‘Pune needs dedicated chess stadium for yearly tournaments’
PUNE Setting up a date with a chess board in 1985, Abhijit Kunte began his journey as a chess maestro, the crowing glory in terms of achievements coming on November 13 when Kunte received the Dhyan Chand award in Delhi from the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.
The Dhyan Chand award is given to sports personalities by the ministry of youth affairs and sport, as an honour for active contributions to sports both during active careers and after retirement.
Abhijit Kunte is now chief coach and chairman of the selection committee of the All India Chess Federation. He also runs a “chess in school” programme that has been adopted by many states.
From becoming a Grandmaster in 2000 to now chief coach and chairman of the selection committee, Kunte, in light of his award sheds some light on how chess has progressed in the country, and what still needs to be done.
What does Pune need to develop chess?
Pune needs one dedicated chess stadium where international tournaments are conducted every year. In Maharashtra we have 10 Grandmasters of which five are from Pune. This is apart from the four woman grandmasters and apart eight international masters. In Maharashtra, Pune is one of the strong centres for chess. Because of the pandemic there was a bit of a set back, but it will definitely come up.
How has the sport changed from 1985 to 2021?
Everything has changed. When I started in 1985, there were only three age group categories: under-16, under 19 and the Open. There were only four open tournaments in India and there was no grandmaster. When I played my first tournament it was under-16 and I was eight-years old. I got the youngest player’s prize. Now at the age of 8 children are playing national championships. At the state level there are 10,000 children playing chess. Such a revolution has happened. Around 100-118 tournaments happen in a year. In all, we have 72 grandmasters in the country.
Are you enjoying your role as a coach?
Coaching is a different. Many things are basically not in your hand. Coaching for the long run is different because you have a lot of time to work with players and discuss and form long-term plans. A team needs to have a different strategy and when you are actually coaching a player for more than three years, then you can have a completely different bond. There are various different dimensions of coaching which are different from playing and it is much tougher, but also rewarding.
Online or offline chess formats. What’s your move?
I am not a big fan of online chess, because I could not play it well. Online chess is a reality and it is the future. It is easy to watch. Now there are many online channels as well which has helped chess reach many new audiences. People used to say that chess is not spectator friendly, but online chess has broken that jinx. When I was with the women’s team in Spain, on the first day we realised players were having problems calculating moves and we thought it is because they have played a lot of online chess. I feel both are important and people need to manage both, as online chess is not going away as tournaments are happening.
How is your ‘chess in school’ doing?
What we see as chess should be part of the curriculum and it should be taught to every student as a life game. Chess should be taught for introducing four concepts - concentration, decision making, patience, taking responsibility for failures and accepting decisions. All these are very important in life and will help to learn management. It is very important to introduce it at a very young age as it will identify a lot of talent. There is no problem for space, so for schools it is a much easier task to accommodate chess. Government of Arunachal Pradesh has started chess in their curriculum, and Chhattisgarh has agreed to start a pilot project. Many schools are coming forward.
Check the knight
-Abhijit Kunte was vice-captain coach of the Indian team, along with Srinath Narayanan that won bronze at the Online Olympiad in 2021.
- He was also coach of the Indian team that won silver medal at the FIDE World Women’s Team Championships 2021.