Topic: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
“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 now 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 have I given back to this game?
The responsibility for 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 regardless of their financial backing were groomed and received essential support and encouragement. Inspired by this nonconformist association that aimed to become an organization ‘For the chess players, by the chess players’, 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. I was aware of the implications of my decision. It would mean sacrificing personal achievement for personal satisfaction, lesser opportunities and enduring the ridicule of my peers. 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.
What followed were two years of struggle and insecurity until we finally found a breakthrough in the stalemate we found ourselves in. Due to patronage from a wealthy benefactor, CAI had emerged as a platform for affordable and competitive chess in India and I could, with immense satisfaction, affirm that I was an integral part of this revolution.
Would I make 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. While the satisfaction of proving the doubters wrong was immense, it was perhaps the inner sense of fulfillment that I savored the most. At the end of the day, chess was never about the accolades or the recognition, and perhaps it was the love for the game that prompted me to act in such a drastic manner. One of the first lessons that I was taught as a beginner was that ‘Even a pawn can take on a King’ which, fittingly, holds true for my story. I would like to conclude by using a quote from one of my favorite chess players who perfectly sums up this beautiful game and also my journey:
“That’s what Chess is all about. One day you give your opponent a lesson, the next day he gives you one”
Even a pawn can take on a king.
Single institution 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