Express News Service
VIRUDHUNAGAR: Chess makes men wiser and clear-sighted,” said Vladimir Putin. NPSS Rathina Nadar probably knew that when he founded the Sivakasi Chess Club way back in 1974. This little club in Southern Tamil Nadu has spawned many champions, who have won accolades year after year. Those behind the success of this club are some masters, who, despite the international recognition that they garnered over the years, continue to focus on the club and its achievements.
One of them is septuagenarian Anantharam, the current secretary of the club. Over the years, Anantharam held several senior-level positions — he is an international referee who has donned the role of the chief referee for six world championships, a feat no other Indian has achieved; he is also the vice president of the Tamil Nadu Chess Association. None of those hectic duties took Anantharam completely away from the Sivakasi Club.
In fact, when the Asian Junior Championship was conducted in 1979 — the first official international chess tournament to be conducted in India by the World Chess Federation — he was the secretary of the club. “Wong Meng Kong, who later became the grandmaster, won in that tournament,” recalls Anantharam, speaking with Express.
“I also remember Viswanathan Anand in his teens, when he played in one of our tournaments in the 1980s. Most of the tournaments were conducted in the district and many of our children were able to participate in them.” Chess, Anantharam says, is not only a game but also a tool for upliftment. And the Sivakasi Club has played its role in empowering the local youngsters very well. “There are many children who were chess players and later went on to get into good colleges and government jobs through sports quota,” says a member of the club.
Maheswaran (35), a chess trainer at the club and employee at the postal department, says, “I got the job through sports quota. I started learning chess at the club when I was 12 years old and I still continue to do so.” Maheswaran, one of the leading coaches in the district, was also a State Junior Champion and is a FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) master. “Chess not only helps in overall brain development but also develops life skills in us. The children learn strategies and tactics, which they apply in real-life situations,” he says.
Maheswaran is also a blindfold chess player, which means he will also have to remember to position of each of his piece on the chessboard throughout the game. Maheswaran and a few other professional coaches provide both free and paid training to aspirants. Poor kids are specially encouraged to pick up the game. The members of the club provide financial assistance for players struggling to enter tournaments, and even for their education.
“The ideal age for kids to pick up the game is seven,” says SR Rajan, a trainer at the club. “While many parents are enthusiastic and bring in their children when they are as early as five, they can only learn basic moves and not the strategies. We train them in basics and we have children who participate in tournaments when they are as young as seven-years-old.” Rajan was the first player from Virudhunagar district to represent the State in the National Challengers.
Rajan says physical fitness is as vital as mental fitness for becoming a chess player. With psychological fitness being one of the important topics discussed after the pandemic, chess cannot be ruled out in helping us navigate through difficult times, he added, as chess is a war in which our moves ensure that we survive. “One does not lose balance but remains sharp even during a crisis”, said Maheswaran. That said, disabilities hardly stand in the way of the trainers or aspirants.
A case in point is the success of visually impaired K Marimuthu, a partially blind player, who joined the club six years back. Today, the 19-year-old is the fifth-best player in the State among visually-impaired, and is a State champion in that category for the last four years. He is set to represent India in the upcoming Para Olympiad to be held in November.
The quaint little town of Virudhunagar, under which this club falls, has produced 192 rated chess players for the country since the 1970s. The district has 19 State-level champions to its credit. In all of these achievements, the Sivakasi Chess Club had an integral role to play. But beyond that, the club has played a far greater role— in the life of several rural poor children, who aspire to make it big in future.