A pair of teachers from Villupuram, John Paul and Ranjith Kumar, keep an anxious watch on two 10-year-old boys who are focussing on a chess game at Nehru stadium. “Their parents are daily wage labourers who asked us for money when we told them their children were being taken to Chennai for a tournament. These two are really good,” said Mr. Ranjith, quickly clarifying that he is no ‘chess coach’, just a teacher. 

They were among the several teachers from various districts who accompanied their students for the one-day chess tournament organised by the department of school education, on Friday. Nearly 380 keen young competitors participated in the event.  

Mr. Paul, who has been teaching in a government school for the last ten years, explained that after the State government allotted two chess boards to every school last year, teachers like him who knew a bit about chess, began training children. “Now, in my school, there is a fight for those two boards during every break. Unlike in cities, where parents spend a lot on coaching their children in chess, in villages, the awareness is low. Even we know only the basics of the game, not the strategies,” he added. Students in his area have been practising for months to get selected for the tournament, he said.  

Dhana Nagammal from Ilayankudi, Sivanganga, put her daughter Bamithra into chess coaching after she defeated her parents in a game when she was barely three. For four years, she trained in chess for at least five hours a day. “It used to be full-day chess on holidays. But, I quit playing for a few years to focus on studies, and since then, many of my friends have become national champions, while I am still here,” said Bamithra, a class XII student, who wants to be a woman grandmaster but also a genetic engineer. She is a participant at the event.

The setting up of chess clubs in many schools is another reason for the response being this tremendous, said Peter Reddy, district inspector, physical education. The participants had to pay six rounds at the event on Friday. “Since the tournament is based on the Swiss Rapid Method, we will get the best three players at the end of the day. We made sure half the participants are girls.”

Students of many other schools had come to witness the game. J. Kanmani, a teacher from St. Anthony School in Pallikarinai, said they had selected 100 interested students from their school and brought them so that they would “get inspired and interested in the game.” 

Six-year-old Murali Krishnan, who had come with his grandfather to meet ‘chess champions of his age,’ said he liked the board game because it “does not need batteries and can be played without wifi.”

“Also, the game has helped him focus. He would not sit in one place otherwise,” said his 72-year-old grandfather, Devarajan.

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