Will chess ever become a spectator sport? Listen to what some players have to say

With all the mystery and drama surrounding Viswanathan Anand’s World Championship Series against Norwegian Magnus Carlsen which opens in Chennai on Saturday, chess suddenly appears to be an exciting sport.

But my friend is not very convinced.

“What excitement are you talking about? Two men staring at a board for hours without any action,” he asks.

That virtually sums up what many feel about the 64-square game despite chess being loaded with kings, queens, bishops, rooks, knights and pawns all involved in battle.

So, will chess ever be a spectator sport? Will it ever raise a thrill like a Sachin Tendulkar lofted straight drive, an I.M. Vijayan bicycle kick in football or send a shiver down your spine like a left hook in boxing?

"I don’t think chess will ever be a spectator sport, that’s out of the question,” says Donning Wirk from the Netherlands. “People have to understand the game in order to appreciate it. So, the best thing is to teach children in schools and then people will become interested.”

But like T20 which has made cricket such a huge hit, will blitz, chess’ faster version where games last a few minutes, do the trick?

“I don’t think blitz will help in a big way because in chess, the more time you have to think, the better moves you have,” said the 57-year-old chess player.

Anjana Krishna, who returned with a bunch of golds from the Asian Schools Championship last year, also believes taking chess to schools is the best way to make it a spectator sport.

“Basically, people don’t know how to play,” says the 18-year-old from Thiruvananthapuram, who played the Junior Worlds in Turkey recently. “If more people know about chess, there will be more following it.”

Hilmi Parveen, also a triple gold winner (classical, rapid and blitz) at the recent Asian Schools Championship in Sri Lanka, feels blitz chess could become a spectator sport but not the standard version.

“People take time to make their moves in the standard version but blitz is very fast,” says the Aluva-based girl who has played the World and Asian youth championships earlier.

So, what’s the best way to follow Anand and Carlsen?

“I’d prefer the internet because you’ll be getting online analysis and all the stuff,” says Anjana.

Hilmi will also be following the action closely on the net though it will be coming live on television too.

“But you can pick up a lot of things if you watch the match live, or on TV,” says M. Kunal, the RSC Open champion. “You will understand their way of thinking and also their attitude. It’s not only the action on the board which will be interesting; it will be nice to see what is happening off the board too.”

James Joseph is one of the fortunate few to have played against Anand in Kerala a little after he had won the Junior World title in 1987. “I’m the one he is playing with in the photo (above),” says James, the founder of JackFruit365.

Anand was then playing simultaneous chess with 50 people at the Municipal Town Hall in Pala.

“He had white and all of us played black. I played 21 moves with him and then he beat me hollow,” says James the excitement still fresh in his voice.

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