Saturday, February 28, 2009

Indian National Open Chess Tournament for the Blind

Story from A Fight Between Black and White Submitted by Mohit Joshi on Sat, 02/28/2009 - 04:55. With their faces less than a foot away, the top seed and his challenger introduce themselves across the table. It’s the National Open Chess Tournament for the Blind and Srikrishna Udupa is one of the favourites. Udupa is expected to get through without trouble against Ajay Kumar of Kerala, but the two make small talk as they await the signal to start. “What do you do?” asks Ajay, to which Udupa replies: “I’m a chess coach. I used to coach for free, but I ran into some financial trouble, so I had to do this full time.” That’s a bit of an understatement. A gold medallist at the World Blind Olympiad last October, he is among the most popular coaches and players in Karnataka – his trainees include a Commonwealth silver medallist and a state champion. It’s an impressive story for a man who lost his sight after a cricket ball hit him in the face when he was in his tenth standard. “I used to be depressed for a while because I couldn’t play outdoor sports when I lost my sight,” says Udupa. “So I took to chess.” Bangalore is another stop for Udupa in his journey as a coach and player. With sight only in one eye, and that too not good enough to read a mobile phone from three or four inches away, Udupa, whose home is in Shimoga, travels all over the state, staying at his trainees’ homes and teaching them the game. He is a hit among children, whom he can wean on to the sport with a mixture of humour and storytelling. “With kids, he tells them stories between sessions,” says Shristi Shetty, Commonwealth (under-14) silver medallist in 2007. “He can change his methods according to the level of the player. I learnt the game from him. It’s been seven years, and I’ve been with him all this while.” “He’s a travelling encyclopaedia,” says Chandrashekar Upadhyaya, a national arbiter with All India Chess Federation, whose son is Udupa’s trainee. “He’s got a great way with children. My eleven-year-old son once sat with him for 13 straight hours – he uses jokes and stories to keep them enthralled. He has a great sense of humour – once he even got on stage to reel off his jokes, and everybody was in splits.” Udupa was a competitive player on the open circuit – his highest ELO rating was 2072 – but had to give up because the financial burden got too heavy. From 2006 onwards he played only on the blind chess circuit, earning his money by coaching junior players. In October last year, playing the fourth board, he won eight of his nine matches to get the individual gold at the [World Blind] Chess Olympiad, the first Indian to win the prize. Given that chess is the only mainstream sport that blind people can compete equally with ‘sighted’ people, Udupa says the problem is not so much the difference in skill, but in practise and matchplay. “Since we can’t see the board, it’s tougher to play during time pressure,” he says. “But there are a couple of players, like Sai Krishna and Darpan Irani, who can become top-level players.” Once that happens, the profile of the game might dramatically shift and a new generation of blind players might occupy greater space in the nation’s sporting consciousness. They can thank, among others, Srikrishna Udupa for showing the way. Dev S Sukumar/ DNA-Daily News & Analysis Source: 3D Syndication

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