Chess players, when in action, are unaware of their surroundings. The game reduces the world to 64 squares of black and white. For Alibek Tokabayev, though, life becomes vibrant when he begins playing the board game. For, that’s the only time the Kazakh battles on equal terms.
The 22-year-old is here for the 9th Parsvnath International Open chess tournament and currently has three points from seven rounds; he also happens to be one of only two participants in the fray â€” out of a total of 407 playersâ€” to be completely visually impaired. â€œIt’s not partial; I cannot see anything, not even colours or anything,â€ he says with a smile.
Competing in a sport like chess against able-bodied competitors isn’t easy, specially keeping track of the moves on the board and remembering them every time one plays. For Tokabayev, however, these are minor hurdles. â€œI have a special board where the pieces can be fixed, which helps me know the position. I keep track of the moves through braille,â€ he says in broken English.
His opponents so far haven’t protested. â€œIt’s an ordinary board, except that the pieces are shaped differently to differentiate between white and black. Why should anyone object to that,â€ a Delhi chess association official at the venue said. â€œHe plays from memory and for someone who cannot keep looking and re-looking at his moves to fine-tune the game, he is a decent enough player,â€ he added.
Even though Tokabayev admits he would have loved to see his moves, he is not too bothered about it. Having started playing at the age of 10 â€” in his own words, because of the various sports that the Kazakh Paralympic association organises, chess was the easiest one he could take to and did not require any contact â€” this Kazakhstan player, who has a ELO rating of 2033, has participated in several tournaments before this.