Chess in Lucknow - UP32 Knights
In this article, we follow the story of Akshay Natu, the founder of UP32 Knights- Lucknow chess club and a chess enthusiast. He is known to write quirky Shayari's in chat during live streams, and why not? He comes from the Nawabi sheher of Lucknow. In this writeup, we will dive a little bit more into his life, how this idea of a chess club came about, how chess has affected his life, and what the future holds for him in terms of chess. Thumbnail: Akshay Natu
Chess in Lucknow
In 2017, while studying in college, I came across a term called the “butterfly effect”. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is a phenomenon that is described as the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil that can set off a tornado in Texas. It loosely means that a very small seemingly insignificant event can cause great changes in someone’s life, living somewhere far. At that time, I did not believe much in it, but later in 2020 as India went into a state of lockdown and Samay started streaming, I often heard him using this term. He would give all the credit for his massive success and popularity, in chess, to the butterfly effect, and what an irony it was because I did not realize just then, how his streaming would change my life. I had always loved chess but started following it sincerely in lockdown. I watched all the streams, regularly followed the news around it, and eventually, that led me to participate in the chess Olympiad. I got a proposition to write about chess in a particular city, but could not follow up on that. That gave me an idea, what if I write about chess in each city or state and see how this lockdown/chess boom has impacted the lives of people, and what better place to start than my own city?
In this article, we follow the story of Akshay Natu, the founder of UP32 Knights- Lucknow chess club and a chess enthusiast. He is known to write quirky shayaris in chat during live streams, and why not? He comes from the Nawabi sheher of Lucknow. In this article, we will dive a little bit more into his life, how this idea of a chess club came about, how chess has affected his life, and what the future holds for him in terms of chess.
A little bit of history
My father taught me chess when I was a child, and I would usually play with my father and uncle at home. It gave me my basic knowledge of play and position. Despite studying in one of the best schools in Lucknow, I could not hone my chess skills further as there was no chess club at my school, nor did Lucknow have any chess culture. I loved the game, but without the right opportunities, I could not take it any further. I did what most people do, pursued my education.
In 2009, I went to Karnataka, to do my graduation in Electrical and Electronics. There, I played in a few intra-college competitions and realized that I still had a basic understanding of position and tactics. Though I did not have any memorable memory from those matches, I clearly remember that I loved playing the games. It made me feel connected to my childhood and reminded me of my roots. After completing my graduation, I grabbed my first job, which took me to Gurgaon in 2013, I played a few matches there as well, mostly with my friends. My life kept moving forward, I did my MBA in 2016, in marketing, then moved to Delhi for my job and eventually settled in Mumbai, but chess never left me completely. Although there were times that I was away from the game for too long, looking back I realize that chess was there with me in every phase of my life.
I was so sure of my life in Mumbai that just before the lockdown, I had invested in television. It was one of my major investments at that time, in a new home. IPL was just around the corner and I, being a cricket fanatic was all ready to watch the game on the big screen, but soon, the lockdown was announced and my world turned upside down, just like the lives of many others. I was stuck in Mumbai, without any friends or family and then one day, I heard the news that IPL was canceled. I was heartbroken, to say the least. During the same time, Samay started streaming chess. I was one of those first few “40 ki watching” wale people. I knew Samay from his Comicstan days and when he started streaming chess, it peeked my attention, so I started watching his streams casually.
Every day, I would tune in to his channel to watch his videos. I was there in the chat when he conducted COB 1, in which Akash Mehta was the winner and eventually I started watching chess on the TV I bought to see IPL. Soon, Vidit joined the stream and then Sagar joined, and with that my chess journey began again. I started watching all the ChessBase India’s streams, but still, chess was nowhere comparable to cricket yet, as it did not give me the same rush as a match of cricket did, but I guess, all that was about to change.
I think the major turning point in my life (related to chess) came in May 2020, when Online Nations Cup was happening and Vishy Anand defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi in 17 moves!!! ChessBase India covered that game and I remember the adrenaline rush that game gave me so well. It was a feeling that is hard to describe. To defeat a world-class player with a tactic like that was class apart. Online Nations Cup showed me the importance of team spirit in these formats. It also showed me how competitive this game can be, just like cricket. It gave me that dopamine kick that I usually just got from cricket and well, that got me hooked on the game forever. There was no turning back now!
I started contacting my friends whom I had not talked to for years and pursued them to play a match with me online. I was stuck in my Mumbai house for months; the whole country was in lockdown. It was that time when Swiggy and Zomato had also stopped food deliveries. I did not know how to cook, that was the first time in my life that I felt so helpless. I was frustrated and ate only one time a day (the food was provided to me by an aunty), uncertainty as to what will happen next was looming in the air, I had nowhere to go, no friends or family, and no cricket. That was one of the most difficult phases of my life, but chess kept me sane. It saved me from that suffocation of being locked away in a 400 sq. ft. apartment. It gave me an outlet. After travel was permitted, I flew back to my hometown in June, and that felt good for a few days. The main thing to understand about me is that I am an extrovert, I need that high life, and my job is also such that it demands that from me. So, I am not used to being stuck in a home for days, without doing anything. It drives me crazy- I need that drive, that thrill in my life to keep me going. Chess gave me that thrill, it helped me at a time I was at my lowest.
In December 2020, I flew back to Mumbai, to meet my friends. Samay was doing a show in Pune at that time, so I booked a ticket for that as well, but at the last minute, the show was canceled due to covid regulations. I was disappointed; hence, I wrote an email to Samay and also wrote a blasting tweet on Twitter. After that, Sahil Kale (Samay’s then-manager) contacted me and told me that Samay wants to talk to me. Samay apologized that he had to cancel the show due to protocols and offered to have breakfast with me, before my flight to Lucknow, the next day. The next day, I met him and played chess with him for three hours straight over breakfast. I had the most fun during those hours, this was my first time playing chess over the board after 2018. I was perfectly calm and at peace.
That’s when the idea struck me- what if I do something like this in Lucknow? “Let’s play chess, like we play cricket- in the park, with friends. No bad blood, no returns, just pure chess". I had already done some research about the chess culture in Lucknow. There was nothing like this. There are a few chess academies and we do have UP state chess association, but the people there lack that entrepreneurial spirit that is much needed to grow the game. I knew I had to do something. Keeping all that in mind, in January 2021, I started UP32 Knights. This was one of a kind club in Lucknow. I talked to the owner of a local café here and promised him footfall. He was more than glad to host us. I started promoting it on Instagram and on ChessBase India’s live streams, and it attracted a lot of chess lovers. Today, we are a community of more than 400 people of all age groups, having only one thing in common-our love for chess. We all have different lives, some are students, some are chess trainers, and most of them have full-time jobs, but there is only one thing that binds them all- CHESS!
From February to march, we organized four events and from April 2021 I started live streaming as well. We gained over 200 subscribers there, but then I got struck with COVID and had to briefly stop everything.
After recovering, in July, we organized another event in Janeshwar Mishra park which is one of the biggest parks in Lucknow. There almost 20-30 people came, who just sat under the sun in the park and played chess. It was definitely a sight to see as it piqued the interest of many people and they stopped to look at our games. Soon, we started giving small prizes to the winners-mugs, t-shirts, chess books, and amazon gift cards, all at my own expense. We also launched our own merchandise.
I had no organizational goal with this club and ulterior motives for it. I just love the game and wanted to grow it in any way possible, and for that, I did whatever I could. During this crazy journey, I also had the chance to meet Sagar and Amruta and it was an amazing experience for me.
I and my girlfriend were interviewed by Amruta at that time, and in that video, we talked about marriage. As fate would have it, I got engaged to my girlfriend in May, and we are all set to marry next year in February!
I met so many people on this crazy journey, and some of them have become my friend for a lifetime. We have built a beautiful community of 400 people who discuss every news related to chess, we daily post puzzles on our WhatsApp group and have grown to become a family. Where else would I have met such people?
What exactly did chess do for me?
Chess gave me a new perspective on life. My life outside of chess is completely different. I am a marketing manager, so my life is all about the hustle. My life is very active, energetic and on to go, it is just like a sine curve full of ups and downs. Neither do I like to sit in one place, nor does my profession allow me that. My interests also match my lifestyle; I like loud music, social interactions, and parties, but chess gave me a sense of calmness in my life; it keeps me grounded. When everything around me was up in flames, chess kept me cool. I am not the one to sit in one place, silently for too long but when I play a game of chess I can sit for hours, and be at peace. It helped me find a new person in myself; someone I did not know was there.
I am an extrovert, so I can easily connect with people but chess showed me a new way of making friends. I could meet different people, of different age groups and different professions, but connect with all of them easily. Now, I can connect with a 6-year-old as well as with a 75-year-old. I learn a lot from these people, everyone comes from different background, has different ways of looking at life, and has different ways to tackle their problems. Chess has boosted new confidence in me, it is a good way to socialize with anyone. It has become such an integral part of my life, that my wedding cake as well as my marriage invitation has a chess element to it.
Due to my work and marriage preparation, I have been very busy lately, but we are conducting another event soon. I do not know what the future of this club holds, as everyone is too busy with their jobs and lives, but I do wish to take it forward. I am in search of young blood with an entrepreneurial spirit to take this venture to new heights. Meanwhile, the essence of the club remains, I started this club with the sole purpose of connecting people with similar interests and growing the game, and in the journey, I have met so many wonderful people. If even a single person got inspired because of me and started playing chess, I will think that fulfills the purpose.
Interview with Akshay Natu
Sneha Tiwari (ST): Tell me a bit about how you started playing chess.
Akshay Natu (AN): I started playing chess because of my father, he was the one who taught me the basics. Later, I used to play a lot with my uncle and that improved my positional understanding a bit, but I think this lockdown and streaming is what hooked me to the game forever.
ST: What is the one thing that chess gave you that you are really grateful for?
AN: Chess pulled me out of a very difficult time of my life; it kept me sane. It gave me a new reason to do something new in my life, with my skills, for the game that I love. It opened a whole new world for me, where I can sit in one place, for hours, without doing anything, concentrating on my game and enjoying it- It has given a new dimension to my personality. It showed me that I can enjoy my time while being an introvert, which I am not.
ST: How has chess affected you?
AN: Chess has changed me a lot, it has become an integral part of my life. People nowadays are not able to find themselves, chess has helped me find a new person inside of me, and in my opinion that is something very profound.
ST: You said that chess has helped you find a new perspective in life. So, do you have any memorable instances that maybe you would like to share?
AN: I think more than one particular event, it’s more about the overall growth. I believe it’s not about one particular instance, but the cumulative effect of many small events that changes everything. It can be small conversations, big conversations, tournaments, events, chess Olympiad, torch relay, or discussions over tea, everything that is happening is drawing you closer to the game; it is helping you build that person which you found. Chess helped me find a new friend inside of me, and that new friend made many more friends.
ST: What do you think is the future of UP32 Knights? Do you have anything in mind as to how you would like to continue it going forward?
AN: So, yes, the future and my vision for it is actually aligned with the purpose with which I started it, which is to build a community. Just like, Kolkata has “ghariat flyover”- it has people who just show up and play chess, I am looking to build that sort of community for Lucknow. Right now, we have 400 members, I would like it to grow to 1000-2000, and continue growing as a community where everyone who loves chess or wants to learn can come together, join this group, start networking and then eventually help us grow the game, while simultaneously improving themselves. I also want to provide better networking possibilities to all of them, so that if anyone wants to connect with better coaching avenues, they can do that easily, because currently, Lucknow does not have that privilege.
The current chess ecosystem in Lucknow is not conducive to creating grandmasters, there are not many opportunities to be explored here. I want to give people that opportunity that can help them connect better with trainers, coaches and eventually help conduct more tournaments in Lucknow. Probably, somewhere down the line in a few years, the chess association will come together and create a proper roadmap for that, but my job is to create a community that can support them whenever that happens.
Apart from that, the whole purpose of having a community is that we have something to do apart from our mundane life, jobs, etc. -just an escape. Chess is a game that can give you a beautiful outlet and I want Lucknow to adopt chess as that outlet, apart from cricket, music, or whatever. Just like, there is a golf club, and rotary club in Lucknow, I want this chess club to be a part of Lucknow’s culture. I want to build such a community that if 10 years down the line, someone would search “top things to do in Lucknow”, visit UP32 knights would pop up in that feed.
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.