The noisy silence of all the Chess Fans: The Dalai Lama has mentioned that there are 34000 distinguishable feelings. Even he could not have pointed out a single emotion if he had been at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai as a spectator. It was not allowed. They can not greet any player. They can not cheer for their favorite participant. Cellphones and cameras must be stored in the cloakroom. They cannot have popcorn. They cannot drink cola. They cannot discuss the game among themselves. Even the chess players cannot high-five or fist-punch. Nothing is allowed to move. Everything remains static. Watching chess from the galleries is an exercise in self-control. The deadly silence suffocates.
Garry Kasparov mentioned that chess is not meant to be watched from the galleries. Other sports encourage involvement. The audience needs emotion. But chess is not a spectator sport. It is an art. Kasparov never appreciated crowded halls. The crowd distracted him.
Not being a spectator sport is the curse of board games. The gallery is a few meters away from the boards. The spectators can stand and watch the game. They are guarded by volunteers. Hall B gives a better vantage location. The platform there is elevated. There are chairs for the spectators.
You can watch the players. The players are hardly expressive. If you are a chess whiz yourself, you can follow the moves by observing the movement of the player’s hands.
“You get a glimpse of what is happening on the board closest to the gallery. You can see some of the blocks and then guess the moves and the lines. But for that you need to know the game at a decent level,” mentions R Raghunathan, a former chess player who is traveling to the venue every day.
But he says he goes there for the ambiance. “I am here for the ambiance. There are people from everywhere, most top players in the world, Carlsen, So, Caruana, Aronian. I don’t know when I can ever see them again in one tournament. Besides, there are a lot of boys from Tamil Nadu, and we need to show them some good home support. If I wanted to enjoy the game and analyze the moves, I could have sat at home and streamed the games online,” he says.
Most of the spectators present in the gallery are supporters. Others include relatives or friends of players. Like Raghunathan, Felix Anandaraj travels from Tambaram to Mahabalipuram on his bike. He transmits in the hot sun to cheer for D Gukesh. He knows him since childhood. “I do not know the game much. And I do not understand what is happening either (from the gallery), but I come here on most days to show my support to meet the players and soak in the whole atmosphere,” he says.
There is a giant screen at the venue. It streams live games from the FIDE live channel. The commentators are Judit Polgar and Mihail Marin.
Comments S Roshan: “What we do is we watch a move and analyze the line, strategies, and possibilities among ourselves, doing sort of an alternative commentary. That way, we are playing the game ourselves, working out possibilities and permutations ourselves. Watching chess, like any other game, is best as a community experience. It feels a bit more interesting being here than it does just sitting in front of a chess board at our house.”
These are the words of a true chess fan. The spectators of all other sports enjoy the moment. Chess fans can get joy from calculating the next move. “We are always thinking of progression, of patterns and possibilities. The best thing about the game is that you can play their game yourselves, and games as far back as those of Capablanca or Alekhine. All you need is a list of moves and a board,” he elaborates.
In that connotation, chess offers space for strategic and emotional involvement from the spectators. Raghunathan adds, “We are as emotionally invested in a game or players as spectators in other games too are. We like to see our favorites like in other sports too.” According to Kasparov, chess is an art. It stirs emotion in the heart of the connoisseurs.
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