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An Indian village addicted to chess (bbc.com)
309 points by sonabinu on May 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 144 comments

I have a deep affinity for chess for economic reasons.

In 2002 when I went to prison in Florida for 22 months, playing chess for $1/game was my "hustle", and it allowed me to eat really well at a panhandle camp that was well known for its terrible chow.

Also, a rather odd but very beneficial side effect of my play came into focus...my chess ability seemed to convey a certain status to me by old timers on the yard, and assigned to me a certain "respect" level that basically kept me rather safe during my entire stay.

I'll admit...I wasn't always totally virtuous while hustling. I often lost to players in the beginning as to set the hook for future games and profitability.

The most interesting part is that, in reality, I kinda suck at chess in the real world by my own demanding standards.

This is interesting. As clever geeks we are sort of protected form the 'big bad world' by living in expenses cities and suburbs, working with other geeks and getting paid well.

In prison I guess that counts for nothing. Except you made it count for something and created the same situation for yourself 'from the bootstraps'.

I am not going to pretend I know anything about what prison is like though.

You should remember that prison is way different then jail.

In prison, you have people totally isolated from society, many for a long damn time, and some are actually interested in doing things that improve their lives and of course pass the time.

Becoming the best chess player, or the best basketballer, or whatever, on the "yard" is something to aspire to, and if you have something of value to offer these convicts that helps them achieve these goals, they will respect that and pretty much leave you alone since you are helping them.

This is how my chess playing helps me...it makes them better. The only way to get better in chess is to either study hard via puzzles and books (boring) or play someone better then you (fun).

But the same thing happens in the law libraries or even the computer labs...in the music rooms and on the football fields. Talent is always recognized and smarts are in short supply in general.

Not much different from the tech world huh?

> prison is way different then jail.

That's interesting, I wasn't aware there was a difference at all. Care to enlighten me?

Jail is more of a holding cell - from few hours to few weeks - usually keeping the person in custody until they can be released or imprisoned.

Prison is where the person spends their sentence or waits a full sentence - usually in months or years.

Unrelated question: Do you see any similarities between prison life and corp/work environments?

Did you get mistreated by any of the prison employees?

I haven't been to prison, but I've worked in corporations. Let me tell you my closely related story:

My very first job as a programmer was at a company which just started an internal chess championship. I entered the competition mainly to get to know the colleagues and have some fun, expecting them to be very strong players.

At the beginning of every match I asked them the question "IIRC the knight moves in an L shape, right?". That question was enough to make my opponents brutally underestimate my game. By the time they realised the error they made, they were in deep trouble: 5-6 pawns down, very difficult to come back. I've got my first 3 or 4 games easily won this way and the next player said something like "haha, yeah, cut the bullshit". I won that game too, but much harder. That first easy victories made win the championship in the end and got me the reputation of a smart guy.

As a junior software developer (among 12 other juniors who joined the company the same day as me), it was a nice way to make myself noticed.

Maybe unrelated how does one go about learning chess passed "the knight moves in an L-shape"


GM Ben Finegold at the "Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis" he's always entertaining and his videos are packed full of content that would appeal to an average player.

Mainly practice. Once you've got a sense of your play style you can find openings that fit it and study the books on them, and you should do the endgame drills at some point (at least you should know how to win vs a lone king with a king and rook (easy), king and two bishops (tricky), king and pawn (position-dependent, not always possible) - I've literally never needed to do king, bishop and knight). But the main thing is to just play a lot of games.

Learn the moves for the other pieces. :P

This was here a little while ago and it is great: http://www.chesstactics.org

There's some great chess people on youtube - I'm a fan of John Bartholomew. He has playlists called "Chess Fundamentals" and "Climbing the Rating Ladder" that are geared towards beginners who know the basics but want to start improving their play. Practicing "tactics" on sites like chess.com, lichess, or chesstempo is another good way to improve.

I was acting like I was one who knew the rules but was "just making sure I remember them correctly"

"Do you see any similarities between prison life and corp/work environments"

I haven't been to prison but I get paid for my corporate job, I get to go home, and I can quit.

Some people can't quit (or their families would be homeless, etc.), are only home to sleep due to time constraints, and only get paid enough to keep the cycle going.

There's a spectrum.

Homeless is still a choice.

So is suicide, but usually both are colloquially implied to not be an actual choice due to how dire they are.

failed to answer the question for similarities

I don't quite see how chess ability translates to safety in prison?

Yeah it sure isn't immediately obvious that this would be so, but without a doubt it is true because the same experience has occurred several times since.

So I have an escape charge in Florida (escape, not absconding) for not returning to a county work release center in Orlando many years ago. This was a really dumb thing to do because now, whenever I'm jailed I often get thrown in with the "high-security" inmates whom are also known as the murderers and anyone looking at over 20-years if convicted.

My last time through the system in Florida, I must have spent 4-5 hours a day playing chess with an alleged murderer whom was infatuated with the game and trying very hard to get better. I was in for some possession charges...bullshit really but because the old escape charge there I was.

This man had deep respect in the jail as his brother was at FSP/Raiford actually on death row for an execution-style murder committed about a decade earlier. The alleged murder this man committed was related to that very incident.

Anyway, I had played his brother for several months back "in the day" and was the only person in the jail who could beat him, and to be honest, I became somewhat a legend in C-block for my game. Remember, these people in this block often sit in county jail for 3-5 years waiting for trial and such, so the "institutional memory" actually lasts a long time in such a dismal place.

Long story somewhat short: By spending so many hours teaching this man to play much much better, he put the word out that no one was to fuck with me, and I was not only really safe, but was fed and taken care of by the group.

Very odd experience, but every word true.

You should write a screenplay, that's a great story.

What were you in for? 22 months? Not judging totally curious - Florida's jails are packed.


I was busted selling MDMA in a nightclub.

I'd guess that anything that makes you interesting or entertaining will make you friends, of a sort, and having friends makes you less vulnerable to any random guy who's bored and unhappy and looking for someone to feel stronger than.

If folks are sufficiently hard up for entertainment that they're willing to pay a dollar (more than you'd think, in prison) for a game of chess, they're gonna value that game and its provider.

Absolutely...you have kinda nailed it here with both comments.

My best "customers" were actually people who had a good deal of "income" (remember...there are many millionaires in prisons all over the world) who really didn't mind losing $1 a game 1. to get better and 2. for a safe social interaction with someone like myself who has a sparkling wit and overall interesting things to say (so I've heard :)

Prison isn't really that much different then life, but the sociopaths you meet there are far more likely to be violent then the ones running your company.

It's cultural. The ability to play chess well is generally taken as an indicator that someone can plan well, think up masterful schemes, and generally out-wit other people. The result is someone that you would either not want to get on the bad side of -- especially if you take into account the fact that they are in prison -- or someone that would be handy to have around if you have anyone with a budding escape plan.

I would assume that the type of planning done in chess is very different from the skills you would need to do well in a prison environment, even if being good chess often implies a good intelligence baseline. Since I don't know much at all about actual prison life, I can't confirm this hypothesis. In any case, I doubt that the Machiavellian planning that is a familiar sight on TV translates well to the real world of an inmate.

>generally out-wit other people

Pretty sure that in prison it's more about who's ass you can kick than who you can outwit on a chess board when it comes to safety.

>handy to have around if you have anyone with a budding escape plan.

That sounds more like Prison Break than reality.

I'm pretty sure that with your IQ you can find the inconsistencies in your comment.

What rating would you need for something like that?

On lichess I rate about a 1740 or so.

1740 is good!

Lichess does not use standard rating system. I think it uses Glicko.

A 1740 on lichess would be around 1600 in standard ELO (which itself is not a bad rating)

It took me the longest time to figure out that "lichess" was not a female lich.

It's hard to compare Lichess-rated players to e.g. FIDE or USCF rated players, since they have different populations. It's much easier to play on Lichess than in tournaments, so Lichess probably gives higher ratings. But one could get a sample of people rated on both sites to get an idea of the rating conversion.

Actually more like 1400-1500 USCF according to these survey results https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GcVG_slcTUJfi0sQMeax...

I can relate to this. Chess is a beautiful game, but for certain people it isnt just addictive; its a complete escape, a way to tune out the world and just get lost in a game.

I was going through some personal problems a year back and found myself constantly just staying up into the night, playing game after game of 5/0 or 3/2 blitz chess. I couldn't stop. It was therapeutic, but also a way of sort of avoiding the problems I had going in my life. I know it wasnt the best use of my time, but man it felt good to tune out for a while and in a weird way I think it helped me get through some of the problems I was facing.

If you can, try to find someone else willing to play with you in person when you get stuck like this.

I’ve occasionally spent a few hours playing chess, or connect four, or table football, or some mindless card game with someone when one or both of us was going through a rough spot, and the combination of relatively automatic action plus occasional conversation with a human on the other side is very helpful.

There's something about needing to focus on a singular action that really helps you detach, I find. I don't think it's necessarily avoiding it - when you're detached and not thinking about it I think you give yourself space to reorient. Sometimes the world gets too noisy and you can't think straight.

That said, I once tried to relax by playing a chess game and I almost punched something I was so frustrated with how quiet and slow the game was ;)

If you're frustrated by the pace of the game, then I think you're not thinking deep enough.

Ha! Probably, honestly. I've never been too great at thinking way ahead.

It's something that takes tons and tons of practice. The more positions and tactics and openings you burn into your long term memory the less you need to keep in short term memory.

The best players in the world have put so many thousands of hours into the game that they can beat casual players trivially without thinking more than one move ahead. They owe this ability to having vast knowledge of fundamentals and theoretical lines in all the most common positions. This is how they are able to win simultaneous exhibitions against a large number of casual players.

it's not always about thinking many moves ahead with chess - often it's a case of looking for interesting patterns on the board that you can turn into an advantageous situation. Did the other player king-side castle? Look for ways to pick away at their pawns. King and queen/rook within 2 knight moves of each other? Could be an opportunity for a fork. You pick up more of these patterns over time, and you can start to scan for chains of these types of attack/defense.

This is so true

That's why you play 5 minute blitzes!! :)

I play 30 minutes games and still don't have enough time to think my moves though. It's amazing for me how people can play blitz or bullet games

Blitz is frowned upon at the upper levels by a lot of players for that reason. However, some such as #1 rated of all time "Magnus Carlsen", play a bit of blitz on the side.

Fishing in general but fly-fishing specifically is this for me. A midday walk to somewhere with a view I also find to be helpful for rebooting the brain.

i used to spend several hours every night playing blitz scrabble online. then i realised i wasn't even enjoying it that much, nor was it particularly improving my game; i just got into a zone and kept playing one game after another. i quit cold turkey and don't even miss it.

I'm sorry to hear about your going through troubles, but you're absolutely right about a good game of chess requiring such a high level of focus that it removes all distractions out out necessity to play well.

I have had the same thing in the past. I'm not even good at chess (compared to good players), and I wasn't getting better--I wasnt studying my games, I was just trying to escape and distract myself. Totally unhealthy in my case. In other words, it can be good or bad addiction.

Chess is my way to survive a 12 hours flight. Nothing else helps time fly the same way.

I guess you play on your phone. What app do you use? And what would be a good app for casual chess playing, learning, solving puzzles?

Actually I use the plane screen app when available to save the battery. But when not - "Chess Free" on Android. I am not a great player so I have no idea if the AI is good. It beats me pretty often :)

Lichess, hands down.

Definitely lichess

For those who like it hardcore, freechess.org is where it's at. They do it for the game, not for the money.

If you're not playing on Lichess, you're on the wrong site. I am USCF 2100 and have played on almost every chess server. Nothing comes close.

Nice rating man, good job. I know how hard that is.

For playing I like tChess (on iOS). It costs money but was worth it for me.

No puzzles though.

You should try sudoku as well. Instant gratification.

nurikabe is at least as good, imo.

I find it the same in gym. It's like active meditation for me.

People have different coping mechanisms to difficult circumstances. I found that video games helped me a lot after a really brutal break up; to kinda escape into a different world with fixed rules and rewards. Its weird because I don't generally play a lot in normal situations, but this circumstance somehow made the prospect of playing video games all day very attractive.

Shatranj Ke Khiladi, The Chess Players (film)

Lovely piece!

The addictive element of chess reminds me of Satyajit Ray's movie "Shatranj Ke Khiladi" (The Chess Players). The movie is set in the 19th century at the onset of British colonization of the Indian heartland. It is about two noblemen of the Indian province of Awadh who are addicted to chess to such an extent that they have become oblivious to the dramatic changes happening in their households, the province, and the region in general. There's also a decadent dance-obsessed Nawab (provincial ruler). All three elite aristocrats are consumed in their hobbies and addictions while the British are maneuvering to subjugate their province.

A brilliant film, on so many levels. A tip of the hat to writer Munshi Premchand, who wrote the short story which formed the basis of Ray's film.

That's a great summary. Wonderful movie at so many levels. History, nawab culture, decadence, cultural distance...

This is from the highest literate state in India. No wonder here. When I was a kid, I used to see all the Autorickshaw drivers assemble under a tree playing chess and drinking tea while waiting for their next trip.


Another BBC story on HN I can't read because I'm in the UK!

Here's another source for bemused Brits:


This will work: http://archive.is/GfdgF :)

Thanks mate. Seems a bit odd using the archive in this way (which never occurred to me) 8)

Nice one! I'm in the UK too so thank you :)

Is BBC behind a paywall in the UK?

The message they display says:

  We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our
  international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially
  by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, the profits
  made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great
  new BBC programmes.
The rationale is explained in a little more detail in a BBC FAQ [1].

BBC Worldwide is a commercial entity, but the BBC's fair trading rules prevents them from promoting a commercial entity to UK licence payers. The somewhat odd outcome is that BBC content is unavailable to people in the UK.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/faqs/online/website_changes

Some parts are entirely blocked.

Somehow it's OK if a random person in Afghanistan accesses it for free, but when a BRITISH person in BRITAIN tries to access BRITISH broadcasting corp content then the funding model somehow matters.

Its beyond retarded.

bbc.com is specifically for international audiences, whereas bbc.co.uk is for the UK audience.

bbc.com is blocked within the UK because it is funded differently.

"We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC..."

IIRC, because they receive funding from taxes they're constrained on what they can post for UK consumption.

Some stuff isn't available in the UK. It's not even a paywall. It's pretty silly.

Everything "bad" eventually becomes "good" for you.

150 years ago Scientific American bemoaned the "chess phenomenon" that was spreading quickly across the country. They wrote that chess was a trivial game that rotted the mind or something to that extent...

I’m not sure we’re at the point where chess is universally “good”. That might have been the case in Soviet Russia, where chess was hugely pushed by the state, or America in those Cold War years where ordinary society saw it as a noble way beat those Soviets.

Nowadays, however, chess is probably met more with indifference than anything else. One often hears complaints that it is a gimmick that merely shows that a person is capable of memorizing many, many thousands of positions, not that players are intelligent people in some other, more general respect (whatever “intelligent” might mean here).

Furthermore, it is also understood now that unless you invest in a very large library of chess books and dedicate all your waking hours to memorization, you’ll never be able to play chess at a high level regardless of your passion for the game. Yes, people still play e.g. football among their mates even if they know they aren’t ever going to be pros, but chess competition used to have an aura of being open to any clever player who just used his thinker, and that has now been generally shattered. Plus, computers beat people now.

As a recreational player that plays in tournaments from time to time and is active in my local chess community, this post really only exposes that you don't know what you're talking about. For context, I'm not amazing but I'm no slouch (~95th percentile in the US) and memorization accounts for so little of my defeats or victories that it's practically meaningless. In fact, studying the openings is usually considered to be the least value-adding way to improve unless you're a titled player (usually 2400+ US ELO)

They are talking about perceptions of chess among non-chess players, not the reality of chess for high-level players.

It's a common misconception that chess requires memorization.

You don't learn to play chess by memorization. That's like saying that you have to memorize the C language specification to be a C programmer.

Back when I was playing chess I was around 2100 (uscf). I knew almost nothing about chess. However I did have the ability to analyse and a good eye for tactics. That was enough to be almost a Master.

The key to chess is to analyse better than your opponent, not to memorize better than your opponent.

On that note, I have been working on removing memorization from chess and at the same time make it more casual. My initial version is https://halfchess.com .

It does not offer the same level of challenge as international chess, but can be played much faster. It favors deep thinker to a strategic player.

The experiment still continues ~ so please share any interesting suggestions.

Chess is clearly a very poor game, as this review [0] attests! Sample: "In a definite nod to Tetris, Chess eschews any kind of personality and styling in order to emphasize its supposedly addictive gameplay. Unfortunately, that gameplay is severely lacking. For one thing, there are only six units in the game. Of those six, two are practically worthless while one is an overpowered "god" unit, the Queen."

[0] http://wargamerscott.tripod.com/swordandshield/id19.html

Then there's this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_City

..which gets sort of interesting when considering the former Kalmykian president who was an avid supporter of the above, but claims to have been taken for a ride to another planet in an alien spaceship[1]. I strongly doubt chess rots the mind, but considering the above, my own eccentricities and past infatuation with chess, it may do queer things to it. I hope to meet Go playing aliens myself, and perhaps have a few games on a pulsar, with a bit of ergot, green tea, and scopolamine as needed.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirsan_Ilyumzhinov#UFO_experie... edit: italics

For eeveryone interested in a history (and general overview) of the game I suggest Immortal Game by David Shenk (https://www.amazon.com/Immortal-Game-History-Chess/dp/140003...).

Specifically he does mention how Chess was considered in ideological terms (for example by the Church, and later by Soviet Communism) and how the public perception of the game changed with time.

They had it right 150 years ago. Go play vs reality. If you must waste your time with chess, then chesstactics.org is cool.

Was wondering where I had seen this before. Here's a history TV bit they did on this village.

https://youtu.be/hK0_QfZyiWI?t=14m22s (from 14:22 - 18:25) its in Hindi, but there are English subtitles.

>> Here 4,000 of the 6,000 population are playing chess, almost daily

Really? I wish to go there for vacation. Great subject for Documentary. Anyone?

A native of Kerala here. You are most welcome to my state. You might find more topics for your documentary here, for ex: The religious harmony of Kerala, while the other Indian states are still divided on castecism. The high HDI and literacy (almost 95%) of Kerala. Here is Kerala Government's tourism website for more information to plan your visit.


You can get Visa on Arrival too https://www.keralatourism.org/visa-requirement.php

If you find it hard to DIY. You can contact professional tour operators in Kerala to plan your vacation.

PS: Kerala has very high literacy about 94.59. Most of Keralites can write/read/speak English. All the information signs/shops/hotels are in English & Malayalam. You will have no problem finding your way around and asking for directions even without a tour guide.

I find these social memes fascinating. I wonder if any sociologist has made a serious study of how they start and spread. There is another town in India dedicated to weightlifting and working as bouncers:


Given number of villages in India, I guess you can find one addicted to ... virtually anything. Almost sure I have seen a village addicted to JavaScript.

I think I read about that in Hitchhiker's Guide -- there must be a village out there that grows sentient mattresses.

Chess is so addictive it made me drop out of CS grad school.I would compete online every day from 10 pm to 3 am.That is not a good schedule if you want to make it to an 8 a.m class.

I used to be like that about chess. Then one day it dawned on me that life was moving by while I was looking at chess boards and dreaming about chess. I quit realizing it was just another addiction. I play every now and then (very rarely, average < 2 games / year) and usually lose but have fun. But at the back of my mind I can immediately feel that obsession start up.

My next door neighbor of the time went on to having an ELO rating well in excess of 2400, back then he was already fearsome and part of the draw was to play against him and watch my own game improve as if by magic.

Out of curiosity, did you find that the draw of chess changed at all after you left your program?

Not really.But I moderate now that I know how it can affect other things.

In the Soviet Union they used to show chess on TV and people would watch it like people football here in US for example.

I remember watching it with dad and it was good fun.. We'd also play chess at home in the evenings. I am still terrible at it though.

How is it different from being addicted to a video game in an urban setting?

I don't know if you meant that rhetorically, but I think it's actually an interesting question. It'd be easy, but facile, to attach formal elegance and intellectuality to chess, but I'm sure there are equally elegant and intellectual video games.

In the context of this particular article, the socialization on display feels qualitatively different and superior (to me), to what I associate with even relatively social videogames.

Chess players on a screen and over the Internet feels a lot like video game sessions (in fact it literally is a video game, just that it's usually not perceived that way). OVer the board chess in a social setting feels completely different though.

It'd be interesting to know what their rankings are. Is it just to pass the time at a weak level or do a lot of them become quite strong?

There is one picture [0] where the board isn't set properly (the square at the the bottom right corner is black instead of white), so I suppose they some of them are not too strong.

[0] http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/wwfeatures/wm/live/624_351/images/li...

Or perhaps it doesn't matter to them? The orientation of the colors bears no effect on the play of the game.

It might be confusing to people very used to the "traditional" rotation, but maybe breaking free of it is a good mental exercise? ;)

It's not only the rotation of the board. Look where those bishops are placed. There's bishop on b1 with pawns on a2 and c2.

Maybe they are playing Fischer Random...

not that random considering the position of K & Q.

Swap bishop and knight starting is a common displacement chess variant.

Somehow this immediately made me think of Player Of Games by Ian Banks

Here's an interesting trip down the rabbit hole -

Kerala, the state mentioned in the article, is surprisingly distinct from the rest of India. It has some of the highest literacy rates in India (something like 92%) and an HDI comparable to developed countries[1].

Historically, Kerala had trade relations with the levant, and Rome from antiquity, and has hosted a large jewish diaspora[2]. Kerala has also had its share of christian "immigrants", starting with the story of St.Thomas, to traditions about Syrian Christians settling in Kerala during the 4th century AD. [3] Plus, the traditional christian church in Kerala is the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church [4], with its official language of liturgy being Syriac (a derivative of Aramaic).

Similarly, there is a very ancient muslim tradition in Kerala [5], including the very first mosque in India.

Kerala is also famous for a lot of its contribution to Hindu thought [6], while some traditions are markedly different from the rests of India[7].

Kerala also has its own martial art, which arguably predates the more famous chinese martial arts. [8]

Finally, IIRC, Kerala was never completely under British rule, but I'm not completely sure on this point.

All in all, a very fascinating place.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala_model

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochin_Jews

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_of_Cana

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malankara_Jacobite_Syrian_Orth...

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Kerala

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism_in_Kerala

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nair

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalaripayattu

Allow me to balance it here. Stray dog is a big issue in Kerala. Daily you read about an attack where a person is attacked brutally by stray dogs. And peak summer time is when they also carry rabies virus too. Most of the places kids are not allowed to play outside for fear of dog attack. With little support from the government, people are left with no other option than to kill them. Not sure why western media is so concerned about the life of a dog than a life of Chicken or goat or cow that are regularly killed.



It's a big issue because the people of Kerala have made it an issue by attacking dogs on sight. They have indoctrinated their kids from childhood about the dangers of stray dogs, and how the only solution is to kill them. Of course you can't catch them and kill them all, all you end up doing is to make the remaining ones more fearful and likely to attack humans. It's not like dogs don't learn and adapt to the changing behaviour of the humans around them.

Every Indian state deals with stray dogs. Why are stray dog attacks reported as abnormally high in Kerala? Why is Kerala wilfully defying the Supreme Court's verdict on dealing with stray dogs (i.e. to sterilise them)?

> Not sure why western media is so concerned about the life of a dog than a life of Chicken or goat or cow that are regularly killed.

My antecedents are completely irrelevant to the issue. Everybody everywhere has the right to question the mass insanity that the people of Kerala are exhibiting w.r.t. this issue.

excellent derailing of the thread. Thanks.

I would have left it alone except the thread was already derailed by the one-sided portrayal of Kerala as God's gift to Earth.

Could someone host this article on a platform that UK residents can access? I really want to read this, but the BBC UK doesn't let us see this!

BBC Worldwide (International Site) We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, the profits made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great new BBC programmes. You can find out more about BBC Worldwide and its digital activities at www.bbcworldwide.com.

Based on the photos, it looks like they are playing some local variant of chess rather than the conventional game: - the board is turned 90 degrees, so the white king is to the left of the queen; - initial positions of knights and bishops are swapped.

Are there multiple different versions of chess played in India?

Of the 7 photos, I only see one where the board is rotated, and only one where the bishops and knights definitely seem to have been switched.

Variants of chess are common everywhere, I'd hazard a guess to say that people who play chess all the time are more likely to start mixing it up to add a bit of spice to the game.

Chess 960 is a good example of the backline swapping around.

>Variants of chess are common everywhere

Damn true. I can still remember my high school chess coaches getting mad at us for playing bughouse, saying it ruins our ordinary playing. I never believed it would, and it was quite fun, but then again, practice time is for practice time.

I am from Kerala and have not heard of any other variants. This probably was a mistake.

If you're interested in (read: addicted to and love all things) chess, one of my favorite places to learn is chessnetwork on youtube.

He is a lot of fun to watch especially playing bullet, does great commentary of professional games, and always reviews his games afterwards for learning.

Hi, this is a very culturally insensitive and ignorant question but I am very curious: Why do adult Indian people, in India, sit on the ground or floor? It must be a cultural thing, that can't be comfortable or (dare I say it) clean.

Not just adults, but children sit on the floor as well.

Anyways, yes, it is a cultural thing. If you do it all the time, it is comfortable enough. What Westerner's perceive as uncomfortable is not uncomfortable at all.

Don't forget that Western style toilets are also a relatively new thing, so sitting Western style is actually less common (but is now common in post modern India).

Also, Indians are generally very fastidious and clean. Paradoxically, India itself is quite dirty since the concept of cleanliness in India is usually limited to one's immediate habitat. Sweeping, dusting and mopping is a daily chore in Indian homes unlike the West.

The images in this particular article do not portray a very clean environment though, I'll grant you that.

Well it is culturally ignorant tho I won't call it insensitive.

Why do they do it? Because they can :-)

Is it comfortable? Sure it is, if you've been used to sitting that way for most of your life.

Is it clean? No more cleaner than riding the subway in a major metro or sitting at a park bench or some such. You do notice that they have a rug or some such on which they squat and even if they don't, people tend to keep the areas where they sit relatively clean.

You have to understand that irrespective of where people come from there always is a personal sense of hygiene, it may vary from person to person but by and large there is not a glaringly large variance in what is considered clean by most humans.

Btw, kids in India and Indian adults out of India have also been known to enjoy sitting on the floor :-)

It is a cultural thing.

As an aside, Indians often find it uncomfortable to get on to bed with shoes on - which is also cultural.

Its actually more comfortable is you ask me. More space to wriggle and more sitting postures.

Somewhat unrelated but does anyone know of a good android chess app that also teaches basic strategy?

I read that as addicted to "cheese" and was rather surprised by that.

This webpage isn't accessible​ from within the UK. That's absurd.

I am in the UK and therefore am not allowed to read the article.

No women in the photos?

It is traditional village. Women don't count. (And likely don't play since women and men don't mix in traditional villages - each gender has own culture.)

Though I guess more accurate title would be "half of an Indian village addicted to chess", it is not end of the world.

When it comes to India, most people who have never traveled outside their own state in their countries are clouded by solipsism. They have this view that India is the same everywhere in terms of culture including the role of women. What you see in the media is mostly not the real India and is mostly stereotyped.

> It is traditional village. Women don't count.

Is an uneducated guess and that too especially in a highly literate state like Kerala. Maybe the below link can throw some light on the small state of Kerala and why is it very different than other states in India.


According to the 2011 census, Kerala's has overall 94.59 literacy. Females - 92.12, Males - 97.10.

PS: I am a native of Kerala. If anyone is curious about Kerala and would like to visit Kerala which is called God's own country, you are welcome here and yes most of us can read/write/speak English. It includes the bus drivers, cab drivers, grocery store guy or those native villagers who plays chess. Kerala has the highest mobile phone density, the most internet users, excellent healthcare facilities, schools, Ayurvedic facilities, greenery, religious harmony. I can go on.

Kerala Government's tourism site : https://www.keralatourism.org

I apologise. I made quick guesses based on pictures. Thank you for stepping in with facts.

This is Kerala - women definitely have a major role and this is the best state in India for gender equality. Women even outnumber men in this state. This is also a state that historically had a matriarchal society.

I'd draw a distinction between matrilineality and matriarchy, I think.

A quick search about the village, Marottichal, and it's chess obsession will lead you to a lot of other publications about this topic. I found similar articles which included pictures of men and women enjoying chess.

First the observation and subsequently this assumption, perhaps speaks more about how we let stereotypes cloud our thinking and judgement, and less about the people of the village/country themselves.

The assumption that women three don't play chess and that village is traditional in extremly stereotypical cartoon way were really mine.

I apologise, I should have investigate before writing. Pics made me really assume that only men there play chess. Guess that original poster was right with his complaint then.

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