The big battle is still on at Hyatt Regency, but a smaller one concluded at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Thursday.

The national under-9 chess championship may have been for young children, but they turned up in really big numbers — 199 boys and 127 girls participated.

Such huge numbers have become possible only because of the man who is now fighting for his sixth world title — Viswanathan Anand. Before Anand emerged as a world champion, there were very few takers for chess in the country.

It was largely seen as pastime for old people. Now for every age-group tournament, you see large numbers of youngsters participating. “It is great to see young children participating in tournaments,” says Vipnesh Bhardwaj, who was the chief arbiter of the under-9 tournament that concluded on Thursday.

“I have been in chess for the past 40 years and I remember, very few children took part until Anand came along. It is not just the championships for children they take part in; they also compete in tournaments for grown-ups,” he says.

On Thursday, Nihal Sarin from Thrissur, Kerala, and Divya Deshmukh from Maharashtra, emerged victorious in the national under-9 event. “I did not lose a single game,” says a proud Nihal. “I won seven games and drew four.”

Divya lost a game though. “I lost to Cinnam Vyshnavi,” she says. “But I did not lose after that.” She is hoping to watch Anand in action. “He will win the world championship.”

The under-9 championship is one of the several events the Tamil Nadu State Chess Association is conducting to celebrate the world title match.

Up next is an international Grandmaster open tournament that kicks off on Friday.

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