Bangalore chess club - Chess in Bangalore
In this article, we will dive into the life of Tarun Mittal, the current lead at the Bangalore Chess Club and a perfect example of how perseverance, hard work, and a little bit of luck can take you places. Tarun was not afraid to ask or take chances, and that has helped the Bangalore Chess Club become one of the most successful chess clubs in India. Chess.com sponsors their prizes, and many reputed chess players came to his club. Want to know how it all panned out? Read the full article to find out all about this beautiful venture.
I recently came across this life-changing quote: "If you do not ask, the answer is always no!" So many times, in life, we are afraid to ask someone or the universe for something, thinking that the chances of us not getting it are higher. If you ask for it, you might get a no, but if you do not ask, the chances of not getting it, are 100%. So, how about taking a chance and asking? Who knows? The universe might surprise you in the best way possible. This article is about a person who just proves the above point.
In this article, we will dive into the life of Tarun Mittal, the current lead at the Bangalore Chess Club and a perfect example of how perseverance, hard work, and a little bit of luck can take you places. Tarun was not afraid to ask or take chances, and that has helped the Bangalore Chess Club become one of the most successful chess clubs in India. Chess.com sponsors their prizes, and many reputed chess players came to his club. Want to know how it all panned out? Read ahead.
Early days and life
My father taught me chess when I was very young. In fact, the wooden chess pieces, which I still have, were bought by him before I was born, and he even made the chess board himself. He taught me the basics, and soon I started defeating him. After that, he stopped playing with me, as all fathers do, and I started playing a little bit in school. I even participated in a few interschool competitions but never got any formal training. I did participate in the annual sports competition at school, and in that, I got a silver medal. The best thing about chess is that if you are a little curious and you love to solve puzzles, chess will definitely captivate your interest. Although I was never too serious about it, chess never left me, as I just loved to solve positions and win.
Life moved on, as usual, I finished my schooling and got enrolled in NIT Surathkal, where I did my graduation in electronics and communication. I did participate in various intra-college chess championships. Although I was pretty strong, I could not get selected for the chess team of our college as they already had many strong players with them, one of them being FM Sharan Rao, who now has many registered wins against grandmasters. Nevertheless, that did not stop me from playing chess; I played a lot of chess in my final year and participated in my first FIDE-rated tournament after my graduation. I admit that it was quite late for a chess player, but I did not care. It was the first classical game I ever played, scoring 5.5/10. I was the first runner-up in the unrated category, and that felt good. Following that, I accepted a position at Samsung and relocated to Bangalore in 2019. I knew little about what life had in store for me.
Bangalore Chess Club
Bangalore Chess Club was first founded by Manish Simon in 2015 out of boredom. He loved chess and playing with similar opponents had become a little boring for him as all of them were now familiar with each other’s playing style and openings. Hence, he wanted to play with random strangers, so he just created a meet-up on meetup.com and at that time, I think, 4-5 people showed up which was good. After that, he kept conducting a few events in parks and cafes, but it was not very regular. Till 2019, I think the average number of people who showed up was 10-20. I got to know about the club in 2019, but due to some personal and professional reasons could never visit it, even though I was always part of the group.
After the chess boom in 2019, people in the group became more interested, and more and more people wanted to play the sport. I started streaming chess around the same time and also did some collaborations with the Bangalore chess club. One of them was conducting a hand and brain chess tournament which I like to believe was the first ever hand and brain conducted online. That was the first time I got to know a lot of new people, outside of my friend circle. These were the people whom I never met but just bonded with, over our similar love for chess. This was how I started getting to know people and they got to know me. After a few months, streaming stopped because it took a lot of my time and energy, but I was always active in the group.
Moving forward to September 2021, I was in Bangalore for a few months and did not have much to do. So, I asked Manish if I can host a tournament as he was busy. He agreed and told me to go ahead with it, so I just created a post on Bangalore chess club’s Instagram and WhatsApp group that we were conducting a meet-up in Cubbon Park, and at that time 30 people showed up. That was my first time in the Bangalore chess club and I was the one hosting it, definitely, it was an unforgettable experience.
After that, I did one or two more meetups, and then I had to move back to Mumbai. What surprised me was that this time there were many new people in the group who started playing chess during the pandemic. People even volunteered to keep on conducting the meetup while I was away. I coordinated everything, and they executed it perfectly. Offices opened, and I was back in Bangalore for good.
In March 2022, both ChessBase India and Chess.com covered our club, and at that time the average attendance was around 30 to 40, which rose to 70 to 80 afterward. Chess.com started sponsoring our prizes, which was the first of its kind, and we have never looked back.
As the number grew, the requirements of chess boards grew with it. To manage that, I reached out to a few chessboard companies, but that was of no help. Luckily, I reached out to the founder of Stonkraft, Sachin Gupta, and asked him if they could sponsor our chessboards. They kindly obliged and had been sponsoring our chess sets ever since. Since then, we have only grown in the number and magnitude of what we can accomplish as a team. We conduct tournaments every alternate weekend, give chess.com and Bangalore chess club merchandise to people, and have invited GM Thej Kumar for a public simul where we even had Sapan as a surprise guest.
Recently, we also had the U-8 world champion Charvi Anilkumar come and play with the members of our chess club.
The future of Bangalore Chess Club
I think the best-case scenario would be something like the St. Louis Chess Club or organizing a grand tournament and having many chess grandmasters participate, but that is on the ambitious side. Right now, it would be preferable if we had a permanent location where you could come at any time of day or night and just play chess. It should feel as if you can walk in at any time and play without thinking about anything else.
Also, recently, there have been a lot of requests from people from different sides of the city to host a meetup closer to them. So, I am planning to expand and find some volunteers who can conduct events in various parts of the city. One thing I know for sure is that this club will never stop, as it is a community group. A perfect example of this is when I was down with dengue and admitted to the hospital, few people volunteered and hosted a meetup even without me.
Interview with Tarun Mittal, leader of Bangalore Chess Club
Sneha Tiwari (ST): How did you get in touch with Manish for the first meet-up?
Tarun Mittal (TM): The Bangalore Chess Club has always been a community, and it will always be a community. So, even though Manish started it, the ambiance was never like that. It was just a group for discussions and friendly games, which I joined, but since he started it, I thought it would be better if I asked him if I could conduct it. So, it was just that, I took a calculated risk and everything worked out well.
ST: How did you manage to get chess.com as your prize sponsor?
TM: Again, it was just that I took a risk and asked. I reached out to them and asked if it would be possible for them to sponsor our prizes, and they said it could be done. Since then, we have been randomly giving people in our chess club a chess.com t-shirt and two diamond memberships. IM Rakesh Kulkarni from Chess.com India has been very supportive.
ST: How do you choose the winners of the prize? Do the top seeds get it, or is it random?
TM: The prize distribution is done randomly, through a lucky draw. Basically, we just want people to have fun. It is not like we are conducting a rating tournament or a serious one. We just want to build a community where you can come play anytime you want, try different openings with random people, and have fun. You have a casual community for every sport, right? For example, if you want to play cricket, you have friends in the neighborhood with whom you can play. We just want to do the same thing for chess; we just want to build an environment where you do not have to bother about anything, be yourself, and just enjoy the sport in all its glory. We rarely give awards to the winner.
ST: Managing such a big club comes with its problems. What would you say is the biggest challenge you have faced regarding the club?
TM: After the chess.com post, our average has always been around 70–80 people, and it was free and walk-in for everyone. We planned to hold the event in Cubbon Park, and anyone who wanted to participate was welcomed. Our playing chess in the park caught the attention of people, and many of them joined us, but that very day a problem happened; the police came and told us that we cannot host such a big gathering in a public space without permission. After that, we went to the authorities, and put forward our proposition, but never got permission, so that was the last meetup we did in Cubbon Park. After that, we have been hosting the events in a closed-booking place called Lahe-Lahe in Indiranagar.
The idea of a paid venue was alien to me. I never thought that we would have to charge people for entry, but I failed to get a free venue even after one month of searching. After trying everything, in the end, we had to rent out a place, and for that, we started charging people 50 rupees for entry, but even that was too little for the founders of the place, and they told me to raise the price. They provide us with TV, speakers, staff help, and everything, so it was understandable that they wanted to raise the price, but I wanted to keep it as low as possible for people, so to reach a sweet spot, I told them that Bangalore Chess Club does not need revenue and they can have the maximum percent of the share.
ST: What is your FIDE rating right now, and do you have any plans for your professional chess career in the future?
TM: Right now, my FIDE rating is only 1236, but I am quite proud of my lichess rating, which is around 2100. As for my plans for my professional chess career, I don’t think I have one, as it is too late for me now. I have reached a point in the game where I need professional training to improve. If I say that I am learning by watching YouTube videos, that would be a lie. They might help a little, but I think that at my level, in order to improve more, I need more discipline and training, which I cannot afford right now due to my job and other commitments.
Having said all that, I would say I do want to play games for experience, something like Sunway Sitges. I do have a dream of getting at least a CM title, which you get after a 2000 rating, but it looks very hard right now, and also, I am enjoying this other side of being a chess player, which is conducting tours and meeting new people. So, I think I'd be happy in that role, but I'd definitely like to try new things; for example, I was in the curtain raiser at the Olympiad, which was an interesting experience.
ST: What has been the proudest moment for you till now?
TM: I would say my proudest moment was when we conducted our biggest event, and called Karnataka’s first GM, Thej Kumar. He conducted a public simul in Garuda Mall. I took all the initiative of contacting him, taking his dates, contacting chess.com for monetary sponsorship, getting the venue, printing merchandise, making sure the event went smoothly, etc., and I want that to just be the beginning and want us to do more.
ST: What do you think the chess culture of Bangalore is like? And how much do you think the chess boom has affected it?
TM: I believe Bangalore has a strong chess culture. It is up and coming; we have grandmasters and many chess academies also, but I think more people got interested in the sport after the pandemic; I could clearly see the difference in my immediate circle. More of my friends came to me and said, "Please teach us some chess." Also, there were so many people who played chess but stopped and started playing again during the lockdown, after the chess boom.
ST: What would you say is your drive for doing all of this?
TM: I think I am just enjoying it a lot. I always had this drive to start something new. In college, I was the first to organize a 24-hour hackathon for the electronics department. I was also a part of a start-up similar to Yulu's. It did not do well, but I learned so much from all that. Similarly, in chess, I wanted to try something new. I was itching to do something, the opportunity came knocking on my door, and I just opened it. Also, along the way, I am learning so many new skills, meeting so many new people, and definitely improving my resume.
ST: What do you think is the best part about all of this?
TM: Meeting new people; I got to interact with so many people who have taught me different things in my life. I also got to meet Biswa and play a game with him, which would not have been possible otherwise. I got to interact with IM Sagar, Shah, Ashwin Subramanian, and so many other driven people, and I got to pick up so many of their good qualities. I think it also awakens me to the diversity of the game. For example, one day, we had three generations from the same family come to play chess; the granddad, the dad, and the daughter. Also, there is something new every day. Job and life can become monotonous after a while, but I keep looking for ways to keep moving forward with the club.
ST: How do you manage your time given that you have a full-time job and a chess club to run to?
TM: So, I am an engineer at Samsung, which is a Korean company. Although they work very hard, their culture is not such that it consumes too much of my time and energy. Therefore, I am able to manage both pretty well right now. For the future, I am not sure, but given that somehow, I have managed everything pretty well till now, I think I’ll be able to do the same when the time comes.
ST: Anything else you would like to add?
TM: I would definitely like to mention a few people who have helped me, the Bangalore Chess Club, and chess in general to grow.
Manish Simon - The founder of BCC, who allowed me to take charge and gave me a free hand to conduct the events. It’s not easy to let go of your baby and I thank him for doing this.
Arunava Bhattacharjee - The most supportive teammate - is level-headed and calm. Because of the way he speaks and makes me answer myself, I go to him to solve my problems.
Ashwin Subramanian - Not unknown if you know Indian chess even a little deeper. With him pushing you, acknowledging achievements, and motivating you, it definitely helps. Plus, he has helped here and there with getting important contacts at the right time.
The team at BCC in general (which may keep rotating). It's encouraging to see people stepping forward voluntarily to help us grow and organize for free. Sometimes people go out of their way to make something possible Some of these people are: Raghunandan, Raja Ayyanar, Deepesh, Nabangkur, Janak, and Sucheth. One of them doesn’t even know how to play chess and still helped me so much with management.
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About the Author - Sneha Tiwari
From the city of nawabs and a graduate in mechanical engineering, I think “jack of all trades” is what would describe me the best. Interested in a lot of fields such as photography, chess, writing, reading, philosophy, psychology, gardening, and many others, I am someone who believes that constant learning is the way to grow. Having loved chess all my life, I have recently started studying it and want to play at least one professional tournament in my life. Chess and photography are my two loves and I would like to combine them and convert them into a profession someday.