Silence and top-flight chess go hand in hand. Unlike a good shot in cricket or tennis, a good move cannot be applauded. Given the inherent nature of the sport, even the most fierce and violent chess battles are won and lost in a peaceful environment.

On Tuesday evening, former World No. two Wesley So experienced something that he was unlikely to forget in a hurry. The 25-year-old Filipino, here for the inaugural Tata Steel rapid and blitz chess tournament, played ‘street chess’ under the Gariahat flyover with the noisy traffic moving on his left, right and above.

Surrounded by enthusiastic chess players, young and not-so-young, Wesley made the moves. Not surprisingly, he lost to someone he initially thought was a ‘street player’. But soon, relief was writ large on Wesley’s face as he learnt his conqueror was local Grandmaster Diptayan Ghosh, with a rating in excess of 2500.

Irrespective of the result, Wesley, accompanied by his mother, was visibly happy to be in the midst of chess lovers. He was the first elite participant to reach the city “to see Diwali”. Before posing with sparklers, he quickly played with a few chess players including GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly, who is part of the field over the next week.

“It’s very strange, very compelling to see so many playing chess in any circumstance. It doesn’t really matter how… about the noise, being in open space, they keep enjoying playing chess. It feels fascinating. It feels magical to be here in Kolkata.”


UNUSUAL SIGHT: USA's Grandmaster Wesley So is surrounded by chess enthusiasts as he prepares to play a game under the Gariahat Flyover during a promotional event ahead of the Tata Steel rapid and blitz chess tournament in Kolkata on Tuesday.

On how it felt to play so many rivals in quick succession, he said, “It reminded of my days in the Philippines, playing club-chess… but not under a bridge. I played against anybody who was willing to play chess and that’s how I started. I am very happy to have that feeling today after all those years.”

Wesley, who last played in India in 2011 in New Delhi, was quick to add, “People have shown heartfelt compassion coming to me. I feel there has been some intense chess culture here that has been going on for hundreds or even thousands of years. Having grown up in Asia, I feel very much home here in India."

READ | Carlsen to defend chess crown against great American hope

An admirer of former World champions Jose Raul Capablanca, Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov, Wesley backed his teammate in the US squad Fabiano Caruana in his upcoming match against Magnus Carlsen for the world title.

“Fabiano has been doing very well recently. He has a good chance. I hope he wins. But, I think, Magnus is still the favourite,” concluded the World No. 12, who a decade ago, broke Carlsen’s record to become the youngest to get past the rating of 2600.