29 June 2013

When chess gets chaotic!

Chess is usually associated with silence, with immense concentration and a certain stillness. This is what you see externally, in tournaments with professionals. But what happens when 250 hyperactive kids (Grade 1 to 4) and their anxious parents are grouped together for an amateur chess tournament is nowhere any near to either silence or stillness.

I have participated in quite a few chess tournaments as a chess player but had never really bothered to notice  what it takes to organize one. Yesterday, my own chess coach (who initiated this whole tournament in the first place) was short of a few volunteers for the Grade 1-4 event. I was more than willing to help out. It was definitely a memorable experience!

In a perfect chess tournament, walk-in registration isn't allowed. Draws for the first round are ready. Rooms have endless rows of numbered tables. All people playing white sit on the left, black on the right. Chess boards aren't upturned before the result is officially recorded by an arbiter. Every illegal move is reported to the arbiter. And, silence prevails.

But, obviously, in a tournament with so many young kids and their overzealous parents, this wasn't going to happen. Objectively, the organizers (the chess coach and about 10 other people, me included) weren't at fault. The tables were perfectly numbered; each room was uniformly equipped and instructions were clearly given. I guess, order eludes when boisterous enthusiasm prevails! You really can'y do anything when children scratch out labels (oblivious to their importance), when they read draws wrongly or when they occasionally invent their own rules!

As an arbiter in 'Room 1' which hosted thirty tables (so sixty kids) for three rounds, I had quite some fun! I was called 'madam', 'didi', 'excuse me', 'Tanmay's (my famous chess playing nine year old brother) sister' and 'Aunty' (preposterous!!). I shouted myself hoarse to ensure that a player who is allotted white doesn't accidentally end up with black pieces and went nuts trying to sort through kids with same names. Four Aadityas, three Manans and so on. It got worse when people cleared the chess board without officially recording the result with me or when players argued about how many illegal moves the other had made after having restored the board to its original state. 

And then there were the parents. I mean no disrespect, but their presence is the single largest chaos-creator! Their anxiety penetrates everything. A few other volunteers later told me how they even ferried water and food from the parent to the kid because the parents couldn't enter the playing rooms. But the worst, I guess, is when they come with their sleeves rolled up, crying (nonexistent) injustice! I am glad I was holed up in Room 1 for the whole time without having to interact with these parents!

In retrospect though, it is actually quite interesting to see how these kids can actually play good quality chess through all this squabbling and confusion. They were all between six to eleven years of age; happily fiddled with their neighbour's pieces, but still managed to play impressively! I was quite amazed at their ability to concentrate through so much noise.

By the end of the tournament, I had successfully (and with a lot of help) handled thirty games for three rounds, officiated all kinds of illegal moves, mismatched positions, a crying child, an injured child and missing chess pieces!

And concluded that playing chess is way better.