Darpan Inani sits across his opponent, and a customised chess board separates them. While he waits for his opponent to announce his move, he has already visualised the chess board and pieces in his mind, and once his opponent declares his move, the visual will change in an instant!
Darpan is India’s highest-rated visually impaired chess player, and competes against sighted champions!
“I chose to play chess because this is the only sport that can be played by a visually impaired person against a sighted person,” Darpan told The Better India, adding that “Although blind chess has been in existence for about 20 years now, I wanted to compete against sighted opponents.”
Darpan’s life is sure to inspire you. At the age of three years, Darpan was diagnosed with the Stevens-Johnson syndrome and lost his eyesight completely.
For the next six years, he would spend a majority of his time in hospitals, and underwent over 50 surgeries.
The doctors, like Darpan and his family, were hoping that his visual impairment could be reversed. But that was not to be.
When he was eight years old, Darpan got admitted in a regular school. “In the sports hour, all my friends would run to the ground to play games like kho-kho, Kabaddi etc. I obviously could not compete with them. That’s when my parents and I discovered that I could play chess when my friends were busy with other sports,” he says.
The only thing that differentiates Darpan from any other chess player is that he uses a special board—one with holes in every square and nails on every piece. This prevents the pieces from falling when the players touch them to check their position.
“But chess has time constraints, so I refrain from touching the pieces to check their positions every time,” Darpan told TBI. How then, does he keep the game going?
“Well, when the game starts, I imagine the picture of the board with the pieces. As it progresses, my opponent announces every move, and I visualise the pieces accordingly. A move of ‘rook to E6’ changes the visualisation in my mind, but since some games can go up to 5 hours, I touch the pieces to check the position sometimes,” Darpan says.
He acknowledges the immense help that he has received in his journey so far. “My father taught me the basics of chess. When I was about 14, I played a local tournament against a sighted person. After the tournament, Zahir Bhatkar, who is also a chess player, approached me and encouraged me to continue playing chess. Even today, Zahir bhai helps me with my training. There are videos that I cannot follow alone, so he helps me with it,” he says.
Apart from that, he has been professionally trained, first by an international master, Shekhar Sahu who is based in Mumbai and then by Srinath Narayanan, a grandmaster from Chennai.
Darpan has come a long way since winning his first tournament when he was a 14-year-old. He started representing Gujarat in National level chess championships, beating sighted chess players like a pro. In 2010, Darpan became the youngest player to represent India at the World Blind Chess Championship in Serbia.
According to the World Chess Federation, as of 2013, he is the highest rated visually impaired chess player in India, and has an Elo rating system of 2053! Recently, he created history by becoming the only visually impaired Indian to win the international gold at the Creon Open in France.
If you think that the Vadodara boy only excels in chess, think again.
He plays the tabla and harmonium, and is currently pursuing his Chartered Accountancy and has passed his intermediary exam in the first attempt.
Earlier this year, he assisted in the Project Checkmate—an initiative to take blind chess to the corners of India, inspiring visually impaired players to pursue their passion in the game.
The organisers of tournaments are only too happy to have Darpan on board when he registers. “There have never been any issues with any organisers regarding my entrance in the tournaments. Usually, it’s a novel idea for them that a 100% visually impaired player is competing against sighted opponents. So they are curious and ask me queries like whether I have any special requirements, like maybe a special board. But I get my own board to every tournament, so it’s not a hassle for them,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)