What it takes to be a ‘chess mom’


In May, a couple of months before the 44th World Chess Olympiad was to begin, several of the Indian team members were advised to go for a session of Vipassana meditation to help steel their nerves. Leela and Baskaran signed up as well. They aren’t part of the India squad but did it because they are on the team Adhiban.
Most ‘chess parents’ are meditators, says Leela, whose son Adhiban, currently among the top-ranked players in the country, is in the fray at the Olympiad. “It is the only way to deal with the stress of watching your child play. ”
With all eyes at the Olympiad trained on the players, almost no one notices the eyes among the crowds that remain tightly closed in meditation or gazing upwards in silent prayer. Or welling up in pride at the sportsperson they have raised.
Meet The Chess Moms
What does it take to raise a grandmaster? Years of patience, restraint, fortitude, research, driving, cooking, and mind-reading, says Nikita, mother of Vidit Gujrathi. And the occasional sacrifice to claim an advantage.
Nikita gave up her 25-year-long career as a gynecologist to become a beauty consultant, so she could focus on Vidit’s rise in chess (he is the third highest-ranked player in the country). “No one has a beauty emergency, so I can shut shop whenever I want to be there for Vidit,” she says.
Regret? “I loved being a doctor but more than that, I love watching my son shine. When you raise an athlete, the coach, parents, and player have to fit together to form a perfect triangle. Otherwise, it will all fall apart. While the coach handles Vidit’s state of play, I need to keep tabs on his state of mind. The other day, for instance, he told me he is turning vegan, before that he was on a gluten-free diet, so I have to ensure he gets what he needs. It all matters to his game. ”
Leela, a FIDE ranked player until a few years ago, quit playing to focus on Adhiban.
“Both of us used to play at the same tournaments around the world, he in his category and I in mine. Then I watched him grow in the game and decided it was either my dreams or his, I couldn’t do both,” says Leela. “And although he sponsored all my tours and was my biggest fan, I decided to stop. I have only one agenda now, to see him win every time. ”
It is the sole agenda for the Baskarans, evident everywhere, not just in Leela’s voice, but even in the name board that hangs above their front door, which announces it as the home of ‘Adhiban Baskaran, International GM-chess’.
“To the world outside and to my son I have to appear to be like a rock, but inside I am sometimes falling apart,” says Heena, mother of Raunak Sadhwani, among the youngest grandmasters in the world. Heena says she has read several books on keeping a calm mind, has tried yoga and meditation, and “just about everything to keep my emotions in check during his game”.
Although Heena does not know how to play the game, every day she puts together ‘chess workouts’ for Raunak. “I save positions from famous games and put them up for him on the computer so he can practice. They are divided into warm-up, intense, and endgame exercises,” she says. Heena has been doing this every single day for the last eight years. “I am still only a ‘textbook’ player,” she says. “I just check his moves according to the books. ”
R Praggnanandhaa’s mother Nagalaxmia is convinced people can hear the loud ‘daba daba’ of her heart palpitating amid the silence inside the chess arena. “That’s why I never sit down. I keep walking, even if the game goes on for hours. And I never look at my son’s face. Although he is trained not to show emotion, as a mother I can tell when he is happy or sad, confident or crestfallen. ”
For Nagalaxmi, who is raising two grandmasters at home – Praggnanandhaa and sister Vaishali, who is also a part of Team India at the Olympiad – every moment is about keeping the environment conducive to their training. Guests, she says, are sometimes greeted and hosted in the car park or at the foyer because the children are in an intense chess session and must not be disturbed. The TV is always off except for a few minutes during dinner. “I keep things quiet in the house so they can concentrate,” says Nagalaxmi.
When they tour countries for tournaments, Nagalaxmi always takes along an induction stove and two steel vessels to make rasam and rice for her children. “I don’t know how to play chess, but I know how to play the game off the board. Something as simple as eating your comfort food can put you in the right frame of mind for the next day’s battle. ”
While Nagalaxmi paces the arena when her children are playing, Leela prefers to wait by the phone for her son’s results, but for Nikita, it is all about the mental game.
“I’ve got to always be two moves ahead of my son mentally. His coaches can focus on making his game stronger. I need to focus on his emotions. It’s something only a parent knows,” says Nikita, as she announces she has closed her beauty clinic and is taking the next flight out to Mahabalipuram to be with her son at the ongoing Olympiad. “I want to be there when he needs me,” she says. “It isn’t only grandmasters who know how to time their moves. VAT too. ”

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