How chess saved a village

by Albert Silver
5/20/2017 – In a country as vast as India, peppered with villages all over, economic prosperity is often the difference between folding in on itself or survival. Many villages suffered from rampant illicit gambling and alcoholism. Marottichal was one such, until one day, a man opened a teashop and began teaching everyone chess, and now chess is seen everywhere. BBC reports.

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Marottichal village is not easy to find, at least not online for information on it. In Wikipedia, it is actually a reference to a hill, known for its beautiful ecological hikes, and even the Indian page on the Thrissur district of Kerala only describes the spectacular waterfalls off the Marottichal hills.

Marottichal waterfalls (source:

Below the Wikipedia entry on the hill is a secondary mention that reads outright: Chess in Marottichal. This is not just a result of the BBC article that follows, but also a movie that came out in 2013, called August Club, inspired on the chess obsession of the village, as well as a piece in The Hindu.

Here is an excerpt of the excellent article from the BBC:

The Ancient Game that Saved a Village

By Jack Palfrey - (18 May 2017)


“In other Indian villages perhaps the maximum number of people that know chess is less than 50,” said Baby John, president of the Chess Association of Marottichal. “Here 4,000 of the 6,000 population are playing chess, almost daily.”

“And it is all thanks to this wonderful man,” he added, gesturing to Unnikrishnan.

Fifty years ago, Marottichal was a very different place. Like many villages in northern Kerala, alcoholism and illicit gambling were rife among its small population. Having developed a zeal for chess while living in the nearby town of Kallur, Unnikrishnan moved back to his afflicted hometown and opened his teashop, where he began teaching customers to play chess as a healthier way to pass the time.

Not only did the archaic game scupper alcoholism and supersede clandestine card games, but it has engrained itself into Marottichal’s identity, and, according to Baby John, it continues to protect the town’s residents from modern pitfalls.

“Chess improves concentration, builds character and creates community,” he said. “We don’t watch television here; we play chess and talk to each other.”

“Even the kids?” I asked.

Read the full article at BBC

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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