Monday, 30th October 2017

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Shatranj Ke Khiladi

Not cricket, not football either; a new, hybrid sport has chosen Calcutta as its India headquarters. Manasi Shah reports from ground zero

By Manasi Shah
  • Published 8.10.17
BRAIN ’N’ BRAWN: The chess boxing centre in Calcutta

The signage at the entrance of the single storey building in south Calcutta says something about it being a multi-gym, yoga and steam bath facility; no mention of the odd sport it is incubating. This is the headquarters of the Chess Boxing Organisation of India.

"Of all countries where chess boxing is played, India currently has the highest number of players, almost 3,500," says Montu Das, who founded the organisation in 2011. The sport itself was conceived in Germany in 2003.

We are in the working-class heart of the posh New Alipore area. The hall on the ground floor has a row of punching bags hanging on one side. Scattered across the rest of the space are chessboards - on the floor and some atop low tables. There is music playing in the background - loud beats, brisk tempo. Around a score boys and girls, all in their early or mid teens, are shuttling from punching bag to chessboard. There is urgency in the air. The national championship is round the corner; it will be held in Nagpur. Since Das set it up, the organisation has sprung 13 branches across India.

Pradeep Yadav and Subhojit Das are hunched over a table. They have headphones on to cut out the ambient sound. Lying next to them are their boxing gloves, all laced up, and protective headgear.

The way it works - competitors face off in alternate rounds of chess and boxing. Checkmate in three minutes, which is the set format, and it is a straight win. If the game remains inconclusive, participants proceed for a bout of boxing. And that's how it continues for 11 rounds till a clear win is established. "You can't imagine the adrenaline rush while transitioning from a round of rapid chess to boxing," says Das, who is a Bruce Lee fan and among other things has been kickboxing coach to Kolkata Police at some point.

Pradeep likes the boxing bit more. "It is more fun and you don't need to wrack your brain," he laughs. His opponent, Subhojit, is somewhat of a star in these local circles - two-time national champion, known to have checkmated an opponent in the first 15 seconds of a match. "I feel hap-pier when I win a round of chess. It shows mental prowess," he says.

Kaushik Roy is one of the youngest players in the room. He tells us it was his elder sister, Dipanwita, who was the regular here. He saw her practise boxing and wanted to learn the moves. And that is how it is with most of the students here. Consequently, there is a bit of a training imbalance, more of boxing, less of chess.

Das, however, insists that chess is easier to pick up. He says, " Ek week mein chess sikhaya ja sakta hai lekin boxing nahin (You can teach someone chess in a week's time, but not boxing). Vishwanathan Anand can't learn boxing, but Vijender Singh can learn chess, don't you think so?"

Better check that one again, mate.