The Pawn by Mayank Chhaya
For someone not that interested in chess I seem to watch the FIDE World Championship rather regularly, albeit with waning interest. I wrote about the game in 2012 and 2013 from the standpoint of an ignoramus. Now that it is currently on between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen in Sochia, Russia, I am back again watching it with next to no comprehension of what is underway.
The first thing that strikes me this morning is how Anand looks exactly the same as he did in 2013. In my private mind I call him the Bill Gates of Chennai. His demeanor and looks fleetingly remind me of the billionaire. They both wear carefully unstylish clothes. Anand combs his hair a little more fastidiously than Gates.
As you can see, I am already distracted by the trivial and the extraneous while watching the game because I do not really understand what is going on on the board. The players are both hunched over staring at their pieces as if that might fire some life into the inanimate objects. Perhaps in their mind’s eye they see them as something living and breathing. Who knows?
While the game is on I decided to paint my little tribute to it and the result is the piece above. It is a stylized pawn spreading the arms out like an ancient warrior whose gender is hard to determine by merely looking at it. That is a deliberate move on my part.
Anand is the kind of man who as a boy must have been a painfully attentive student who always did his homework unfailingly, on time and right, brushed his teeth, combed his hair in perfect parting much to the chagrin and annoyance of the others.
Vishwanathan Anand at Sochi this morning
Last year, while watching online the championship going on in Chennai, I wrote this: “Watching FIDE World Chess Championship 2013 live and not understanding anything has its unexpected “rewards.” For instance, one such “reward” came this morning at the start of the 7th game between the defending champion, India’s Viswanathan Anand and the challenger, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen.
It was in the form of an amusing observation by one of the two commentators who said this after the 22-year-old Norwegian made a move: “How quickly he moved? Only after 4-5 minutes. That is surprising,” she said. That comment should tell you a lot of about the game of chess at its highest level. If a move made in about five minutes is regarded as surprisingly quick, then it is indicative of what it takes for those watching it to commit to in order to like the game.
Purely as a matter of record, some 200 million people were watching the championship worldwide.”
In May, 2012, after Anand won his fifth championship I wrote the following:
“Chess is as much a spectator sport as the National Spelling Bee. In other words, not at all.
Spectacle has to be an intrinsic part of any sport apart from some measure of athleticism. Ask the Romans if you don’t believe me. With due deference to those follow it, two intensely inscrutable players moving about pieces on a board falls short of that popular definition of a sport.
Whatever jousting that happens in chess, happens inside the two players’ brains. So unless someone develops an app which can, in real time, visually represent either in animation of the quality of ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ the movie, or find a way for real life actors to enact the moves live on stage, we have to accept that it does not get the buildup that cricket or soccer gets.
As India’s greatest chess player Viswanathan Anand won his fifth World Chess Championship title in Moscow by beating his Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand in a tense tie-breaker, there is some chatter in the social media about why chess does not receive the kind of attention that the just concluded cricket jamboree, the Indian Premier League (IPL), does. Well, for one every move that Anand makes is not followed by taut nymphs in tight tops gyrating in approval. More importantly though, it is not a game that offers any peripheral entertainment at all which is what often draws large crowds to others sports, therefore more corporate money, therefore a much greater media profile.
When Anand or for that matter any player is contemplating their next move there is nothing that the spectator is privy to other than thinking of what they might do in their place. It is not as if Anand gets up from his chair and consults the audience or explodes in a tremendously entertaining rant. My point is chess will never have the obscenely well-endowed corporate and audience patronage enjoyed by other unabashedly spectacle driven sports. Chess demands considerable cerebral energy and imagination and most ordinary people’s idea of sport-based entertainment is anything but.
The image of Anand in a fully buttoned-up blue shirt or Gelfand in a suit and both looking dour hardly allows for popular involvement.
One can bemoan that Anand will never be carried by fans on their shoulders when he returns to his hometown of Chennai, although one can never be sure when it comes to India. Indians love celebration perhaps more than any other people on the planet with the possible exception of Americans.
Obviously, chess is a great game and demands extraordinary focus, imagination, foresight, ruthlessness and intuition. Those who excel in it are generally those who are able to see life from a 1000 different angles. Those great attributes notwithstanding it is not a spectator sport and will never attract a fraction of the attention that other sports do. Unless, of course, we thrown in some taut nymphs in tight tops in the mix.”
As I exit the game this morning, my appeal remains what it has always been. Make the game a little more exciting for the spectators through CGI. If the spectators have to wonder whether the two players are very much alive and their pulse fine, there is some problem with the game. On the other hand, the real aficionados whose number is fairly high are not shallow like me with their attention span seriously challenged. So it is not for me to say one way or the other.