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Friday, January 1, 2021

game of Chess in spotlight !

For a month or so till 10th of November 2020, it was exciting to watch IPL matches – and now we look forward to Indians downunder .. .. various cricketers in the last few weeks have spoken about how difficult it is to stay in Bio-Bubble for long durations. Now Indian cricket team players have also joined the list. Indian cricket team is currently staying in a bio-bubble in Australia where neither they are allowed to mingle around, move outside or dine together. Most of the members of the Indian cricket team were earlier in IPL 2020’s Bio-Bubble for 3 months and from Dubai were directly transported to Bio-Bubble in Sydney.  .. .. the standard Q is not there other Sports – why attach so much of importance to Cricket.]

Something on Chess !  .. .. do you know the first Chess player to receive National honours was -  Anupama Gokhale (born Anupama Abhyankar. She won the Indian Women's Championship five times (1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, and 1997) and the Asian Women's Championship twice (1985 and 1987).  Gokhale was the recipient of the Padma Shri Award in 1986  and the Arjuna Award in 1990. She is the youngest Padma Shri awardee, being only 16 years old when she received it. She is married to Dronacharya Award winner Raghunandan Gokhale, a chess player himself.   

A few months ago, G Akash was confirmed as a Grandmaster by FIDE, the world chess governing body. That the feat didn't cause much of a ripple even in a time starved of sports-news was down partly to chess's niche status, but also because of this: an Indian becoming Grandmaster, while still as prestigious and commendable, was no longer extraordinary or unusual. In Akash, India now had its 66th GM.  It took two decades for India's Grandmaster count to go from 1 (when Viswanathan Anand became the country's first GM, in 1988) to 20. By contrast, there have been 21 new GMs in the last three years, eight of them between ages 10 and 19.  Amongst Indian chess players there are 66 Grandmasters, 125 International Masters, 20 Woman Grandmasters, and 42 Woman International Masters, and a total of 33,028 rated players, as of September 2020 according to FIDE, the International Chess Federation.

Away, in Western World, Chess is finally having a moment in the spotlight thanks to Netflix's hit drama The Queen's Gambit, which sees the fictional prodigy Beth prove players can be sexy and fashionable. But stylish contestants aren't only found on the small screen, with a real-life Woman Grandmaster revealing how she likes to bring a touch of glamour to her matches by wearing trendy dresses and headpieces as well as standout lipstick. By the age of 18, Dorsa Derakhshani, now 22, was a Woman Grandmaster and International Grandmaster, and it the highest-ranking female chess player in Iranian history.

Having taken up chess at the age of two she recently placed third in a national competition in the US, and has also been an International Chess Federation (FIDE) trainer since 2016. She is currently studying a degree in biology at Saint Louis University, Missouri, on a chess scholarship.  However, despite her love for the game, the Iranian student admits the world of chess is even more sexist than the programme suggested - with 'lots of predators' and players treating women as 'inferior', Dorsa told The Daily Telegraph.  In spite of her success, Dora’s been told ‘you can be pretty or you can play chess’, and one of her European coaches even said wearing lipstick would put her at a disadvantage during her game.  Male contestants constantly question her chess scholarship and many get annoyed when she wins.

She confessed: ‘It gets boring that they’re surprised I can beat them, as if I were still a 10-year-old girl. It doesn’t matter how much you prove you’re good as a woman, when you have a bad game they still say, “see, we knew it was going to happen”.  In The Queen's Gambit, which is set in the 1950s and 1960s, viewers witness similar sexism happening to teenage Beth as she visits her first tournament and the male players around her are in disbelief as she storms through her opponents. Beth is also constantly left baffled by the media's decision to highlight her gender rather than her chess-playing prowess. One particular scene sees Beth interviewed by a reporter for Life magazine, and she is asked what it feels like 'to be a girl…among all of those men,'  - before replying that she 'doesn't mind'. But eventually Beth finds respect, knowledge and camaraderie with the men around her.  She is helped by former opponents such as Harry Beltik (played by Harry Melling) and Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) when against Russian players. And even when competing in the country, which is America's fiercest competitor, she is respected by the other players, such as Grandmaster Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński).

In Netflix Chess drama  -  The Queen's Gambit  - Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy and orphan from Kentucky whose genius is never in doubt, but whose drug and drink addictions mean disaster is constantly stalking her — both on and off the board.  As well as serious themes, the seven-part series offers the escapism of glamorous locations – with tournaments in Las Vegas, Mexico City and Paris – and the delights of the period fashions of the 1950s and 1960s that play such a key role in the storytelling. Based on a 1983 book The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis, the show tells how Beth is brought to live at the Methuen Home for Girls after her mother, a maths professor, kills herself.  At the orphanage, the children are given tranquilliser pills, and Beth, aged eight, becomes hooked on the drug.  She also starts to play chess, taught by the janitor Mr Shaibel — working out how the pieces move herself and visualising strategies on the ceiling while others sleep. At 13, she is adopted by Alma and Allston Wheatley and starts to play in male-dominated tournaments across America, and later the world.

Dorsa Derakhshani is an Iranian chess player representing the United States since September 2017. She was awarded the titles Woman Grandmaster and International Master in 2016.   She played for the Iranian team in the women's division of the Asian Nations Cup in 2012.  The accredited FIDE journalist was a speaker at TedxTalk in Munich, Germany in July 2019.  In Feb 2017,  the Iranian Chess Federation banned Derakhshani from playing for the Iran national team or playing in any tournaments in Iran for "harming national interests", after she played in the 2017 Gibraltar Chess Festival (when she was already a temporary resident of Spain) without wearing a hijab. Her 15-year-old brother Borna, who is a FIDE Master, was also banned for playing Israeli grandmaster Alexander Huzman in the first round of the same tournament.  Following the ban, Derakhshani accepted a place at Saint Louis University to study Biology on a pre-med track, winning a scholarship to play on the Saint Louis University Chess Team.

Interesting ! 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


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