“Checkmate”, I exclaimed at the top of my voice, while deliriously running down the tournament hall, feeling unconquerable as I had won my first ever chess match.
10 years later, I am a national level chess player and still there are only a few things that get my heart thumping and adrenaline pumping like a good chess match. My journey from an enthusiast to a professional chess player has symbolically been like a complicated chess game: It changed with every move and decision and every major breakthrough required sacrifices on my part. Chess has been responsible for shaping my life thus far. It has helped me build a keen intellect, a self-image and self esteem and also enabled me to earn the respect of my peers. So, I often questioned myself as to what had I given back to this game?
The responsibility of the administration and promotion of chess in India lay solely under the control of the All India Chess Federation (AICF). Unfortunately as an organization, it was plagued with corruption from the grassroots to the professional level and had turned chess into a money spinning business. I witnessed several outstanding players who could not pursue their aspirations and dreams due to their inability to afford the entry fee requirements. Also accused of bribery and match fixing, AICF was detested by every student of the game. While many spoke of taking a stand against these illicit actions, players believed that given AICF’s superior financial resources, political affiliations and almost autocratic control over chess implied, a change in the system was unattainable.
From the shackles of despair, there emerged a glimmer of hope in the form of an independent organization known as Chess Association of India(CAI) that promised to create an environment where players despite their financial backing were groomed and received essential support and encouragement. I decided to end all my affiliations with AICF, give up my national rank and FIDE rating and devote myself entirely to this organization which shared a similar ideology and passion for the game. Initially, due to limited resources and personnel, the organization was unable to achieve something significant and remained in the shadow of AICF. Subsequently, my decision was questioned and termed as impulsive and my efforts deemed as worthless. Regardless I remained undeterred, and drew inspiration from one of the first lessons I was taught as chess student “Even a pawn can take on a King”.
What followed were two years of struggle and insecurity until we finally found a breakthrough in the stalemate we found ourselves in. Impressed with our ideology a patron agreed to sponsor future events under the bastion of CAI. Over the following year CAI organized several events ,most notably a tournament in Lucknow, India with total price money worth Rs25 lakh. Further, the minimal entry fees attracted talented players from all over, particularly from the under privileged parts of India. Finally, CAI was on course to become an organization ‘For the chess players, by the chess players’. Most importantly I was proud to be a part of an organization that succeeded in creating an environment where a player could dedicate himself to the game we loved without any restrictions. While the satisfaction of proving the doubters wrong was immense, it was perhaps the inner sense of fulfillment that I savored the most.
Unfortunately this period didn’t last long .Having realized the threat of this advancing pawn, AICF tried to curtail our influence through underhand means. It threatened players with life time bans and used negative publicity. Our organization began to crumble from within due to problems in management and continued pressure from AICF. Eventually, CAI had to be dissolved but we didn’t go down without a fight and only under promises from AICF to significantly change its modus operandi did we rest our case. [talking more about the organization – digressing from the question and losing context]
Would I take the same decision again? Would I risk all that I achieved again? Yes. Though I have certain regrets about not entirely achieving all that I wished to by associating myself to CAI,I take great pride in the fact that I could give back to chess in whatever way possible.
Option #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Even a pawn can take on a king.
Single instituition cannot change anything
Branded as unaffiliated
Several friends defected
Value ethics and morale and spirit of the game
Apprehensions from others
Considered a mere pawn by aicf initially gradually took notice
Love for the game
Loyalty to my coach
Though cai disbanded forced reformfs