Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Chess in Mumbai. Then and Now.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see the above picture. Immediately the tune of Tan ki Shakti, Man ki Shakti, Bournvita!starts to ring in my head!
Bournvita is the name of a brand of malted and chocolate malt deink mixes which is very popular in India.
But what is this doing on my chess blog? What is it's relation to the game of chess?!!
Well, back in late nineties and early 2000s, there was a man called Vinay Shetty who brought the world of Inter-School Chess in Mumbai and Cadbury Bournvita together.

Vinay Shetty: The man who revolutionized chess in Mumbai.

Such was the magnitude of these Inter-school chess tournaments that nearly 2000 students used to take part in different age categories starting from U-8 going up to Open category (10th standard). Every year as the Diwali vacations would begin, each and every student who knew chess in Mumbai would reach the Probodhan Thakrey hall in Parle to play the Bournvita inter school chess tournament. The organizers would go from school to school to distribute their circular and cover as many schools in Mumbai as possible! The result was that right from the strongest chess playing kids in the city to the players who didn't even know to move the pieces but just were inquisitive about chess, would come to play in this gala event.

Why was this tournament so popular? There was absolutely no prize fund. But, then when did kids ever need money to motivate them to play chess! The children would get caps of Bournvita which they would proudly wear to the tournament. There would be 10 coupons given to the participants, and every coupon would entitle them to a glass of Bournvita! And of course cadbury Dairy Milk chocolates would be distributed. The tournament would be conducted so tastefully that it would be a real bonanza for the children. And not to forget, elite sports personalities would be called to give away the prizes.

Dhanraj Pillay the hockey superstar giving away the prize to Prachi Thite.

The trophies would be in the shape of the king, so exquisitely made. And winners would get goody bags and at the same time coaching from some elite IM or GM of India. Overall it was such a wonderful arrangement that chess in Mumbai was in full bloom. Superb players with phenomenal chess playing skills were being churned out in every tournament and the moment they would play in a rating events, they would often gain a rating of more than 2000 Elo points.

Cute is the right word!! 
One of Mumbai's most famous coaches Dhanesh Shrikhande with winners of Bournvita Inter school tournament 2002. (from L-R) Filisha Shah, Aditya Udeshi, Abhishek Ravi and Prasanna Rao. (Credit)

I, personally began chess at a late age of around 11 years. When I played my first Bournvita inter school tournament in 2001, I just couldn't come to grips with the fact as to how good these winners were. For example, there was a player called Amogh Kamli (who is still my very good friend). He won the U-10 category. A real monster calculator on the board and he had this amazing appetite to win game after game. When he played the National U-12 in 2002 in Chennai, he beat the prodigious Parimarjan Negi with great ease. The players from Mumbai were really strong. This can be attested to the fact that the last 2 IMs from Mumbai Aditya Udeshi and Prasanna Rao are both the products of Bournvita chess!
There were many other good players like Rahul Ved, Snehal Bhosale, Sachin Kamath (he won the bournvita championship so many times), Meghan Gupte, Ameya Kamli and many others.

In a city filled with affluence, Mumbai boasts of only 1 chess Grand Master. And that was GM Pravin Thipsay. The Bournvita inter school tournaments had come to change that scenario. 
But as is usual with success stories in India, petty politics got in the way. The Inter School Bournvita tournament was shut down, I think in the year 2004/5. Since then Chess in Mumbai has witnessed such a slump which cannot really be expressed in words. You did not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that due to the absence of Inter School Bournvita tournament, there were no strong players being produced in the city.


But recently in Mumbai, the organizers have tried to fill the gap of a full fledged inter school tournaments by holding 1 day rapid events (mostly on sundays). The rapid event would begin around 10 AM in the morning. each round would be for around 15-20 mins and there would be around 8 to 9 games. The tournament would end around 8 PM in the evening.
Just 2 days ago on the 4th of May, I played a rapid tournament in Shivaji Park, Dadar. Just to give you an idea of the these 1 day tournaments are, I decided to compile a few pictures and write on it.

Amruta Mokal, my wife getting ready to play her 1st tournament after marriage!

The tournament was held in a hall adjoining the biggest park in Mumbai- The Shivaji Park in Dadar.

The first prize of the event was Rs.10,000. 2nd place 7,000 and 3rd place 5,000 going all the way up to 30 places. The last prize is 500 Rs. The time control was 15 mins + 3 secs and it had 9 rounds.

The tournament was extremely strong with 2 IMs Aditya Udeshi (2428), Vikramaditya Kulkarni (2346). Sagar Shah (2309), The rapid expert of Mumbai: Rakesh Kulkarni (2223), Pune's Chinmay Kulkarni (2262), Mithil Ajgaonkar (2198), Amardeep Bartakke (2130), Atul Dahale (2150) etc.

The Rapid specialists: From L-R Gopal Rathod, Chinmay Kulkarni from Pune, Amardeep Bartakke, IM Aditya Udeshi, Rakesh Kulkarni.

Just imagine this, the first round began at 11 AM in the morning and every round takes 1 hour to be completed along with next round pairings to come. That's 9 hours. Add to it the lunch break and prize distribution ceremony and the tournament ended around 8 PM in the evening. Phew! What a gruelling day of chess it was!
The tournament was filled with excitement with a three way tie at the top. Mithil, Sagar and Rakesh all finished with a score of 8/9. However, Mithil Ajgaonkar won it on a better tie break.

With a score of 8/9, Mithil Ajgaonkar won the tournament and was richer by Rs.10,000

Just missing the first place, the second prize went to Sagar Shah (yours truly) who bagged Rs.7000. It was a great honour to receive the prize from the great GM Pravin Thipsay.

My very good friend Atul Dahale, who had travelled from Pune (around 200kms away) finished 11th and Amruta Mokal was surely the best female player scoring 6.5/9 and finishing 14th.

Around the playing venue I could see a lot of nice scenes with parents taking great care of their children. I managed to click a few very interesting pictures!

"Son, How will you be able to play good chess without enough energy!"

"Dad, I am scared of my opponent!" "Take it easy, my boy!"

A little girl with her team of seconds!

Happy after a hard day's work. Amruta with her very cute student!

After almost 10 hours of intensive chess, it is obvious that each and every player was totally tired and exasperated. The little children who were present in such huge numbers were all excited after the tournament too, but I am sure they would be deep in their sleep on their way back. The heat, pressure and 9 rounds in a day takes away a lot from you! However, there is the sweet feeling of having achieved something!

That's how the chess culture in Mumbai stands as on date. Such rapid events are held almost twice a month and all the budding talents of the city play in it. I think mainly it is because there are no other opportunities to play in the city.
The following according to me are huge drawbacks of playing rapid tournaments for young and upcoming players.

  • The time control of the tournaments is 15 mins + 3 sec increment. Its obvious that one cannot think in depth under such time controls. Bournvita tournaments were atleast for a duration of 1 hour each. One of the parents argued with me that students should also be able to take quick decisions in less time. I don't agree with her because first and foremost one should learn the art of thinking in depth, speed comes later. If a child regularly keeps playing rapid tournaments 2-3 times a month, it is bound to affect his thinking process, as he starts taking short cuts in calculation. 
  • One cannot write the games in such a short time control and hence there is no chance of analyzing the mistakes or learning from them once the games are played.
  • Though there are strong players playing in the tournament which didn't happen during Bournvita days, I have hardly seen a 10-12 year old kid beating an experienced rapid player. I think it is more to do with the fact that players like Rakesh Kulkarni, Vikramaditya Kulkarni, Amardeep Bartakke etc are not only strong players but also experts in rapid play which gives the young kids absolutely no chance to win against them.
  • 9 rounds in a day is just too much to maintain a high level of play.
  • Prize money never really motivates a child and hence prize money should not be taken into consideration according to me.
  • Such rapid tournaments are good for seasoned players who have a good opening repertoire and they want to try out new lines and systems. It gives them a good opportunity to have playing practice.
  • One final point I wish to iterate is that after the game and in between the rounds, there is so little time that players hardly analyze their games with their opponents and thus miss out on the opportunity to learn what their opponent was thinking.

All in all I think Rapid tournaments are fun to play and can be the good change from the normal 4 hour time controls. 
Rapids should be used a side dish. However if you make it your main course, then it won't come as a huge surprise if your growth in chess will be stunted.
As my father rightly points in terms of cricket analogy: A test match cricketer, can always learn the art of playing well in T20 matches. But a person who has started his career with T20 matches will never have the temperament to play test match cricket. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and many others are examples of this fact.

The organizers in Mumbai need to have a vision that rapid play is not going to create another GM from the city. Though there is no real activity happening in the city apart from the Mayor's cup which will be held this June, the trend is starting to change a little.
Praful Zaveri, who is a coach and organizer in Mumbai, is holding a tournament from 8-16 May in Kandivli with a World championship like time control of 2 hours for 40 moves then another hour for next 20 moves and 15 mins up to finish. 7 hour game in all.
The wonderful thing is that there is only 1 round every day. Such a tournament must be played with great concentration by the children and each and every game should be analyzed carefully. You can find all the details about the tournament over here.

Praful Zaveri, an organizer in Mumbai with a vision.

It won't come to me as a surprise if many of the games between young kids would get over within 2 hours. However, the change from rapid and quick thinking to indepth and accurate thinking won't be easy. A start has to be made and I hope organizers with a good vision like Vinay Shetty and Praful Zaveri will come forward and bring back the beautiful culture of Inter school chess tournaments in Mumbai.


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