Chess Champions

Posted: 1/2/2005
By: (Julie Arnold )
Chess. Thirty-two black and white pieces lined up on alternating black and white squares, each with names like king, queen and pawn. Sixteen pieces for a player to conquer.

And conquer is just what Anjali and Deepyaman Datta do.

Deepyaman, 14, is a sophomore at Grapevine High School, and began playing chess as an after-school activity at age 6 in his elementary school in Lawrence, Kan. His interest in the game grew quickly, and before long he was playing in tournaments.

“[At his first] tournament he lost all six [games]. I thought that was the end of chess,” said Deepak Datta, the youngsters’ father.

However, Deepyaman learned quickly from his mistakes, and he continued to pursue the game. Soon he was winning all his games, showing precocious skill and progressing by leaps and bounds.

By the time the Dattas had moved to Texas late this summer, Deepyaman had moved up through the ranks in Kansas and into the national competition. In 2000, he was named U.S. Junior U-11 champion, and by 2004 he was named Kansas state chess champion (all ages). Also this year, he won the U.S. Junior U-21 championship.

Anjali and Deepyaman Datta of Grapevine.

Deepyaman had only begun his career as a child prodigy in chess before his sister got interested in the game as well.

“I learned from watching him,” said Anjali, 12, who is now an eighth-grader at Cross Timbers Middle School in Grapevine.

By summer, Anjali, showing similar precociousness, had become the highest rated female chess player in Kansas. She is currently the highest ranked under-13 girls player in the U.S. by the U.S. Chess Federation.

In early November, Anjali represented the U.S. in the Girls U12 section at the World Youth Chess Championships on the Greek island of Crete. The championships are organized by the World Chess Federation.

“It was my second time, so I had a lot of fun,” said Anjali, who had also competed in 2002.

Anjali won seven games against South Africa, Hungary, Greece, Ireland, U.K., Spain and Norway and lost four to Russia, Austria, Indonesia and Greece, tying for 12th place.

“Two years ago I made a friend, and it was nice to see her again,” Anjali said. Her friend is from Slovakia and they e-mail each other regularly.

The Internet is a large part of both Anjali and Deepyaman’s chess playing, both for study and competition. 

“There’s an Internet chess club. She can play anyone around the world,” Datta said.

Practice takes from between two to three hours a day with tournament games lasting four to six hours, taking up most weekends.

“We study from software,” Deepyaman said. 

He even has an online coach, Grandmaster Vladimir Kosy-rev from Moscow, Russia.

Deepyaman, in turn, coaches his sister.

“The kids usually do not play against each other,” said Shraboni Datta, the children’s mother. “If they do, Deepyaman usually wins.” 

“Before she [Anjali] loses, the board goes flying,” Deepak joked. It is more conducive to keeping peace in the household if the kids play others online. The kids study chess together online, Datta said.

“Chess is something that they are constantly thinking about,” their father said. Deepak and Shraboni like their kids playing chess, not just for the fun of it, but also because of the academic benefits.

“There’ve been a lot of studies that chess can be beneficial in cognitive and other skills,” Deepak said.

Chess is a way to develop children’s minds, wrote one Canadian chess master, Dr. Peter Dauvergne of the University of Sydney.

“Whatever a child’s age … chess can enhance concentration, patience and perseverance, as well as develop creativity, intuition, memory and most importantly, the ability to analyze and deduce from a set of general principles, learning to make tough decisions and solve problems flexibly,” Dauvergne wrote. Since moving to Texas, the Datta family has not found competitive local teams. The Dattas say the nearest quality club is in Dallas, but because of the distance, the kids have only been able to make the trip a few times.

“They don’t really have an active chess program in the schools Anjali and Deepyaman attend in Grapevine,” Datta said. “Hopefully, chess will become more popular here in the Colleyville, Southlake, Grapevine area in the years ahead,” he added.

The United States is not a big chess supporter in comparison to countries such as Russia, China and Greece.

“In Greece and in other countries, the kids are practicing a lot more,” Anjali said, adding that some of those countries provide state sponsorships. “A lot of the kids are [also] sponsored by companies,” Deepak added.

While Anjali and Deepyaman do not have sponsors, they do have a lot of family support, and that, plus their past successes, appear to be more than enough to keep them in the competition.