The Loud Silence of Chess Fans: Why are Chennai fans crowding the Chess Olympiad venue despite endless restrictions?

The Dalai Lama once said that there are 34,000 distinct emotions. Even he would find it hard to show a single emotion if he was at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai as a spectator. Because it’s not allowed. They can’t say hello if a player approaches their paddock, they can’t cheer on their favorite player or flash banners to get their attention. Mobile phones and cameras should be kept in the locker room; they can’t chew popcorn or swallow cola, forget about fizzy concoctions; between the audience they cannot debate or fight, no release of excitement after a play capture following an elaborate maneuver, such as after a rally at Wimbledon Center Court. Even the players don’t clap or throw punches. Nothing moves, everything is static. Watching chess from the galleries seems like an exercise in self-control. The silence suffocates.

Perhaps chess, as Garry Kasparov once said, is never meant to be watched from the galleries like any other spectator sport. “You can’t say, come on, come on, rah, rah, good shot! People want emotion, but chess is not a sport, but an art,” he once said. Kasparov never liked crowded halls as he felt the masses distracted him. So an artistic sacrifice or a creative bet or a surprise bet is best enjoyed on an online stream or in a chess club with friends. Arguably, it is this intrinsic, immutable nature of chess that makes them hostile to viewers when viewing from the galleries.

This is the curse of board games – no board game is a spectator sport. Scrabble fans don’t worry that it will never be at the Olympics. They’re so close to the action – closer perhaps than a boxing or wrestling match, almost within reach of the players, but they’re so far from the action to understand what’s happening on the boards .

Not that it stopped spectators from crowding the galleries of the Chess Olympiad. The main hall gallery is a few meters from the panels, where spectators can stand and watch from the sidelines behind a wall, guarded by volunteers. Concourse B has a better vantage point, as the platform is raised and there are chairs.

You could watch the players, if the players are expressive, most don’t betray emotions, gauge the mood; if you are a chess ace yourself, you can track the moves by watching the movement of the hands.

“You get a glimpse of what’s happening on the board closest to the gallery. You can see some of the blocks and then guess the moves and lines. But for that you need to know the game at a decent level,” says R Raghunathan, a former chess player who visits the site every day.

But he says he’s here more for the atmosphere than to see what happens on set. “I’m here for the atmosphere. There are people from all over, most of the best players in the world, Carlsen, So, Caruana, Aronian. I don’t know when I will be able to see them again in a tournament. Also, there are a lot of boys from Tamil Nadu and we have to show them good home support. If I wanted to enjoy the game and analyze the moves, I could have stayed home and streamed the games online,” he says.

Fans flock to the Chess Olympiad. (Photo: Sandip G)

Most of the spectators inside the gallery are fans and relatives or friends of the players rather than aficionados or just there because of the buzz. Like Raghunathan, Felix Anandaraj commuted from Tambaram to Mahabalipuram on his bicycle under the scorching sun just to cheer on Dr Gukesh, whom he had known since childhood. “I don’t know much about the game nor do I understand what’s going on (from the gallery), but I come here almost every day to show my support, meet the players and soak up the whole atmosphere. “, he says.

Thus, most of the chess players on the site congregate in the expansive golf benches like a courtyard on the site. There is a giant screen showing live matches from the FIDE live channel with commentary from Judit Polgar and Mihail Marin. But most also have other live streams on their smartphones so they can check out other games as well. But they do not watch the games without taking their eyes off them. On the contrary, they like to discuss the game within their groups.

Says S Roshan: “What we do is we look at a movement and analyze the line, the strategies and the possibilities between us, doing a kind of alternative commentary. In this way, we play the game ourselves, working out possibilities and permutations ourselves. Watching chess, like any other game, is best as a community experience. It’s a little more interesting to be here than to sit in front of a chessboard at home.

This is how the mind of a true blue chess fan works. While spectators in most other sports enjoy the moment – when a goal is scored or a six is ​​hit – chess fans find joy in calculating what might happen next, or after that. “We are always thinking about progression, patterns and possibilities. The best thing about the game is that you can play their game yourself, and games as old as Capablanca or Alekhine. All you need is a list of moves and a chart,” he explains.

Fans at the Chess Olympiad. (Photo: Sandip G)

On that note, chess has more space for spectator strategic and emotional involvement. Raghunathan chimes in: “We are as emotionally invested in a game or players as viewers of other games are. We like to see our favorites like in other sports too. As Kasparov said, chess is indeed an art, but like all good art, it also stirs emotion in the hearts of connoisseurs.

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