Whenever Manishi Raychaudhuri is in London, which is not uncommon, he always visits Chess & Bridge, a quaint shop tucked away on 44, Baker Street, a wonderland for lovers of chess. C&B stocks everything from learn-to books to lovely boards and chess-playing computers. “This time, I am going to look for one [a chess playing computer],” grins Raychaudhuri, managing director, and Asian Equity Strategist, BNP Paribas.
The 47-year-old equity market expert is attached at the hip to a small handheld chess-playing machine his wife bought for him from Boston. “I spend a few hours playing chess over the weekend,” he admits. Weekdays are tougher time-wise but he keeps his handheld within reach when he travels, which is almost 15 days a month. He even has a private ranking of chess games offered as in-flight entertainment, “Jet Airways has Casper of Chessmate, which is really good. The chess programme on Emirates is excellent — it even gives you an Elo rating.”
The Elo rating system, named after Arpad Elo, the Hungarian-born physics professor, is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in two-player games such as chess. His score? 1,850 points. Vishwanathan Anand’s score? 2,790 points. Definitely not bad for an amateur with his work profile. Raychaudhuri’s regret, however, is that he has not found a human opponent in the 18 years he has lived in Mumbai. Now based out of Hong Kong, he shrugs, “It’s either my handheld device or I log on to Chesscube.”
Not surprisingly, Raychaudhuri’s study at home features four chessboards, including an eye-catching wooden board that has a metallic top featuring pieces carved like Greek emperors at war. “Greeks are very passionate about chess,” he says, recounting a recent vacation where he saw several young men at street corners testing their chess skills.
Raychaudhuri was introduced to chess by his father when he was six years old. “He passed me his skills, not because he wanted to turn me into a champion but to keep me occupied.” That boy fell in love with the sport. By the time he turned 10, little Manishi had started beating his father at chess.
Around this time, sports magazines began carrying a section on chess moves “I started annotating them and playing by myself,” he says. When he turned 15, he enrolled into a class with the Alekhine Chess Club, run by the then-Soviet (now Russian) consulate in Kolkata. His fondest memory is of being coached by Indian grandmaster Dibyendu Barua. Soon after, he participated in his first chess tournament, the Karpov Trophy, winning six out of 11 rounds, finishing 25th amidst 100 participants. “Had I continued living in Kolkata, I would have maintained a deeper association with the game.” Raychaudhuri has never won a major tournament even though he has participated at several club level events. However, he did lead the IIM-Kolkata team four times [he was a doctoral student] against XLRI in Jamshedpur, “and we always won,” he laughs.
Playing chess, says Raychaudhuri, not only helps de-stress, it also helps him develop patience and problem-solving skills. “Chess forces a person to think on his feet,” he reflects. “Your opponent’s move may force you to think differently. At work, you are often faced with similar situations.”
Raychaudhuri’s love for chess finds many expressions. He tracks championships across around the world — including Anand’s incredible win against Boris Gelfand at the World Chess Championship in Moscow. And in every city in every part of the world, he can be found stopping by at chess hangouts, including New York’s iconic Manhattan and Marshall chess clubs. “Both these chess clubs have libraries where you can review millions of electronically stored games,” Raychaudhuri says.