No blind moves

The visually challenged can play chess as effortlessly as anyone else — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy  

BEING BLIND was no barrier to the intrepid band of men and women, who proved their mettle on the chessboard. It might sound far fetched, but the fact is that a visually-challenge person can play chess as effortlessly as anyone else. This was very much evident at the South Zone Chess Championship For The Blind, conducted recently by a Bangalore-based voluntary organisation for the disabled, called Samarthanam.

About 50 to 60 players competed in the championship, which in the words of arbiter, Mr. Sushrutha of Karnataka Chess Association, was of high quality. "Normally in such tournaments, one finds few on top boards playing a good game, but I was amazed to find that the game was very much interesting at least for 19 to 20 boards. That speaks of their skills," says Mr. Sushrutha.

For nearly a week, the State Youth Centre in Bangalore, wore a festive look with players and the guardians converging on the venue and comparing notes after each and every round. It was a unique and memorable experience, for all those who were involved in the championship. Mr. G.K. Mahantesh, a Managing Trustee with Samarthanam, who is visually impaired, took a lead role in conducting the championship. "It was for the first time that we held a meet of this nature in Bangalore. This was suggested to me by my friend, Mr.Harinath, who felt that Bangalore was an ideal centre for the championship. There were quite a few visually impaired players in the South and unfortunately there are not enough meets for them, as it is in Mumbai and a few other places," says Mr. Mahantesh.

How different is the game for the blind? "Not much of a difference," says Mahantesh. "The boards are slightly different. They are called Stuanton boards, developed by National Institute for the Blind, United Kingdom.

The black squares on the board are slightly raised than the white ones. Each square has a peg hole to hold the pieces and also, the black pieces have a projected dot on the top, so that players can identify the piece. Pieces like King, Queen, and Knight are easily identifiable by their shapes. Players do not have any difficulty as such," says Mahantesh.

No blind moves

Chess might not be a physically challenging sport, but it is challenging mentally, particularly for those with visual impairment. It is challenging no doubt, but these blind players are totally tuned in.

N. Siddaiah of Andhra Pradesh won the title with 8.5 points from nine rounds, which speaks volumes about his skill. The young man from Tirupathi, was spotted by Harinath and trained by him. Though Siddaiah was very happy to win at the event, he had one regret that he did not get leave to play in the championship. The Bank, he is employed with, refused to grant him leave and he was forced to apply casual leave. I don't think it would have happened to a normal player," says Siddaiah.

A.M. Mallikarjun of Karnataka was a worthy runner up with 7.5 points, but he bemoans the lack of training material. "I wish we could have more literature in Braille on chess and special computers to simulate games," says Mallikarjun.

Harinath, who is the driving force behind the movement to popularise chess among the blind, says there should be more tournaments.

"But unfortunately for us, there are three different National federations for the blind, who are pursuing their own agenda. They should work united," feels Harinath.

Harinath also seeks a better deal for the players. "There should be more job opportunities for us. We are in no way inferior to normal players and if our players get the right training and support, quite a few of them would get FIDE rating and play in major national and international events, " he asserts.