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The beginning of a chess revolution in Punjab!

by Sagar Shah - 25/06/2018

Punjab is well known for excelling at physical sports. When it comes to chess, the state is lagging behind in a big way. Until the present day, the state of Punjab has had no International Masters or Grandmasters. Just three FMs. In a state where there is no chess culture, where people do not understand the game of 64 squares, how do you make the game of chess popular? Add to this the problem of drug abuse among children in the state. All of this seems like an insurmountable problem. But there exists an organization with a vision - a vision to change the overall scene in the state with the help of chess. Here's an inspiring story of how Punjab Kesari is making chess the most popular sport in Punjab.

An article on BBC about the situation in Punjab starts like this, "The northern Indian state of Punjab votes on Saturday for a new government. But the biggest issue confronting voters is not jobs or corruption, but a drugs epidemic that is sweeping the state."

The problem of drugs is so serious that a Bollywood movie Udta Punjab starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor was released in 2016 

The biggest problem in the state is how to stop the drugs epidemic. The school students are the worst affected. They take to drugs just as a pastime and before they know it they are addicted to it. Suicide and crime rates are rising because of the drugs issue. The parents are worried and the authorities have no clue of what is to be done. How do you solve such a problem?

Meet Abhijay Chopra. He is just 31 years old, but is the director of one of the most powerful newspapers in northern India - The Punjab Kesari  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The Hind Samachar newspaper was started in the year 1948 by Abhijay Chopra's great grandfather Lala Jagat Narain. The Punjab Kesari newspaper began in 1964. Since the start, Punjab Kesari has believed in ethical journalism as compared to running after TRP. In the 80s Jagat Narain and his elder son Romesh Chander had been assassinated for speaking out against terrorism. The family believes that through journalism they have the power to bring about a positive change in the society and these principles of Lala Jagat Narain have been carried over to his next generations as well, the latest one being his grandson Abhijay Chopra.


Speaking to ChessBase India, Abhijay said, "The state of Punjab has faced the problem of drug abuse among youngsters since a long time. School going kids are addicted to drugs and this is a problem that needs a solution. Young kids come back from school and find that they have a lot of time on hand. As they are getting bored all of them meet together and indulge in something known as "Gedi" which essentially means encircling an area in a car with loud music playing. When these kids get bored of Gedi, they need something more exciting! That's where drugs come into the picture. This is the way in which the drugs culture is growing in the state of Punjab. The right way to fight this menace is to make kids make the best use of their time once they come back from school. And in this aspect there is no better sport than chess. Once hooked onto it, chess has the power to get the kids addicted to the game and make them disinterested in vices like Gedi and drugs."

FM Dushyant Sharma is one of the young and upcoming players from the state of Punjab | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Says Abhijay, "When Dushyant returned from winning the below 2000 section at the Millionaire Open which was held in Las Vegas, USA, I asked him - What did you do in Vegas? He said I practised chess and played the tournament and came back. I asked him, there are malls, casinos, clubs, didn't you visit any of them? Dushyant had absolutely no clue about what I was talking. He went to Vegas, booked into his hotel, opened his chess set and laptop, practiced for hours, played the tournament, won the first prize and came back! That was one of the incidents which convinced me about the power of chess. If a boy could go to Las Vegas and not get distracted, that means chess is truly addictive!"


Abhijay shares another incident, "I visited a chess tournament once and it was a break between the rounds. I was expecting the kids to be running around or playing cricket and football. But they were actually playing friendly games against each other. There was pool table in the premises, but the kids had opened their chess boards on the table and were playing the game! I was simply amazed. There was nothing that could distract them!" That's when Abhijay was sure that he had found his weapon to fight against the problem of drugs in the state.

Just to put things into perspective Punjab Kesari has a physical distribution of 1 crore 22 lakh readers in India and their Punjabi newspaper Jagbani has a 41.5 lakh readers. You can imagine what media giants they really are!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The first tournament was organized in Jalandhar and around 50 kids attended the tournament. That wasn't a great turnout, but it was a start. Instead of making it as a one-time initiative, Abhijay decided to go all the way. He formed a team from his own company who would look into the organization of these chess events. In consultation with FM Ashwani Tiwari, the idea was that the tournaments had to be done once every two months. The important thing was consistency. After every event, a half page of the newspaper would be dedicated to the news of the tournament.

Half page coverage in one of the most popular newspapers in North India!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The parents would read chess news, see the names of winners highlighted and get attracted to the chess events. Even my son/daughter should play the sport that is being prominently shown in the Punjab Kesari newspaper would be their thought! The entries began to steadily grow. The eleventh event of Punjab Kesari was held a week ago and 350 players participated. This was because they had restricted the entries! With the regular organization of events, the number of chess players just in the city of Jalandhar has reached 1000!

The serious look! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The angry look!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

My position stinks!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The happy look!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The confused look!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Kids from all over Punjab gather to play in Punjab Kesari events and guess what, the registration is done online!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

5000 bottled mineral water for all the participants!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

All that the kids have to do is ask for it and the water would be served to them  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nearly 1000 packs of minute maid juice was ordered and 600 burgers from Mcdonalds! Mind you all of this is given for free to the kids and also the parents!

It's true many would just come to have an enjoyable weekend with juice, burger and fun, but in that huge quantum of players you start to find some gems who are truly concentrating and trying their best  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Some would even practice in between the rounds!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

One of the challenges that the tournament faces is that players have to bring their own chess sets. This will soon change as well as Punjab Kesari is trying to get high quality chess sets and clocks. If you can provide them these equipments at reasonable cost then contact them at  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Beautiful trophies designed for the winners  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The cost of organizing one Punjab Kesari tournament goes to around 3.5-4 lakh rupees. The total amount that they have spent to boost chess in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar and a few more adjoining areas is more than 50 lakh rupees!

I gave a simul to 16 of the best players in various age categories of the Punjab Kesari events. My job was not at all easy as three of my opponents held me to a draw and I won 13 games. The simul lasted for 3.5 hours! You can play through the 12 most interesting games of my simul here. I was white in all of them.  | Photo: Amruta Mokal


But the good news was that all the parents and participants waited for the simul to end to get the prizes!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The future of Punjab Chess!
A video of how Punjab Kesari is powering chess in Punjab

My personal experience:

Well what can I say! Amruta and I were just bowled over by the work that Punjab Kesari was doing. Their resolute actions, their belief in their plans and the conviction that a change is possible by means of our beloved sport. A grave problem like drug abuse is being solved using chess. This in itself is a big tribute to the game of chess.

A grand welcome always feels good! Especially when you are next to the great Mikhail Botvinnik!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I played a simul and realized that there were some very big talents in Punjab chess  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I spoke to the parents tell them about the efforts taken by parents of the top players of our country  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I held a training session with around 40 kids in the Punjab Kesari Centre of Chess Excellence inside the Punjab Kesari building  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The interest levels were very high!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I worked with the trainers for some time explaining them the updates in modern chess technology and also the characteristics of a good coach  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I met the officials of Punjab State Chess Association and they were in complete sync with the vision of Punjab Kesari  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The Punjab Kesari team and Mr. Ashwani Tiwari (on my left) are the people with this vision of changing the chess scene in Punjab!  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Because they are national assets, every member of the Punjab Kesari family gets police protection. Because we were their guests we too received the same treatment from the airport to our hotel! I must say it felt nice! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

I have travelled to different parts of India, but never seen social work done in chess on such a big scale and on such a consistent basis. I have the deepest of respect for Mr. Abhijay Chopra, Ashwani Tiwari and his team at Punjab Kesari for the work that they are doing.

It goes without saying that slowly and steadily chess in Punjab is bound to change. Things will improve and the first GM will come out very soon | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The Punjab Kesari Centre of Chess Excellence (PKCCE) is the umbrella under which all of these activities are being done. In future PKCCE aims to start a training centre in Punjab where some of the best talents are trained and nurtred to achieve something special in chess.


Interview with Abhijay Chopra, and a peek into his office
FM Ashwani Tiwari is one of the main reasons for the chess revolution taking place in Punjab. He is a good friend with Abhijay Chopra and together both of them have been able to chalk out this roadmap. In this interview Ashwani shows a few of his best attacking games that helped him to go from being an unrated player to 2300 Elo!
Punjab's first World Champion - Arvinder Preet Singh, who became the World Amateur Champion below 2300 in April 2018.
Abhijay Chopra explains how he is fighting the Drug abuse problem with the help of chess!

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