The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chess does not lend itself to mass hysteria. This is true for anywhere in the world, not just in India. It is in the nature of the game, which is cerebral and solitary. This cannot incite excitement among the masses. More importantly, in the context of mass involvement, chess is not an attractive proposition for television viewers. This has kept chess a low-key game enjoyed by those who genuinely engage with it. Yet, in other parts of the world, chess grandmasters are considered to be major figures. They may not be icons, but they are not exactly uncelebrated. Think of the fame enjoyed by Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky and Garri Kasparov — to name only a few from recent memory — in their own countries and elsewhere in the world. In India, it is true that Vishwanathan Anand has not enjoyed even a small proportion of the prestige and status enjoyed by top-class chess players like the ones above. He has proved that he is in no way inferior to them in skill and perseverance. His rise to the position of world champion was not meteoric, but marked by hard work and the desire to win at the highest level of the game. Mr Anand is right in apprehending that the reception he will receive when he returns to India will not be comparable to the one given to the Indian cricket team when it won the Twenty20 tournament. This is sad, but is also an unfortunate fact of life. The problem lies to a large extent in the nature of the game in which Mr Anand excels.

Cricket was originally a quiet, English, summer game that, after the advent of television, became an item of mass consumption in South Asia, and cricketers became national heroes or villains according to the context. Chess can never be part of a similar transformation. It is perhaps apposite that chess will never become a part of mass hysteria. By its very nature, chess is a deeply rational game, completely dependent on two individual powers of reasoning and deductive logic. There is no play of uncertainty in chess; defeat is not left to chance, but to one person’s failure of reasoning. Reason, as everyone knows, is the polar opposite of mass frenzy. Mr Anand should not lament the absence of a people’s reception in a stadium, but he should enjoy the dignified and reasonable way he will be received by chess enthusiasts. The day chess grandmasters become icons like cricketers and filmstars, chess will suffer a checkmate.

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