Commonwealth Ch: Culture shock in Delhi

by Sabrina Chevannes
7/13/2015 – Hit by 40° on arrival WIM Sabrina Chevannes, the nominated female from England for the Commonwealth Championship, struggled with accommodation, traffic, power cuts – and an attack of typhoid fever! Thankfully the organisers were extremely helpful, and after withdrawing from play Sabrina took it on herself to look around town and file a final report on the tournament.

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Culture shock in Delhi

By Sabrina Chevannes

When I heard that the Commonwealth 2015 was going to be held in Delhi, India, I was very excited to make plans to go. I had never been to India and it was definitely one of those places I wanted to cross off my list. In fact, I was visiting the Reykjavik Open in March this year when I was hanging out with IM Tania Sachdev who insisted I came to visit and combined it with the tournament. This sounded like the perfect plan and I made arrangements to make this happen!

On arriving at Delhi Airport, I was hit with 40 degrees of heat – somewhat contrasting weather to London! However, I was certainly not complaining. I proceeded to Costa Coffee to purchase a refreshing beverage to be pleasantly surprised that it cost about 25% of the price it would have in England! Definitely a good start! The car journey was an interesting one; I learnt how to drive in South London, where most people describe it as “like driving in India”, so I was expecting the usual. Boy was I in for a shock; I will be forever thankful for London’s “awful driving” after getting on the road in India! There are just no such things as lanes and all the cars are tooting their horn and getting in each other’s way.

Plus, there were hundreds of these guys, "auto-rickshaws", zipping in and out of the place!

Well, I made it to Tania’s place safely where I immediately went for a nap! Upon waking, I was presented with some amazing Indian food. We generally have great Indian food in London, but nothing could beat the authentic stuff! That night, I got to hit my first Delhi nightclub! I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, but it wasn’t too different from London – just a lot hotter! The club had a kind of tropical feel to it, though they were serving Sheesha (or shisha, a flavored molasses tobacco smoked in a hookah) in the outside part of the club – differences that I wasn’t going to complain about!

Enjoying the Delhi heat outside a nightclub with IM Tania Sachdev and her childhood friend

There wasn’t too much time for me to explore Delhi before the tournament and the weather made it simply unbearable to go out properly in the daytime. So, we headed to the official hotel ready for the tournament, but not before we had the chance to check out some live music at a local venue! I didn’t exactly understand the lyrics, but the music was great and the crowd loved them!

One of the other reasons that I was enticed into playing the Commonwealth Chess Championships, was the fact that each country gets to nominate players who get full board in a five star hotel. I was the nominated female from England and so was definitely looking forward to the luxury accommodation provided free of charge at the tournament. So, upon checking into the hotel, imagine my surprise when I am being told that I am actually sharing my room with two other women! There was some miscommunication because my federation was led to believe I was getting a single room. I was somewhat troubled by this, but headed up to my room to check out what I was expecting to be a suite, so could host three people. However, there was just one bed in the room! One of my roommates stayed the night before, so she had an extra foldup bed be put in the corner, but this still meant sharing a bed with a stranger for the duration of the tournament! The final disturbing straw was that my bed partner was just a young teenage girl, who looked pretty scared by the whole situation. Dealing with this issue at ten p.m. at night when you start a double round day at nine a.m. the next morning was not the greatest start to a tournament.

Apparently this was normal in India and was to be expected. It certainly wasn’t normal in England and I was definitely in shock and not impressed! After much complaining, the organisers managed to rectify the situation and the Maldivan teenage girl joined her teammates in another hotel nearby, leaving a sensible number in the room. It was not a single room as expected, but my roommate was nice and there was just enough space for the two of us to survive for the tournament.

So, the first round started at nine a.m., which was different from what was advertised, but we got to grips with the new schedule, which was actually an improvement. The drama of the tournament already started from round one, when the arbiter made an announcement of the rules and regulations of the event, which confused a fair few competitors. Such an announcement which led to Tania’s shock loss in the first round and Humpy Koneru’s early departure after round four (see this report).

However, a new experience did occur for me; as we all start to near time trouble (since we have no additional time!), the lights kept on going out. The arbiter would call us to stop the clocks. Then, some UV lights would come on and then the power would switch back on again. So, the clocks would start again. A minute later, the same thing would happen. Not only was this confusing, but it was so off-putting! The lights constantly going on and off would also give me headaches. But apparently – this was still all normal!! Most participants continued unfazed by the whole thing; it was only the foreign players who looked somewhat perturbed by the continuous power cuts.

After what was clearly a great start to the tournament (!), I then started to feel sick that night. I thought “Oh great, the usual Delhi belly that everyone has warned me about!” How wrong I was! I was up all night being sick and with fevers and generally feeling awful. I couldn’t believe it – day one and already I was suffering!

By the next morning, I felt like I was going to die! Luckily I had some great friends at the tournament who were looking after me. I even had medicine brought to my board the next day! God knows why I continued to play chess in that state, but I was determined to plough on. However, the usual state of affairs saw more power cuts and flashing lights the next day too – not exactly doing wonders for my state!

Sadly the medicine didn’t help too much and I continued to suffer. Thankfully, the organisers and the hotel were extremely helpful in this situation and I managed to get a doctor called out to the hotel to check up on me and give me more suitable medication. However, he took a blood sample to run it through some tests and the results came back a couple of days later… Typhoid Fever! Yep!! What a nightmare! Incredible really considering the hotel provided bottle water each day and there was a water fountain right outside the tournament hall. However, I forgot about using tap water when brushing my teeth and drinking drinks with ice in it. So, I was going to be suffering for the duration of my trip.

So there was not much adventure for me, and I decided to soak up the immediate environment as the contrast between being in a five star hotel and going outside was quite vast!

Hotel Park Plaza in New Delhi

The area surrounding the hotel

It might have been sweltering hot, but there were still areas which were flooded!

Contrasting areas adjacent to the above

The streets always seemed to be lined with parked vehicles

Inside the local shopping mall

I spent most of the tournament suffering indoors though, whilst trying to recover. At least there was still some exciting chess being played at the top.

I caught up with Abhijeet Gupta at the end of round six, when he was on a perfect score and most people were saying that he clearly had the tournament in the bag. However, we reminisced (somewhat painfully for Abhijeet) about last year’s tournament in Glasgow when he started off in the same way, but suddenly it went quite sour. So, in round seven, he was pretty focused against last year’s winner Deep Sengupta and found himself winning remarkably easily, taking him to a perfect 7/7! Now it was Deep who had to watch Abhijeet take home his trophy, as he drew his last games rather easily, bringing him to an amazing 8.0/9 and taking home the Commonwealth title.

Top final rankings (after nine rounds)

Rk. SNo Title Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3 
1 1 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2605 8.0 55.0 49.5 52.50
2 15 IM Das Arghyadip IND 2459 7.5 51.5 46.5 44.75
3 4 GM Lalith Babu M.R. IND 2563 7.5 51.0 46.0 43.75
4 10 GM Deepan Chakkravarthy J. IND 2497 7.5 48.0 43.0 42.25
5 3 GM Sengupta Deep IND 2571 7.0 50.5 46.0 40.25
6 22 IM Ramnath Bhuvanesh.R IND 2420 7.0 49.5 44.0 39.75
7 8 GM Karthikeyan Murali IND 2502 7.0 48.0 43.0 38.00
8 7 GM Aravindh Chithambaram IND 2504 7.0 47.0 41.5 40.00
9 18 IM Padmini Rout IND 2441 7.0 43.5 39.5 35.75
10 19 IM Mohammad Minhaz Uddin BAN 2439 7.0 43.5 39.0 37.00
11 39 IM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman IND 2342 7.0 39.5 35.5 32.50
12 90 WGM Meenakshi Subbaraman IND 2153 7.0 36.0 32.5 31.50
13 32 Visakh Nr IND 2375 6.5 49.5 44.0 37.00
14 11 GM Kunte Abhijit IND 2483 6.5 49.0 44.0 36.75
15 36 IM Akash G IND 2354 6.5 48.5 43.5 36.25
16 14 GM Ankit R. Rajpara IND 2461 6.5 47.5 42.5 36.25
17 44 Sanjay N. IND 2310 6.5 47.5 42.5 36.25
18 34 IM Nitin S. IND 2357 6.5 46.5 42.5 33.50
19 28 GM Sriram Jha IND 2396 6.5 46.5 42.0 34.50
20 9 GM Rahman Ziaur BAN 2500 6.5 46.0 41.5 35.75
21 25 IM Ravi Teja S. IND 2403 6.5 46.0 41.5 34.75
22 29 IM Krishna C.R.G. IND 2393 6.5 45.5 41.5 33.50
23 98 Siva Mahadevan IND 2125 6.5 45.0 41.0 31.25
24 109 Yashas D. IND 2098 6.5 43.5 40.0 32.75
25 40 FM Mehar Chinna Reddy C.H. IND 2341 6.5 43.5 39.0 33.25
26 77 Lakshmi Narayanan M V IND 2193 6.5 43.5 39.0 33.25
27 20 IM Rathnakaran K. IND 2424 6.5 43.0 39.0 32.25
28 97 Singh Y. Dhanabir IND 2125 6.5 43.0 38.5 32.75
29 12 GM Neelotpal Das IND 2462 6.5 41.5 37.5 30.75
30 75 Kumar Gaurav IND 2197 6.5 39.5 35.5 29.25

GM Abhijeet Gupta takes gold, GM Arghyadip Das takes silver and GM Babu Lalith takes bronze.
However, Abhijeet didn’t get to keep his medal for long …

... he lent it to me to celebrate my fake Commonwealth victory!

IM Padmini Rout in action in round seven

Meanwhile, in the women’s championships, with Humpy out of the competition, it made things a rather interesting event. Rout Padmini was always favourite as top seed and with Tania’s upset in round one. However, IM Padmini, IM Subbaraman and WGM Meenakshi all found themselves on an amazing 7.0/9. By tie-break, Rout took the gold medal, being unbeaten in the whole tournament. However, both Meedakshi and Subbaraman had the most incredible finishes, both winning all six of their last six games!

After resting for a few days in bed and not playing chess at all, I decided to try and join my friends to celebrate their victories and enjoy my last night in India. Whilst the event was quite a culture shock for me and various incidents were rather alarming, all in all it was an interesting experience and I wouldn’t have been able to survive without the kindness of many. Would I go back? Well, perhaps try asking me again once I’m fully over this fever!

Pictures by Sabrina Chevannes and Helen Milligan


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Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, Sabrina now lives in London where she is managing director of the London Academy of Chess and Education. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK. Sabrina is a Women International Master and an active chess player.
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ADevyatkin ADevyatkin 7/15/2015 03:39
A few years ago, I've also participated many times in Indian opens, and I can say I quite liked the experience and keep pleasant memories about it, although organizational mistakes did happen sometimes, including power cuts (I think I could blame it for my loss in the crucial round in Chennai-2013 when the winner would take 1st prize). Besides, of course the sanitary conditions in India are poor; one should be very careful about unboiled water and raw vegetables over there, and always have some medications on hand. But it's in any foreign country that there are some unknown specific problems and you should be somewhat on the alert, isn't it?
At the same time, authentic Indian food is wonderful (for me at least), the local organizers and players were, in general, friendly and enthusiastic - with no sign of aggression which is important - and the Indian culture is very interesting to explore (it's a pity one has little time for that when there are double rounds!).
Speaking about the article, what puzzles me a bit is that typhoid fever is known to have an incubation period of at least 7 days, while, as far as I can understand, the author got sick some two days after her arrival. So, either the diagnosis might have been incorrect or she had been unlucky to get it somewhere else, before her travel to India?
sushruthareddy sushruthareddy 7/15/2015 01:26
The first pic is from M.G. Road, Bangalore!
Reshuaggarwal Reshuaggarwal 7/14/2015 06:15
Hotel Park Plaza Shadhra, is not one of the best locations. Shadhra is very outer Delhi, and hence the rawness of the place comes through in the pictures. Have been leaving in Delhi since 1998, have not once ever ventured on that side. The article is a very typical firang/biased kind of assessment with lot of stereotypes. It shows Delhi in a very bad light, which I am sure Tania won't appreciate it either, being a Delhite. You could have shown picture of the music concert. Shadhra is a very industrial area, and yes we are still a very third world country. So don't start judging us by showing pics you don't like, while excluding pics you may have liked.
Rama Rama 7/14/2015 06:58
I wish New Delhi would do something about all the litter, it appears to be just as bad as when I was last there in 2006!
Philip Feeley Philip Feeley 7/14/2015 04:52
I've never wanted to go to India, for many of the reasons she writes about. Now I'm sure I'll never go!
Aighearach Aighearach 7/14/2015 12:25
My deepest apologies to all English-speaking persons for leaving an "o" off of "too." It was a mere typo, I promise! lol
Aighearach Aighearach 7/14/2015 12:23
@WickedPawn: per-capita, that sounds about correct to represent the Commonwealth. Or do Indians count less, even in India?

Plus, none of the top players from the UK participate in UK or Commonwealth events. That is part of the culture of the Commonwealth; the small members care about the Commonwealth, and people from the UK don't associate themselves with the Commonwealth enough to represent it. Or even their own nation. Are citizens of the Commonwealth less representative of the group just because Short and Adams don't love them?

It seems you missed an educational opportunity. Never to late to think about it more carefully, though!
iComeInPeace iComeInPeace 7/13/2015 11:02
they would have billed 3 rooms and gave one... save 2 rooms of rent and put them in pocket ;)
just applying the Indian mind, and its possible! hehe..
karavamudan karavamudan 7/13/2015 06:40
Well as an Indian that the nice girl who wrote this article had to put up with so much suffering - Next time she may be well advised to take proper care including some "shots" to prevent catching some illness.

Finally, all said and done, the tournament could have been better organized with no power cuts perhaps in Mumbai or in Chennai. The organizers should now respond regarding the veracity of the allegations made on arbiters ambiguities and what steps are being taken in ensuring more professional future tournaments

fusoya fusoya 7/13/2015 05:47
I love Tania as much as the next guy, but it's a little crass to find every excuse to post multiple pictures of her in whatever article
GMChukky GMChukky 7/13/2015 05:19
This clearly is lazy, poor and biased writing. Your 'culture shock' appears to be one-sided as otherwise you could have found a few nice things to tell about what shocked you in India. I am not Indian; I have not even been to India, but I hate it when people cannot tell a well-rounded story.
I agree with WickedPawn on why the event was a 'Commonwealth Championship' joke.
prail prail 7/13/2015 04:30
@WickedPawn -- excellent point. Where is Nigel Short when we need him?
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 7/13/2015 04:18
dear friend wicked pawn....factually you are right ...still look at the ratings of the participants......look at the games....
the second and third prize winners in the women's section are sisters....vijayalakshmi subbaraman and meenakshi subbaraman from india!
WickedPawn WickedPawn 7/13/2015 02:13
What kind of "Commonwealth Championship" joke is this when 147 out of the 150 players are from India or Bangladesh?