One king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns.
For Ayush Bhattacharjee, these are not fairytale characters or soft toys like any other six-year-old could have. These characters moving over the 64 light and dark squares of the chess board have become a part of his life.
“Amar daba khelte khub bhalo lage [I love playing chess],” says Bhattacharjee with an innocent smile to people he meets at his coaching centre. He is one of a group of aspiring chess players at the Alekhine Chess Club at Gorky Sadan (the Russian Cultural Centre) in Kolkata.
For about 200 students coming to this club and to the associated Goodricke National Chess Academy, their big dream is to enter the league of elite chess players of the world. Among the students and the faculty, the euphoria of Viswanathan Anand’s fifth title triumph at the World Chess Championship in Moscow is yet to die down.
Anand has an old association with the Alekhine Club. Sitting with the students, Soumen Majumder, secretary of the club, says, “We celebrated Anand’s victory here. He has been attached to the club and the Goodricke Academy since the 1980s.” Anand took part in an international event here in the 1980s, and in the Goodricke Open in 1992. The club gifted him a car, says Majumder. Even now, Anand visits the club often to inaugurate tournaments and give tips to the children here.
However, Majumder and his colleagues believe that the Alekhine Club’s real contribution to Indian chess has been a goodly number of chess prodigies, grandmasters and international masters. The club has produced grandmasters like Dibyendu Barua, Surya Sehkhar Ganguly, Sandipan Chanda and Nilotpal Das, and women’s grand master Marian Gomez. “I joined the club when I was nine years old,” says grandmaster Nilotpal Das.
The club’s international masters include Sankar Roy, Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury, Arghyadip Das, Nisha Mohta and Samak Palit. “More than 90 per cent of the grand masters and international masters from West Bengal are associated with this club,” says Gautam Ghosh, the club’s programme head.
Named in honour of former world chess champion Alexander Alekhine, the club started in 1976 as a testimony to strong Indo-Soviet ties. After the fall of Soviet Union, it continued imparting chess education and also started organising tournaments — including school chess championships, a world youth international, grandmasters’ chess, rapid chess and other events.
The club first shot to fame in 1982, when 12-year-old Dibyendu Barua did a David-versus-Goliath act by toppling the then world number two grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi in London. Later, Barua was the second Indian to become an international grandmaster, after Anand.
The institute has 12 teachers, organises three hours of classes daily and charges a minimal fee of Rs 300-400. Coaching is free for poor students. Before tournaments, the coaches guide students in how to form strategies against particular players, and on opening moves. “After the tournaments, we used to share our experiences and analyse performance,” says Nilotpal Das.
“Our job here is to guide the players for international competitions. We help them to learn the tricks of the game and strategise their moves,” says international master Subhrajit Saha, who is also a teacher at the academy.
One of the biggest tournaments the club organises is the Goodricke International Open, which is considered to be among the top seven chess events in the world. In order to reach the masses, it also organises the Telegraph School Chess Championship every year. It has been held even in cities like Jamshedpur, Guwahati and Bhubaneswar.
Among the many records against the Alekhine Club’s name, it holds the distinction of hosting the largest number of international tournaments in Asia, and has the most grandmasters, international masters and even national champions in various categories.
Every student here follows these words of Alexander Alekhine: “Chess for me is not a game, but an art. Yes, and I take upon myself all those responsibilities which an art imposes on its adherents.”