For the next few days, newspapers will publish large pictures of Viswanathan Anand and laudatory articles about him. Perhaps they will write about how Anand makes perfect idlis and Aruna dances Bharatanatyam beautifully.? But mostly, they will write about Sicilian Najdorf and Nimzo Indian, and everyone’s eyes will glaze over and they will switch to reading about Deepika Padukone. But everyone will feel inordinately proud, for Anand has just won the World Chess Championship in Bonn and defended his title.? Some people might remember vaguely that they have an old chess board gathering dust somewhere and resolve to locate it and start playing chess again.? They will never do it, of course.
Meanwhile, everyone will ignore the fact that Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli are doing quite well in the European Club Cup championships.? Who cares about European clubs, unless it’s football?
After a few days, the newspapers will turn to Ganguly’s retirement and Gambhir’s elbowing of Watson and everyone will forget about chess and Anand again.? Until the next World Chess Championship, whenever that is.
Why isn’t chess more popular in India?? I agree that chess is more popular in India than in many other countries, like say, the US.? But then, chess originated in India. In the US, chess is unpopular because it is considered a nerd’s game. Yet, there are probably more chess clubs in the US than there are in India.
But we Indians revel in being nerds.? We talk in lingos and jargon – techie jargon, stock market jargon, medical jargon, whatever our chosen field, we pick up the jargon first.
If we are not discussing our jobs, we are still finding other ways to show our nerdiness.? If we are discussing immigration, we will know all about arcane immigration rules.? We will have detailed discussions on form I-485 and I-140 and everyone will know what they are talking about.? If we are discussing politics, we will use terms like GOTV, IBD/TIPP and LV, discuss the latest Rasmussen poll result and its methodology, and what it portends for each candidate.
Take our sports.? We don’t love sports which have too much activity. Take Test cricket, for instance.? It is a game that I am certain is supposed to be played by senior citizens.? That is why they have those long lunch breaks where one can comfortably have an afternoon siesta, and those tea breaks when they can catch a short nap, and there are all manner of breaks in between.? Like the drinks break – you would think the players and umpires would be able to swig from a Gatorade bottle when they are standing idly in the sidelines, or waiting for the over change, or a new batsman to come in, or any such occasion.? But no, they have to set aside special drinks breaks when the players can walk around with their drinks and socialize.
Long story short, senior citizens’ game. But we increase the nerd quotient even for such a game by counting each run and catch and making the game a statistician’s delight.? The average nerd on the street can tell you how many runs Tendulkar has scored, who in the world is the next highest run scorer, or how many wickets Kapil Dev has taken.
We created other nerdy games like Scrabulous (or Lexulous), and millions of us play it every day.? Some of us (yes, that’s me) support even more nerdy causes like the Spelling Bee.
Even our grandmothers play quasi-nerdy games like “Antakshari” which involve having a memory bank of songs in the hundreds (thousands?).
We also love any activity that involves sitting motionlessly and staring at something – which is why many of us are software engineers and finance professionals, and we spend our free time surfing on our computers and watching television.
When I think about all this, I am puzzled as to why we don’t like chess more.? Sure, a lot more Indians play chess than other nationals, and perhaps a lot more Indians play chess than before.
Forget playing – a lot of us don’t actively play cricket either.? But we treat it as a spectator sport.? Why don’t we do the same with chess?
During this World Championship, there were many sites that offered free commentary/ analysis of each move by GrandMasters (Chessdom, Susan Polgar’s blog), showed each player’s move on a chessboard, or predicted what the computer “engines” like Rybka or Fritz were predicting for the next move (ChessOK).
Each game day morning, I would obsessively refresh all these sites every few minutes to see what was happening. It was great fun to replay those games move by move and see what the world champions were playing.
I am not much of a chess player.? I have never played chess in any tournament.? The high point of my chess career occurred at age 10 when I successfully drew a game with my cousin (who was several years older than me).? Of course, I lost the next game rather quickly, but we shall pass over that, shall we?
I have also never played cricket, and yet I religiously watch most cricket matches.
I was surprised at how few people were discussing the game online.? I didn’t read any blog posts or get any tweets about the game.? You would think chess is a game we would all gravitate to naturally, and happily discuss chess with all its jargon – about Ruy Lopez and Queen’s Gambit Declined and why Kramnik should never have tried the Nimzo Indian opening given his disastrous results with Kasparov.? Think of all the opportunities we are missing out.
You might say that it’s not the lack of jargon, but rather because chess is too boring.? Unlike cricket, where people elbow each other and leap like frogs and call each other monkeys, chess is just played by two quiet people in suits.
That is of course, completely ridiculous, as anyone who followed the Kramnik-Topalov bathroom saga a.k.a. World Championship will tell you.? Cricket can never reach the lofty levels that chess has already attained.? What this post really needs is a picture of Kramnik sitting in protest outside his bathroom during the World Championship with Topalov, and forfeiting the game because the bathroom was not unlocked.? I am relieved Russia and Bulgaria did not go to war over Kramnik’s bathroom, but I suspect they considered the idea.
So entertainment value is surely not the issue. Why then, do so few Indians follow chess?? Why is chess not even half as much a nerd-religion as cricket is?
Is it that somehow, chess does not have enough aggregates and percentages and “expert” commentators? Could it be that somehow, we think chess Is not nerdy enough for us?? 😉