The right moves: How Bangalore Chess Club is making the game fun

The setting is informal, with players cutting across all age groups revelling in an environment that is far removed from the cut-throat world of competitive chess

April 28, 2023 11:59 am | Updated 12:45 pm IST

Chess enthusiasts at an event conducted by the Bangalore Chess Club at a cafe

Chess enthusiasts at an event conducted by the Bangalore Chess Club at a cafe | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Amey Sirdeshpande, 16, got hooked to chess largely because of Samay Raina’s online streams.

Raina, a stand-up comic and chess enthusiast, was one of COVID-19 lockdown’s greatest hits, with his YouTube channel becoming a rage. Laced with comedy and banter, it helped the game shed its studious image and appeal to an audience beyond the sport’s traditional fraternity.

The Bangalore Chess Club (BCC) is trying something similar — a dedicated set of volunteers led by techie Tarun Mittal have been organising chess matches at Lahe Lahe, a cultural and community hub and café in Indiranagar, twice a month.

The setting is informal, with players cutting across all age groups revelling in an environment that is far removed from the cut-throat world of competitive chess. Generally considered rude to talk while others are playing, the atmosphere out here is chatty but not loud. There are no referees, players keep their own time and are guaranteed seven rounds (Blitz format). Amey, naturally, is a regular here.

Chess enthusiasts at an event conducted by the Bangalore Chess Club at Lahe Lahe

Chess enthusiasts at an event conducted by the Bangalore Chess Club at Lahe Lahe | Photo Credit: N. Sudarshan

“We don’t target those who are serious about chess, but rather those who are flirting with the game,” says Tarun. “To them, we offer a fun variant. It is ultimately about how much value you put for a win. The value we are assigning here is very low. We are not rewarding the winners, but give lucky draw prizes in the end. So people are not really competing.”

The idea to start a chess club was born in 2015 when Manish Simon, an architect from Bengaluru who has since moved to Berlin, put out a post on Meetup asking those interested in playing chess to come to Freedom Park.

Around five or six people turned up and it gradually grew from there. Tarun got involved with the community during the pandemic, and has been one of the mainstays ever since he moved to the city for his full-time job. BCC now averages 100 people per event, with a promise of more.

“The place has an earthy feel,” says Ashoke Tewari, whose eight-year-old home-schooled son, Dhaani, loves being at BCC. “It’s not very technical. I like the sofas around, which give a more down-to-earth feel to the game. It lets people engage and it’s not just about winning.”

Sainanda, a first-time visitor who has brought his 11-year-old son Lakshya, feels a community centre like BCC will help children build healthy one-to-many relationships with other people and not just be limited to one-to-one associations with their electronic devices.

“Children nowadays are learning mostly from mobiles and laptops,” says Sainanda. “And there they think they are always at the top. Here at BCC, their outlook opens up. My son won his first match and he thought he was a champion. When he lost the second and third matches, he understood how different people play and their levels. So it is not just against computers.”

In the last 18 months, BCC has organised public events at Cubbon Park and on MG Road to appeal to a wider section of society.

Earlier this month, coinciding with the World Chess Championship, a simultaneous chess event with International Master Rakesh Kulkarni was organised at Garuda Mall and saw the participation of close to 500 people. The previous year’s event was graced by Grandmaster M.S. Thejkumar of Karnataka.

“I want this to become like the Saint Louis Chess Club in the United States,” says Tarun. “You always have a residing Grandmaster with some classes going on. They set up boards and anybody can play. It is a very big institution but it still maintains the balance between seriousness and fun — that is our long-term vision.”

In the near-future, BCC wants to expand to newer venues in Bengaluru and for that more sponsorship would be welcome.

“Returns are hard and most of the help we receive is in kind,” explains Tarun. “Chess.com gives prizes in the form of memberships. StonKraft is giving us the boards and we charge a small ₹100 entry fee. It is a community building-activity, not a money-spinning exercise.”

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