Chess in Olympics won’t be effective: Manuel Aaron

There was nothing on Indian chess in the 1950s, 60s, and even to an extent in the 70s. No notable players. No worthwhile chess literature. Most of them didn’t even know how the game was played internationally. Amidst this vacuum, Manuel Aaron became the country’s first International Master in 1961. India took another 17 years to produce another International Master.

India's first International Chess Master, Manuel Aaron.   -  M. Karunakaran

There was nothing on Indian chess in the 1950s, 60s, and even to an extent in the 70s. No notable players. No worthwhile chess literature. Most of them didn’t even know how the game was played internationally. Amidst this vacuum, Manuel Aaron became the country’s first International Master in 1961. India took another 17 years to produce another International Master. Aaron (79) joined us at the Madras Cricket Club (MCC) for the launch of Sportstarlive, spoke about his memories of Sportstar, the current state of chess in India, chess in Olmympics, among other things.

You are India’s first International Master. What do you have to say about the current status of Chess in India?

It has exploded. It has become more different from what it was in 1960s when I was an International Master. There are so many players now. There are about 40 Grand Masters, 140 International Masters, and lot of others who are on the threshold of becoming Grand Masters. Also, there is a lot of money in the game. No chess player is unemployed unlike my days when things weren’t that good. Most of the associations are very active and they support the players. They measure their success by the success of their players.

There are good chess players in India. However, no one has come close to emulating Vishwanathan Anand. Are there any other players who can emulate his achievements?

Yes, there are quite a few young players. Padmini Rout from Odisha, Vidit Gujrathi from Maharashtra and there is Aravindh Chithambaram. They are all talented teenagers who are exposed to the international level at a very young age. Anand didn’t have such opportunities when he played.

Are you happy with the popularity of chess in India today?

Yeah. I am very happy. Actually, many people in the world think that India is a place where things are going to happen.

What are your thoughts about including chess in the Olympics?

I don’t think it will be effective because the Olympic games is an event where every country participates. We have the Chess Olympiad where four to five players represent a team. And over 100 countries are there and it goes over 12 days. I don’t think Olympics can afford 12 days of chess.

How many years have you been reading the Sportstar and what is your impression about it?

After they changed the format (to tabloid), I haven’t read much. But it’s a good magazine. Beautiful photographs. But since there isn’t as much chess coverage as it used to have, I don’t look forward to it as I used to.

What do you think is the best and the worst thing about being a sportsperson in India?

The best thing is that everyone will know about you. And the worst is that everyone will expect a lot from you. Not everyone can perform at their best all the time and if you don’t perform, you go down in their estimation.

What do you think the game you played has given to you?

Well, it has given me my whole life. I got my Indian bank job only because of Chess. Chess has been my life and without it, I would have been nothing. The game has been really great for me. I still write about the game for children who aspire to be chess players. I can’t stay away from Chess.