India’s Chess Revolution – The Dark Horse of Indian Sports

Chess is a strategy board game played on a checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 square grid. The Indian game chaturanga seems to be responsible for the origin of the now world-famous game of chess, dating back to the 7th century.

Chess has risen in popularity in the last few decades due to India’s Chess Revolution. India’s chess revolution has been triggered by chess Grandmaster and former 5-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand. becoming the country’s first Grandmaster when, not yet 18, the impact of the supremely gifted teenager from Chennai was such that his exploits inspired a generation of prodigies to dream and achieve big. FIDE, the World Chess Federation, lists 65 Indian Grand Masters as of May 2020.

Fondly called Vishy, he bagged the title of Youngest National Champion at the age of 16. He also earned the popular, ‘India’s first Grandmaster’ title at 18 by winning Shakti Finance International chess tournament held at Coimbatore, India. The only player to have won the world chess championships in many formats including Knockout, Tournament, Match, Rapid, and Blitz, Anand has been described as the most versatile world champion. Was there ever any doubt, though?

While chess didn’t necessarily become a popular sport, it did grow in stature as a mass playing attraction. Admittedly, a majority of those inspired by Anand’s early success came from Tamil Nadu, and soon, the net spread to other pockets of the country. 

India’s standing in the world of chess rose exponentially in the 1990s and peaked when Anand was crowned the FIDE World Champion for the first time in 2000. 

Even as the numbers playing the game continued to grow, the financial rewards weren’t always commensurate with the tools required for preparation and continued progress.

The governing body in the country garnered a lot of scrutiny for factionalism within the body, and while that did not necessarily mean that the players played below levels expected to represent the country, it definitely resulted in chess not enjoying the patronage of officialdom.

With all things said and done, India’s extraordinary rout of winning gold medals at the recently concluded Virtual Chess Olympiad gives much-needed impetus to the sport in the country. A collaborative effort resulted in the team pulling off this feat, showcasing the rich reserve of talent in the country that has and can possibly reach greater heights under the tutelage of Vishwanathan Anand.

It is difficult to say who will take the reign once Vishy gets off the throne. Question marks will remain regarding the future of Indian Chess and if anyone could emulate the feats Vishy achieved during his days.

There are recent attempts to make chess popular amongst the youth by YouTubers like Samay Raina, Tanmay Bhat among many others but it is yet to be seen how much people accept the sport now. 

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