Love for the game helps us overcome barriers - My Take by Darpan Inani, India's top rated blind chess player

2018 has been a sweet year for Darpan Inani. This 24-year-old chess player from Gujarat created history this year by becoming the only visually impaired Indian to win top honours in the rating category at the Creon Open in France. Not that creating records is a anything new for this youngster. As of August 2018, he is the highest rated visually impaired chess player in India according to the World Chess Federation. In My Take this week, Darpan talks about his remarkable journey and future plans.

I started playing chess at the age of 13 because there was no other game that I could play with a sighted person. The game offers a unique opportunity where a blind person can play with a sighted person without any dispensation or modifications. This makes chess unique and was the first and primary reason for my inclination for chess. This is a game that does not require visibility, but vision.

When I say chess requires a vision, I mean what you are looking to do. When we say vision in common parlance we mean vision for the future. In chess we have to imagine the situation after five to six moves, or even 10 moves. We have to visualize whether that move will be favourable or not. The vision required is through the brain and the imagination. So, it does not require vision as we understand it, but calculation abilities. We have to see which situation is more favourable. Chess teaches you everything about life.

How I came to take up chess seriously is an interesting story. No one in my family plays chess and they did not know that a blind person could play it. I was three years old when I was diagnosed with the Stevens-Johnson syndrome and lost my sight completely. I joined a mainstream school at the age of eight and when students used to play during the physical education period, I could not join them in games like kho-kho.

One day I visited a local blind welfare association where I got to know about a specially designed chessboard that a blind person could use. My father knew the basic steps of chess and he taught me the main moves. I played in a blind versus sighted tournament where I met a sighted player called Zahir Bhatkar, who encouraged me to take the game up seriously. He also guided me on how to become a better player and on professional coaching.

After one month of coaching, I went on to play in a district-level tournament with sighted players and won the first prize. I was just 14 years old at the time and this was a big boost. Winning the trophy after just one month of coaching was a big boost. Gradually I progressed to the state and national levels.

I represented Gujarat four times in the under-15 nationals, all in the sighted category. I have been among the top two players in Gujarat in both under 15 and under 17 categories and that was very special. In 2013, I won the bronze in the World Junior Blind Chess Championship in the under-20 category. This was the first medal ever to have been won by a blind chess player from India. That records holds until today. In 2010, I also became the youngest national champion in blind chess. I was just 16 years old at the time. That record also remains until today. I played against senior and junior players. In 2013 I was also the first runners-up in an all India chess tournament.

I regard Viswanathan Anand as my mentor. In 2010, I had the opportunity to talk to him for over an hour. He analysed some of the moves I had played during the Commonwealth Games and gave me some tips. He was the world champion at the time and when I asked him how he got so proficient, he told me that how he had read somewhere that if you devote 10,000 hours to something you will get good at it.

I do get some very standard reactions to my disability, which I take very normally. People who are unaware will make such comments, especially in a country like India where literacy levels are low. People don’t know that today technology provides a level-playing field, almost level. We are from Rajasthan, which is a little orthodox and people in my community would say things like –‘you have just one child and he cannot see’. My parents did not take this seriously and would respond saying he is doing things even a sighted child cannot do.

I uses JAWS to study, which is used widely by blind. I started using it in class 3 when I was eight years old. The chess software is also accessible and can be worked around with JAWS. My coaches give me coaching on Skype and for practice, I play chess online.

I am also studying to be a chartered accountant. I am in my final year. I balance studies and chess. Sometimes because of my studies, chess takes a backseat. Like my recent trip to France was my first tournament after one and a half years. I took a break from chess as I was studying for exams. As soon as my exams were over, I started playing chess.

Yes, there are some barriers that blind chess players face like we do not get the same recognition from the government as sighted players do. Chess is not as popular as cricket. What blind chess players should get is quota in government jobs like sighted chess players get. There are job opportunities in the railways’ and oil companies for sighted players that blind players do not get. So job security is an issue for us. Love for the game helps us overcome these barriers.

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