Preserving the spirit of chess
Badminton players can take pride in the umpire not having to use a whistle. In golf, until some years back, a TV viewer too could alert officials if a player had even inadvertently moved the ball before playing it. A wrong card meant disqualification. The chess code of honour is no less a breathing thing. It took a knock over the weekend after Nikhil Kamath, co-founder of India’s biggest stock brokerage by volume, Zerodha, was barred by online chess platform chess.com, and slammed by all for cheating in a simultaneous celebrity chess event featuring Viswanathan Anand. The event, it must be noted, was for charity — to provide food to the needy across India, at a time when Covid-19 has devastated lives and livelihoods.
Chess does occasionally confront cheats and deals with it. Ranking points, higher prize money, even promotion to a higher level of competition motivate those who violate either the rules or the spirit of the game. But celebrities are expected to get into it merely to rediscover the chess enthusiast in themselves or to contribute to a larger cause. The fact that Mr Anand, whose image and achievements in the last three decades have helped India grow into a great chess nation, was participating in the event made the occasion even more special. For fans, when the spirit of the game was subverted, a sense of being betrayed was obvious.
Mr Kamath acknowledged he got external help, and Mr Anand has made his disappointment known (in his characteristically understated manner) but wishes to close the chapter. The unfair methods used in the charity event may be a mere blip — but it must be treated as a warning to preserve the integrity of a sport where, besides the human mind, technology plays an increasingly critical role.