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Pillar of strength for Indian chess, Bharat Singh Chauhan recounts his journey

by Basil Sylvester Pinto - 06/07/2019

When you have a desire to dream big but opportunities curtail the ambition early in your career, your will-power will take you there somehow. You channelize the big ambition through other talents by the sweat of your brow.  And it is a chess player who has these very traits of resolve and perseverance to strive for betterment. Bharat Singh Chauhan, the current All India Chess Federation (AICF) Secretary is the perfect paradigm for a major upscale shift on the Indian chess scene. Photo: Basil Sylvester Pinto

The man who leads from the front

Bharat Singh Chauhan is a chess lover at heart | Photo: Basil Sylvester Pinto

In Goa for the 2nd International Goa Grandmaster Chess Open held in Taleigao, the rock-solid pillar was seen analyzing a game of a prodigious 13-year-old WIM Divya Deshmukh (2414) against the veteran IM Anup Deshmukh (2229) on the last day of the mega event. He also spoke exclusively to The Goan on his association with chess and what the future has in store through the eyes of AICF.


“I was playing chess for a long time right from my school days. If I am an administrator today (AICF), it is because of Goa. Incidentally, 40 years back I came to play in a tournament here having traveled by train from Delhi. When I reached Goa, I realized that the event was cancelled and they had sent a telegram informing our Delhi Chess Association. Back then, communication means like email and phone was a luxury. On my return to Delhi from Vasco, I traveled in the train toilet. That is when I decided, if I do good in life and I am financially alright, I will work for chess,” the Indian chess pillar narrated.


His passion for chess and commitment towards its growth in India, earned him a lot of respect. And subsequently he was integrated into the AICF set-up around 2001 as a Joint Secretary, which at the time was a ceremonial post. “Things were not so good back then but it had started moving. It was not as good as the current phase,” Chauhan disclosed.


But to bring a sedentary sport to life and visibility to the eyes of the media and sponsors, if not spectators too, he had fine strategy. “It is very important to know that chess is not a spectator friendly sport. What I had thought and discussed with a colleague was to rope in as many players as we could.  When you have a lot more players in a tournament, then everybody will respect you, including the media and sponsors,” he asserted.


He also added to state there was another aspect to have the maximum number of players. It was planned that with as much registration with the Association it will help it to grow. “Today 40 per cent of the tournaments is self-funded by entry fee. In this financial year, we had 60-70 lakhs and that too with a peanut amount of Rs. 250 per player,” Chauhan proudly stated.


Chauhan believes that with maximum tournament participation, there will be more job opportunities created. “When a child plays chess, he will be good at studies, becomes a better gentleman and would be able to handle things very well in life. You not only promote your game, but making a better society for your country,” he reasoned.


According to Chauhan, the turning point in chess in the country was in 2009-10 when things began moving steadily in the right direction. But it was only in the last two years, that things became dramatically large for the game on 64 squares for the country. “At the Delhi International Open chess tournament this year which I had organized we set a world record of over 2800 players. Last year, at the event we also drew unprecedented entries (2320),” he remarked. Making his point, he said India now has 10 international events in India each having its own charm. While Goa has very good facilities, hoardings publicizing the event on the road, with a good number of GMs, Delhi had a record number of players participating and Mumbai tournament there are norm possibilities and a junior tournament too.  And with this year, there will be three new international tournaments in Madurai, Udaipur and Hyderabad.


Looking into the future of chess in India, Chauhan stated, “Recently, we had our AGM in Goa and I submitted a Vision Document which is a very ambitious plan. I think if you personally ask me, ‘Chess in School’ will attract more schools and make a better generation, a better country besides providing better players.”

The man who made sure AICF is one of the strongest sports association in the country | Photo: Basil Sylvester Pinto

On chess as a compulsory subject in school like in Russia, a chess powerhouse and getting the Indian Government to be a part of it, he looked at the idea it with circumspect. “In India, it is very difficult to have chess in school from the Centre for all the schools. But there are many States which are moving ahead. One of them is Himachal Pradesh which has made chess mandatory in schools. While Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have chess in schools, chess centres and chess corners in every school of the State which is an optional subject,” the AICF Secretary divulged. But he also understands that the biggest problem they would face is chess trainers. “If we talk to any new school, they will ask for a trainer. So a technical course for trainers is important which is the biggest challenge,” admits Chauhan.


As of today, 33 States (including Union Territories) are affiliated to AICF.  On Goa, he says that the State is doing reasonably good. “They (Goa) have the regular GM tournament and their players like Bhakti Kulkarni who is playing at the Asian Chess Championship, while GM Anurag Mhamal and young IM Leon Mendonca are doing well. There are players coming in and chess is very popular,” he acknowledged.


On the recently concluded Goa GM Chess Open organizational abilities, he expressed satisfaction. “One good thing is that the ‘Goa Government is completely backing their tournament with Nilesh Cabral (Power Minister) as the Chairman of the Organizing Committee. On the repeated power failures in the course of the tourney, he had this take. “I think there is a backup in the tournament hall. But these are technical things which happen everywhere. It is beyond the control of the organizers. Even if you have the automatic switch it takes around 40 seconds to switch it on,” Chauhan declared. He also added that there is no better venue then the existing in Goa to hold such an event.


In the near future, he divulged that things are looking bright with a few mega international tournaments coming in.  “We have the World Youth Chess Championship for U-14, U-16, U-18 from October 1-13 in Mumbai, immediately followed by the World Junior & Girl Chess Championship from October 14-26 in New Delhi. Then there is the Commonwealth tournament allocated to Delhi of which I am the Chairman,” he beamed. 


“The basic thing for the Federation is to create an atmosphere, create an atmosphere and an opportunity for the players,” he matter-a-factly stated.


Chauhan never could fulfill his dream of becoming a GM, a thought that came to his mind in his youth when Russian GMs used to visit the country on a cultural exchange and he used to hold them in high regard.  But he had the contentment of realizing this dream for many others from the time there were none when he nurtured this thought as a 17-year-old. “I think there is a bigger satisfaction when you cannot achieve your dreams but you create opportunities for others to achieve it. We have 63 GMs today which is more than my dream and is fulfilling which makes me feel so happy,” a proud Chauhan said.


While not a competitive chess player or involved in administrative duties with AICF, he still plays a lot of chess as part of his routine. “Whenever I get time, I play chess online. I play 5 to 10 games a day. When I am sitting at the airport or travelling in the car, I play on my phone. I play two games before going to bed and another two while I’m having my bed tea,” the chess aficionado said. As passionate to chess that he is, his word of advice to the chess fraternity is just to enjoy the game.

The article was originally published on The Goan Everyday, a regional daily English newspaper on 28th June 2019 | Photo: The Goan e-paper

About the Author

Basil Sylvester Pinto earns a living through his passion for writing. Having dabbled in various genres of journalism, for the last few years he is attached to The Goan Everyday as a sports reporter, and also contributes features occasionally. He is very passionate about fashion photography, high altitude trekking and  loves to travel. He is fond of cricket, has played chess at the college and Goa State Open level and has been a decent National level Scrabble player.


The article was edited by Shahid Ahmed

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