigies- Humpy, HariKrishna, Harika, Rohit are all above 2450 rating and below age 15 when they achieved this rating. In Guntur/Vijayawada if there is a state tournament you could see several national champions, world champions playing (well in their age group) in it. Kids are so strong and active. They work with absolute dedication and have dedicated coaches prepping them for national championships.

Mind you these are not your typical scholastic chess players who are happy to make it to top 3 in their 1600 class. Quite often they end up in top 3 in open section and they have to stand up in order to put a queen a pawn. (That's how short they are). By the time you are 13 if you have not won your national championship there is no further career in chess.

Let me tell a bit about me - I started 'professional' chess rather late at the age of 13 and I couldn't win the Under-14 state championship never mind the national. So I was a bit late to the party and I could see young kids aged 8-11 becoming good and gradually overtaking me. Of this breed comes Harika(2450), M.R. Lalith(2400+) and IM, Rohit(2450) and GM elect and many others whom I might not even be aware of.

Let me tell try to list the factors that enabled this chess proliferation in youngsters.

  1. No school, these kids simply bunk the school and are into chess full time. The other sports activities they do are only for 'enabling' chess further.
  2. Strong parents - Harikrishna's grandfather used to travel daily 2 hours taking the 4 years boy on his shoulders in an RTC bus from a small village to Vijayawada, so that he could practice. Almost all these kids have a parent who also dedicated their 'full time' for the upliftment of their child. They would come to the tournaments, talk to people, coaches, sponsors. Some even give recommendations of openings to coaches! Most of all they are the child's moral support.
  3. Dedicated coach - All of these kids have one 'full time' coach working with them. Many rarents are good at picking a strong player and keeping him exclusively for their kid. They would pay him salary and bonuses for winning championships :) Harika is still being trained by Raju who is at may be 2150 level now.
  4. Good organizers - Organizers here are lazy to say the least. They conduct touraments once in a while and that's about it. They don't beg sponsors, they don't do prize ceremonies, they don't get press coverage, don't invite local politicians. These are some of things organizers back home do and they are excellent at this stuff.
  5. Goverment support - Do you know that Humpy and Harikrishna after their world championship victories were granted a one crore worth(now should be more than 5) of land in addition to other prizes? That if you win a national championship you are almost set to get a government job? Though I am not a big fan of state-sponsered support, you can imagine the number of parents that'll be considering chess a possible career just because of this.
  6. Sponsorships - Though cricket is the dominant game of the subconitent they are some times decent sponsors for chess players and mostly chess tournaments. High profiled players typically end up getting a corporate sponsor for their expenses. Also many of the tournaments, don't survive on entry fees but by sponsorships.
  7. Media coverage - Newspapers are still the dominant media for Indian folks and chess gets ample coverage. Can you imagine even as a media stunt - I was shown on the front page of a leading telugu paper? Stuff like that never happens in US. These are just adrenalin catchers.  

In my next post I will talk about my coach and his students.


  • 7 years ago


    Thanks for clearing that up for me Roxus Maximus.

  • 7 years ago


    "IMHO" is short for "In My Humble Opinion."

  • 7 years ago


    Hey Smalugu excuse my ignorance but what is IMHO chess?

  • 7 years ago

    NM smalugu


    Well if you think working in a software company just like millions of other people is what the parents should aim for their kids and play it safe yeah you are right. But champions are born out of struggle and failures, personally I knew more failures in chess than successes but I think its worth it. And if you are decently intelligent and diligent enough you can always switch careers.

    But if you play it safe what chance are giving to kids to excel and what chance do they have to aim big? Chess teachings many things that a stupid education can't teach mental balance, fighting spirit, sportsmanship, analytical and logical thinking etc. IMHO chess teaches lot more things than a typical school in India

  • 7 years ago


    Developing countries like India mainly depend on a decent education that could land up a job. Unfortunately many ambitious parents, in order to realize their failed ambitions through their children, encourage their wards to drop out of school completely and take up chess (this is more prevalent in Andhra Pradesh in recent times). This generally leads to disastrous consequences to the children who cannot make it big and the percentage of such children is more than 95. Not everyone can become a Vishy Anand or a Harikrishna or a Humpy and for people to really do well in life with chess as the main platform in India would require to become a reasonably good grandmaster. Even that would not assure a decent living without a marked struggle. Most of these children, at their adolescent stage, take to some petty jobs such as underpaid coaches to sustain themselves and in the process end up as failures in life. Therefore, it is very important that parents analyze their children properly before taking any steps that could affect their lives.

  • 7 years ago


    That's sad as an overwhelming percentage of those kids will not make it to the top to be able to earn a decent living...

    Coming from Ukraine, I very much agree with Edgy's points. Dedication is strongly and positively correlated with how well-off a family is. Sad but true.

  • 7 years ago


    It's common.

    In many 3rd world countries you have to be exceptional to stand out and earn your living. At the same time in the developed world an average citizen can already have a comfortable life.

    This is the basis for all that dedication and achivement philosophy. Simple and sad.

    I am from Russia, and it's the same there. It's not only in chess. Math, computers, etc. - you name it.

    The disciplines, where 3rd world is traditionally lacking are chemistry, bio-research, and similar, which require significant investments and corporate business stimulus. - You can cut a wooden chess board for every boy in the village, but there is a long way from it to piezoelectric polymers.

  • 7 years ago


    I found this article really interesting. Well done. I also agree with Daiul that chess in the UK is nowhere to be seen. Recently C J de Mooi, the new president of the English Chess Federation, was shown on TV at the World Championship Snooker Tournament. The commentators listed his two loves as Snooker and Tennis. They never mentioned his presidency of the ECF.

    Also the upcoming Chess World Championship has not been mentioned once on TV nor Radio. The chess columns in the newspapers do not make any real impact on the population as a whole but only attract those of us who are already lovers of chess.

    Well done smalugu for this article and I think your country of India puts our country to shame.

  • 7 years ago


    nice article. i am 33 yrs old now. when i was in school in ajmer, rajasthan at age 13 i improved rapidly reaching about 1600-1700 USCF levels. but i had to study and my family did not support me much. l want to become atleast USCF 2000-2200 level master player. do you think it is now too late? now. i look for coach so i can fulfill my life dream of becoming proficient in chess.

  • 7 years ago


    Nice article.

    It shows that greatness flows where energy goes.

    If you want to be best you have to have support, oppurtunity and you have to be the most focused. It seems that India can provide this! Great work!

  • 7 years ago


    Thanks for the interesting look into the popularity of chess in India. A boom is no surprise when considering Vishy Anand's marvelous achievements. Chess was asleep in the USA until Fischer awakened it. I'd bet that Carlsen's fame will spur chess enthusiasm in Norway. Great players breed great interest.

  • 7 years ago


    I can see a problem when kids leave school for spending all their time playing a game, but I completely fail to see what exactly is the problem for a government not sponsoring chess, or if people don't like chess, or if media coverage is low.

    Why should we care ?

  • 7 years ago


    People just don't want to sit and concentrate ,it's true for the majority of my friends .In my area chess is not that popular,my friends don't find it interesting ,they think it is for geeks .They'll rather play cricket and find scoring fours and sixes an amazing pass is a game which is highly publicized game.if chess would have got such an impetus then it would have shared the same league in terms of popularity.    

  • 7 years ago


    Very interesting information. It would seem, then, that government support is more crucial in encouraging the development of chess than is media support, although in Russia, chessplayers enjoy the best of both worlds.

    In my country, there is not only no governmental or media support, there is sadly very little private support as well. Only 3 major cities have only 1 serious chess club to speak of, and most play is organized for league matches rather than tournaments.

    It seems to be a vicious circle in which lack of public interest breeds lack of support, and vice versa.

  • 7 years ago


    Daiul, I think that all the broadsheet papers in England have a chess columnist, once a week if not more often. The Guardian has Daniel King (and Leonard Barden on Saturday), the Times has (I think) Raymond Keene, and the Observer has Jon Speelman.  No doubt the Sunday Times has somebody too. It would make for an expensive paper bill though.

  • 7 years ago


    In India chess has No media coverage and many are still in the belief tht its a slow and bore game.

  • 7 years ago


    Hi, I'm from Guntur too. 

  • 7 years ago

    NM smalugu

    @nek26 Well they don't drop out of school completely. Usually many kids write exams after reading in the last 1-2 months(In India only the final exam matters). I used to do that till my 10th and that didn't turn out to be a bad idea. Most of these kids are intelligent and with very less time would be able to get back to school if required.

  • 7 years ago


    The only issue I see is that these kids drop out of school completely. When these kids and their parents fully dedicate their lives to chess, what happens if the child doesn't make it? I mean if the the kid starts playing seriously around age 8 plays for 5 years to age 13, what happens if (s)he doesn't win the national championship or isn't capable of continuing his chess career. In that case, there would nothing for the child to fall back on besides maybe coaching. For other sports, children are still expected to attend school and are still capable of excelling at their chosen sport. To make the child's life solely about chess seems problematic to me, becuase not every child will be able to succeed.

  • 7 years ago


    More articles like this please.
    The only media coverage (using the term losely) I know of in England are the articles by GM Jon Speelman for The Independent newspaper. Not a clue whether he still writes them or not, what with the paper suffering with sales. I suppose if chess wanted to hit a mainstream audience like it does in India it probablly would have to do it via the route of television, naturally that'll be just after pigs fly.  

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