Chess nomads!

Following their heart, the duo chose to cover chess events, packing away their household assets in a warehouse at Badlapur in late 2017 and just now returning to a 'normal' life.

Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal are deeply in love with the 64 squares.   -  Special Arrangement

“When we began the journey, we thought we were living on the edge… no house, struggling for basic needs many a time, no savings, not able to give relationship and family the needed time... risking it all for one reason called passion. Now that the journey has ended we realise there is no such thing as an edge. Edge is only in your mind. It’s what you create. The truth is, life is edgeless.”

These words penned by a young couple, Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal, reveal in a nutshell their biggest takeaway of the past year. Driven by their passion for chess, Sagar and Amruta had their success as players but what they have achieved around chess boards in the last 52 weeks finds no parallel.

Sagar, 28, an international master armed with two grandmaster norms, is a chartered accountant. Amruta, 32, is a woman international master-elect. Together, they run the widely-popular Chessbase India, a company that offers over 400 chess-related products.

Following their heart, the duo chose to cover chess events. The initial apprehensions before taking the plunge were dealt with some firm decision making. Obviously, playing chess helped them take a decision and make their move.

It all started in November 2017 by packing away their household assets in a warehouse at Badlapur, on the ourskirts of Mumbai. Now they have returned to restart their ‘normal’ life.

“Needless to say, we became better human beings in the past year,” declares Amruta, who provides quality photo-support and shoots videos to support Sagar’s write-ups and analysis of the games.

In Sagar’s words, “We are so glad to have made the decision to lead a nomadic life for a year. Travelling, meeting new people, getting to cover some of the best chess events and bringing out the little-known facets of not just the superstars of Indian chess but also from around the world.”

In terms of numbers, Sagar and Amruta covered 21 tournaments, in 24 cities, in 175 playing days across Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Turkey and Georgia besides India. During this period, they clicked over 3,500 photographs and posted around 3,500 photos on Facebook albums, besides 1,286 videos on YouTube and Facebook.

What encouraged them to go relentlessly was the growing number of followers for their work. As Sagar puts it, “The biggest indicator that validates our good work is the response on our YouTube Channel. We had 1,000 subscribers in September 2017 and right now it is 25,000. The numbers are transparent and open for anyone to verify.”

Apart from the growing number of followers on the social media, compliments, including the one from Viswanathan Anand, kept them going. “When Anand came to Mumbai, he told my father, “I just can’t believe the amount of energy these two have. When I go to an event, these two are there. I come back to India, they are at another event. Their energy is just unbelievable.”

“This was the biggest compliment for us because Anand was following what we were doing,” says Sagar, with the glint of pride in this eyes. Amruta pitches in, “We followed this motto during our journey — I will be dead one day. So do it now — Therefore, there was no room for procrastination.”

Sagar and Amruta feel that their biggest “achievement” of the year came during their association with chess for the blind.

“In February, we opted to cover the national blind chess in Mumbai. During our stay with them, we learnt they were in need of funds for the event. So we began a campaign on our website for the purpose. With people coming forward to contribute, we raised ₹5.5 lakh. And this is what we consider as our biggest achievement, what we could do for chess for the blind.”

Later, the couple joined hands with Kerala’s chess sensation Nihal Sarin on YouTube and the initiative titled Helpchess saw a collection of ₹1.75 lakh through donations for the flood victims in the state.

As an emotional Amruta puts it, “Sometimes, we try to save even ₹10 or ₹20 but when we are giving away ₹500 to the needy, it feels like it’s nothing. This experience we would not have had but for this journey. And right now, if my life were to get over, I won’t have any regrets. I think, I’ve already lived my life in full.”

Looking at the life ahead, Sagar says, “We will rent a place in Mumbai. We have extracted a lot from our body in the past year. So we have to exercise and recover physically. It is a good thing to start but if we cannot sustain it, it’s nothing.”