Visually impaired ex-chess champ is leading a movement to boost blind chess

Mar 04, 2018, 10:15 IST | Jane Borges

A visually impaired ex-chess champ is leading a movement to boost blind chess with the world's first dedicated Internet radio service for them

Dr Charudatta Jadhav with Sachin Tendulkar
Dr Charudatta Jadhav with Sachin Tendulkar

At 49, Dr Charudatta Jadhav could have been the hero that the country needed alongside Indian chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. But, in 2004, Borivli-based Jhadhav, who is the first Indian blind chess player to be awarded an international rating, abruptly decided to end his sporting career. At the time, Jadhav's rating was 2,053 at the Commonwealth chess tournament — it's a feat that is yet to be surpassed by any visually impaired chess player from India. "I made the decision for the greater glory of chess in India," said Jadhav, also the head of TCS Accessibility Centre of Excellence.

Not known to many, Jadhav, who lost his vision when he was 13 years old after being diagnosed with retinal detachment, has been slowly, yet steadily, working on building an environment for holistic development of visually impaired chess players. The All India Chess Federation for the Blind (AICFB), which he established in 1997, was the first attempt at creating a platform to improve the playing standards of the game, among the blind. Over 20 years on, after successfully having launched, Talk64, a specially designed speech-enabled chess software for the blind and the world's first DAISY chess book — book with audio and text synchronised — Jadhav last year launched, Radio Chess, the world's first dedicated Internet radio for chess for blind.

Available on Google Store, one can download the app and update themselves on the latest developments in the game, while also receiving online coaching, and professional guidance. "Chess is a studious game, and involves a lot of theory. So, you have to constantly update yourself with new literature, and apply that knowledge in tournaments, locally and abroad," said Jadhav on why he decided to start the online broadcast channel.

The game, he insists, has special relevance for the visually impaired, because it is the only "sport where the blind are at par with the sighted". "They not only compete with regular players in mainstream sporting events, there is also no concession given to them. This sense of equality has really boosted their confidence," said Jadhav.

"But, the actual difference is in the kind of training and availability of infrastructure for their training. Also, there are very few professional coaches in the country, who can train the blind. With the kind of constraints, we have, visually impaired chess players, who want to pursue the game professionally, can only attend coaching camps, and this involves effort, time, and cost," he said.

This is where Radio Chess comes in. "The blind receive most of their knowledge through a hearing medium. I thought this channel could hence, be used to impart training. So, there are certain training programmes, which have been pre-recorded and then later broadcasted. For instance, in the past, we've broadcasted a series of lectures, on how best to open the game. So, people can sit at home and learn this." The radio is also being used to air commentary of live games from across the globe, so that players, aspiring to represent the country, receive a move-by-move analysis, from a coach.

It's these consistent efforts on Jadhav's part that has now made visually challenged players from India a force to reckon with. "In 2008, we only had seven rated blind chess players. In just 10 years, we now have 180-plus rated players from the country," he said. "We have covered a lot of ground in a short span of time, and it won't be long before we become No. 1."

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