Why do people join chess clubs?
What are they looking for?
What is it like to be part of Glasgow’s Queens Park Chess Club?
Each month, Derek Rankine (Club Secretary) interviews Queens Park members new and old and asks them to share their experiences and perspectives.
This month, Derek speaks to Ash Angappan, 26, who recently completed a master’s degree in Advanced Physiotherapy Practice at Glasgow Caledonian University. Ash is from a small town near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, south India, and currently lives in Tradeston, Glasgow.
Ash joined the Chess Club during the 2022/23 season. She won her opening fixture in the Beltrami Club Championship and has played for both Queens Park A and B teams in Divisions 1 and 2 of the Dumbarton and District Chess League. As of December 2022, Ash has a Lichess blitz rating of 1670 and is working towards a Chess Scotland rating.
Derek: Do you remember when you were first exposed to chess?
Ash: When I was 11 years old, my mother taught me to play chess. She also taught my sister. My sister was a strong opponent, who always played well and beat me quite easily in classical chess. We did not use a clock, but these were serious, longer games. I used to make moves quickly, but she would think a lot for each move, and win each time without much effort!
How much chess did you play in childhood?
I used to play with my sister and mother quite often, especially during holidays. I played with my cousins on vacation as well. I didn’t know anything about openings, but I knew the rules and how to checkmate.
I started chess at 11 years old and played until I was 17. I stopped playing to concentrate on my studies and get into University.
How did you get into playing chess online?
I started playing chess again in 2019, after finishing my undergraduate degree and getting my first job. I played online, which is easy to get into, but I used a lesser known app for casual play. I got to know about the impressive Lichess website in April 2020 and I started playing competitive games there.
Do you have any memorable achievements in online chess?
I remember I started playing Lichess tournaments at the rapid time control for players rated under 1500. The tournaments were an hour long. I think it was my 5th tournament, when I came 1st place!
I was delighted. I screenshotted my trophy and showed it to all my friends. After that, I started playing, quicker – blitz and bullet. I don’t find it easy to play so fast, but currently I am around 1670 rating in blitz and 1632 in bullet.
You are now moving back in the opposite direction, from mainly playing chess online, to mainly playing over the board. What differences are you observing between online and off, and how are you navigating the challenge?
Yes, I learned playing chess over the board, but during the pandemic, I played online. The biggest thing I noticed is that while playing online, as we don’t know the opponent, its looks and feels like a game with a computer. In over the board, it’s completely different. You can’t miss the reality you are competing against another human.
I am having some difficulty over the board at present, because I am used to viewing the board online. But I find I can remember moves I played over the board, even after a few days have passed. I feel this is important, because I am able to go over what I played to analyse and address my mistakes. Even though I have still not learned many openings, I am able to predict some moves before the opponent plays. As I love chess, whatever happens on the board, even if I lose a game, I feel good.
You are one of several University students in Queens Park. How are you finding the balance of playing chess and developing your skills, alongside studies and other commitments?
I would say that playing chess has really improved my confidence. I find that after an over the board game, I feel enthusiastic. Sometimes after coming home after Chess Club, I would be motivated to complete assignments. I feel that my brain is more active after playing chess – I literally feel the same way as I do after a plank exercise workout.
As I love chess, whatever happens on the board, even if I lose a game, I feel good.Ash Angappan
Did you play in any Chess Clubs or tournaments in India?
Unfortunately, I haven’t played any tournaments in India, and I wasn’t a member of any Chess Club there. I regret that I was not active in organised chess when I was India.
You moved from India to Scotland in the last two years. What differences, if any, have you noticed between the general popularity and culture of chess in the two countries?
There is a major culture change, but I am pleased chess is widely played in both countries. The biggest difference is the weather. I came to Glasgow alone, without having any friends, but people in the city helped make me feel comfortable quickly.
I really love being in Glasgow. People are so friendly, and the city is a good place to live and study. I did find it difficult last year because of the winter, but now I am starting to get used to the weather!
Chess can help fill our long winter nights! Staying with India, Vishy Anand was World Champion before Magnus Carlsen. As of December 2022, Vishy is still in the top ten, at the age of 52. What influence has he had on the general development of chess in India?
He will always be the hero of chess in India. My Mum used to talk about Vishy a lot when I was young. I am a big fan of Vishy’s, I have followed his progress off and on. Things changed a lot after Vishy won the 2007 World Championship. Now, there are a lot of Chess Clubs, super-strong players, top coaches, and a lot of general encouragement for people to play chess.
This all led to India hosting the Chess Olympiad this year, which is really a proud moment for India. As Vishy is from Chennai, which is in Tamil Nadu, that makes me a little prouder of my home state.
Going back to 1988, Anand had just become the first Grandmaster in India. It’s amazing to see the progress: now there are more than 75, and several young prodigies like Vidit Gujrathi, Dommaraju Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi are in the top 30 globally and rising fast. Do you think we will see another World Champion from India in the near future?
I am certain that there will be another World Champion from India. I think you missed out Praggnanandha, who famously defeated the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, this year. I could also name some other talented young players from India who I can imagine competing to be World Champion in future.
Another link from Tamil Nadu to Queens Park is, Scotland’s top player from the 2022 Olympiad there, IM Andrew Greet, will be visiting us for a simultaneous match in January 2023. Speaking of which – why did you decide to join Queens Park Chess Club this season?
As soon as I came to Glasgow, I started looking for Chess Clubs, but due to my studies, I didn’t have time for one to start with. As soon as I got settled, I started my search again. I posted a question in the Queens Park Chess Club Facebook group, and got a reply very quickly, which made me very happy to join.
What do you remember of your first visit to the Chess Club? Did the Club make a good first impression?
Yes, I do remember, and it did. The people in the Club were so friendly. Paul, Caitlin and others welcomed me and I was added to the WhatsApp group. I played a couple of good games on the first day, which really made me happy.
What do you like most about the Chess Club?
Friendly people who teach me about openings and endgames. Alistair taught me endgames, which really helped me to improve my game. Alex taught me some new openings. I like how people exchange their knowledge and share their thoughts freely to help others.
What would you like to see the Chess Club do better, or differently?
The club is doing good so far! I would like to see more classes though.
With so many super-strong players and top coaches, I am certain that there will be another World Champion from India.Ash Angappan
Chess has a notorious gender imbalance. Most Chess Clubs around the world are mainly, or entirely, male. What do you think would support or encourage more women to participate?
Yes, that’s true. When I came to the Chess Club, I saw only very few females and overall, I think females are a small proportion of the membership. How to fix this? One idea is, schools could provide chess classes for girls, once a week.
Have you personally had any negative experiences in chess because of your gender, whether online or in person?
When I was in India, I was speaking to one of my neighbours, who told me that he plays chess. I told him that I too play chess but without playing with me, he assumed: your rating must be 600. I replied to him, in fact, my rating is 1600. Then I played many rapid games with him, in which I won all the games. He prejudged me because I am a female.
I hope he learned his lesson. Do you think cultural developments in recent decades, such as Judit Polgar’s incredible career and Anya Taylor Joy’s performance in The Queen’s Gambit, are helpful in promoting the game to women?
Yes, I really do. When I watched The Queen’s Gambit I was stunned with her acting and the quality of the chess. I started thinking of my moves after sleeping, which is funny! I think there should be more movies to encourage women to play chess.
You are only beginning to learn about chess openings, but do you have a favourite?
I like playing Queen’s Pawn openings, which I feel is a little more secure for the White king and a safer way to play.
Do you have a favourite chess player, from past or present?
What tips would you share with chess beginners, who are looking to improve?
I think beginners should do two things in general: play more games, and watch or study Grandmaster games, especially those that provide strong ideas on how to attack and defend.
I like how friendly Queens Park is: members exchange knowledge freely to help each other.Ash Angappan
Do you have any chess-related ambitions?
Yes, I aim to win one tournament over the board.
Finally – when you next play your sister, who do you think will win?
She is not playing chess at present. I am pretty sure that I would win against her now, even in classical games!
#CSW61 Side Event – “Fighting Stereotypes with Judit Polgár” by UN Women used under license CC BY-SA 2.0.