The outbreak of COVID-19 across the world has brought several changes in the way of our life. Sports, overall have come to a standstill, with most big tournaments from the English Premier League, the Olympics, IPL has been either shelved or delayed. However, while these sports had to face the wrath of the pandemic, chess found its way to carry on through these tough times. Not to exaggerate, but chess has thrived, which is clear through the data we have.
Woman Grandmaster (WGM) Soumya Swaminathan, one of India’s top chess players hailing from Kerala who won the World Junior Girls’ Championship in 2009 in Puerto Madryn, recently has been vocal about the incorporation of mental health specialists in the chess ecosystem.
Importance of mental health in chess
The Maharashtra Chess Association (MCA) held a webinar recently where the point of focus was on the challenges and opportunities the chess world has to offer in the times of the pandemic. The webinar was conducted LIVE on the Facebook page of Maharashtra Chess Association had some of the biggest names of India and world including the former World Chess Champion, and India’s greatest ever Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. Swaminathan, on the webinar, spoke about bringing a change and uplift the standard of the online tournaments played in India and stressed on the importance of taking care players’ mental health by roping in specialists, mental health professionals and motivational speakers.
The body achieves that the mind believes so training the mind is equally important.
Maharashtra Chess Association…
Later The Bridge, spoke with Swaminathan in an exclusive interview, where she elaborated on her thoughts on the importance of focussing on mental health.
“I think physical health and mental health are equally important for chess players as it is for any sportsperson and a normal human being. It’s basically about improving yourself. Like we work with a coach to improve our game, the same way we have to work with a sports psychologist to improve our thinking pattern. Chess is after all, a stressful field and if you feel the need to help yourself and you must be able to do it, without any kind of stigma or hesitation,” says Swaminathan.
It was her idea to bring about this change and introduce mental health professionals in chess, and to start with, the idea was pitched to the Maharashtra Chess Association (MCA). MCA organised a webinar on mental health last Sunday hosted by Swaminathan and Grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi. “I strongly believe, if chess associations introduce mental health programs, it will be easier for athletes to accept it and normalise it. They then don’t need to go here and there for consultation. Actually, Maharashtra Chess Association decided to implement a mental health program and this Sunday we had webinar with sports psychologist Dr Gayatri Batra.”
Before becoming the World Junior champion, Soumya came to the limelight when she won the Commonwealth women’s championship in Chennai back in 2012, two years after becoming the Indian women’s champion with a score of 8½/11.
In other accomplishments, the 30-year old has won Moscow Open title along with Anastasia Bodnaruk and Alexandra Obolentseva after finishing second on tie break in 2016. She also won bronze in the Women’s Asian Individual Championship in the same year.
Contribution of Maharashtra Chess Association
Swaminathan spent her formative years training under the Maharashtra Chess Association. She recalls her time spent with MCA and how it is still being a flagbearer of chess in India doing relevant work. She says, “When I was a kid, training under MCA, I could cherish the fact that there were many other chess players, and from the beginning, I was learning in a competitive environment. MCA also started the Maharashtra Chess League in 2013. It was not like some national team championship, but it was more like relaxing muscles, but I feel I learned a lot from that experience. And I could apply my experience when I was playing in the world championship because it helped me become a better team player.”
During the lockdown, Swaminathan is spending most of her time in playing online chess tournaments, and she is making weekly strategies to sail through these tough times. “I learnt not to make big plans and to just make a weekly schedule, because every week, it’s still changing. So I’m just sticking to a week at a time when I make a schedule. I realized that we need to be flexible. I give four-five hours to chess. Besides, my responsibilities at home have increased. Also, I have an opportunity to learn to pursue my other hobbies, which I don’t get, usually. So I’m trying to at least get like seven hours a week to pursue hobbies, and not just about chess,” she says.
Swaminathan is concerned about the future of the sport and beliees players have to decide consciously now onwards on which tournaments they are going to play and which they are going to skip. She adds, “I see players should be careful not to just overcompensate for what they could not achieve in 2020. They should make a good schedule and give themselves enough rest also between tournaments.”