01:00. 00:59. 00:58…
Beads of sweat trickle down my forehead as I look at the timer on the clock ticking down to zero.
I am desperately searching for a winning combination before time runs out. I close my eyes and my most cherished memories of this sport flash before me. The clock stops ticking as time itself seems to freeze.
Be it the L-shaped stick he used to explain the movements of a knight, or his pitiable attempts at drawing detailed diagrams, my father laid my foundation in chess. He taught me the game using his own unique methods and always kept me interested. Playing with him became a daily source of pleasure.
I was just twelve when I decided to participate in the under-14 selections for my school. Chess had been my passion for as long as I could remember. I expected the selections to be a stroll in the park. Looking back, I realize my ignorance. Chess theory was unknown to me. So were tactics like pins, forks, and triangulation. After a series of crushing defeats, I wasn’t selected. This devastated me. I stormed home, brushed off my mother’s concerned queries and declared that I would never play chess again. It took around 6 months and an unexpected incident to reignite that spark of passion.
November 16th, 2013: – A day that holds special significance to chess enthusiasts worldwide. It was the day Vishwanathan Anand lost his world championship match to Carlsen. I had been rooting for Anand, my role model and my inspiration. I wondered how he would take the defeat. However, the interview he gave after the game was eye-opening. Unfazed by his loss, he said: “I learn little from victory, but much from defeat.
That day I learned something that changed my approach towards chess and later, towards life. Defeat was no longer disheartening, just a minor annoyance. Determination to crack the mystery of the game set in. I started playing chess daily, learning new openings and discovering beautiful combinations. I entered tournaments, progressing with every game that I played.
Chess mattered to me. My life would be incomplete without the chess games I lost to my brother to make him feel better, the memories I shared with my friends or the close bonds I developed with people I met at chess tournaments.
One particular incident during my holidays in India will forever stay emblazoned in my memory. It was a blindfold chess game in which I was completely outclassed. After the game, I removed my blindfold and stared disbelievingly at my opponent, a 9-year-old girl who couldn’t see.
When I had recovered from my shock, I immediately struck up a conversation with her. In broken English, she told me her name was Aishwarya. Her father, who had overheard us, joined the conversation.
Aishwarya was born with sight. Retinal degeneration had been the cause of blindness at the age of 2. Yet, she always wore a sweet smile on her face. I could detect a sense of pride in his voice when he said “My little girl never gave up. We introduced her to chess to engage her mind and now she is the under-10 state champion”.
I was deeply touched. Since then, every time I close my eyes during a chess game, I see the world through the eyes of that 9-year old girl. No obstacle seems insurmountable, no difficulty insuperable.
Now at the age of sixteen, my chance is finally here. This is my ticket to the World Chess School Championships in Romania. I reach the end of my reminiscence and am yanked back to the present. Glancing at the board, my eyes light up as I spot the solution. But before I can make my move, a loud beep from the clock stops me dead. My hand falls limply to my side as I realize that time, apparently, hadn’t frozen after all.