Infinity within 64 squares
Chess has evolved a lot since it was first introduced competitively in India. Contributing to the increase were the best Indian players and Anand of course is the cornerstone of the growth. Over the past few decade, the game has grown beyond anyone could have ever fathomed. All chess players know how taxing it is both mentally and physically to sit hunched over a board and calculate hundreds of intricate variations with a time ticking down with hundreds of players playing simultaneously in a tournament hall. However some people who have never been to a tournament hall furrow at the thought of calling chess a 'sport', for them it is just a board game to be played to pass the time. WFM Tarini Goyal explores the impact of chess as a sport and how it changed her life for the positive and all the opportunities it provided. Find out more about Tarini and her journey in the article below.
“Well, it isn’t really a sport, is it?”
“You don’t have to do much, right?”
“There’s no workout, sounds more like an activity than a sport.”
These are the common replies one gets in my city when they tell someone that they are a chess player. No matter how much you know in your heart that chess is a unique blend of sport, science and art, hearing such one-liners makes you question the whole point of pursuing your passion. Face it on a regular basis and you will end up abandoning something you once treasured.
For me, what started as a hobby at the age of six, ended up being a means of escaping the world when it was too hard on me. Initially, everything was pretty smooth. I started attending classes with a group of kids three times a week and within a short span of time, I had started winning the state championships of my category regularly. This wasn’t because I was working very hard, nor was it because I was anything like a genius, it was just that there were very few girls who played chess in my city, Chandigarh.
However, the easy part ended earlier than anyone in my family expected. My parents decided to take me for the Under-7 Nationals in 2008, held in Maharashtra, since I had bagged the first place in the state championship. The idea of participating in nationals might come very naturally to someone from any state in south India, or West Bengal, or even Delhi. But, somehow, it seemed very strange to most people we interacted with closer home. Spending money on train tickets, accommodation and all other miscellaneous expenses for a ‘girl’ playing ‘one’ chess tournament didn’t make much sense to anyone.
Regardless, my parents remained firm with their decision as they wanted to give me some exposure of playing a national level championship. When we reached the tournament hall, there was a different atmosphere altogether. Kids had come well prepared, some were even accompanied by their coaches, and all in all everyone had a very focused mind-set. We had never witnessed that level of seriousness as for me and most of my contemporaries in Chandigarh, chess still remained a hobby.
Unexpectedly, I finished 4th in the nationals and got selected for the Asian Youth Championship to be held next year. I bagged the bronze medal in the Asian Under-8 category in 2009 and also became the National Under-9 Champion in 2010, again getting selected for the Asian and World Youth Championships. It felt great and also proved to many that spending on a sport isn’t an expense, rather it’s an investment. Certainly, this wasn’t something I, or anyone in my city had expected out of me. One might think that the glorious journey began and never ended for me. However, hardships were just lurking in the path ahead, waiting like mines to explode as I tread further.
First problem was that there are very few coaches in Chandigarh, and there were none who had the expertise to train me beyond that point. Second, investing heavily on chess was not something my family was prepared for, even though they really wanted to. Third, there were hardly any tournaments in my city and being a girl, travelling alone at that age was not an option. So every time I had to play a tournament, it meant my mother or father asking for leave from their bosses and it didn’t usually turn out well. That problem was solved when my mom sacrificed her own career to accompany me to tournaments.
Missing out on school was something unimaginable for us and me and mom had to work very hard to keep up with every part of the syllabus that I missed during a tournament. However, getting coaching still remained a task and my mom couldn’t travel very often because of health issues. Essentially, it wasn’t logical to continue playing if one thought rationally. And yes, there were many times when I did consider giving up entirely on the sport. Bit by bit, I managed to keep going and won national and Asian medals time and again. I even finished amongst the top five students of my class for major portion of my school life. But it never got easier, studies became harder, coaching and travel became costlier, and in this journey, I ended up having one traumatic experience as well. There have been times, especially when I was in grade 12th, when everyday felt like a burden and everything in life seemed to be falling apart.
The trade-off between chess and studies worsened as my performance dropped in both fields in the middle of last year in school, the one that is supposed to be the most important. That very year, when just about everything was going wrong, I got myself together and decided that my top priority would not be marks in school or rankings in chess, it would be my mental health. Working on myself bore fruit as I finished 7th in the World Under-18 Championship held in October 2018 in Greece. I landed back in India, focused completely on the CBSE board exams to be held in March 2019, and aced them with a score of 96.4% in commerce stream along with mathematics as a main subject. Through this journey of peaks and troughs, I have learnt two important lessons. First, if you truly love something, you’d choose it over any material possession. And second, the Universe doesn’t do all the work itself just because you really want something, it does all that work when it sees you doing everything you can to get what you want!
Today, I’m studying in India’s best commerce college, pursuing the course I desired to and still, nothing gets easier. Living away from home makes it harder to focus on two completely different pursuits simultaneously and the thought of giving up on one still does cross my mind enough times. Having faith in oneself and even greater faith in the unseen forces that are at play, does help when you get lost in the sea!
About the Author
Tarini Goyal is a former National Under-9 Girls, Asian Schools Under-11 Girls Standard and Blitz, National Schools Under-13 Girls, Chandigarh State Under-17 and 19 Girls and Open State Champion. She has also won Silver in Asian Youth Under-10 Girls, Silver in World Youth Mind Sports Under-14 Girls Blitz, Bronze in Asian Youth Under-8 and 10 Girls, third in National Under-11 and 17 Girls. Currently she is studying in Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi.
The article was edited by Shahid Ahmed