Billionaire start-up founder beats Viswanathan Anand in chess celebrity fundraiser game, admits ‘took help, sorry’

The celebrity online chess event ended up being marred by a bizarre controversy involving Kamath, who is the founder of Zerodha, a unicorn stock brokerage firm.

IT WAS a high-profile fund-raiser that had all the ingredients of a blockbuster: five-time former world champion Viswanathan Anand taking on Bollywood star Aamir Khan, singers Arijit Singh and Ananya Birla, cricketer Yuzvendra Chahal, young billionaire Nikhil Kamath, and film producer Sajid Nadiadwala — all at the same time.

But the celebrity online chess event ended up being marred by a bizarre controversy involving Kamath, who is the founder of Zerodha, a unicorn stock brokerage firm.

At the event to raise funds for Akshaya Patra Foundation, the 34-year-old beat Anand at the Checkmate Covid Celebrity Edition hosted by chess.com. But hours after the game, chess.com, which live-streamed the action, closed Kamath’s account for violation of its fair play policy.

On Monday, Kamath issued a public apology on Twitter, admitting that his Grandmaster-like moves were only possible because of external help.

“It is ridiculous that so many are thinking that I really beat Vishy sir in a chess game, that is almost like me waking up and winning a 100 mt race with Usain Bolt. I had help from the people analyzing the game, computers and the graciousness of Anand sir himself to treat the game as a learning experience. This was for fun and charity. In hindsight, it was quite silly as I didn’t realise all the confusion that can get caused due to this. Apologies,” he posted.

That tweet, however, appeared to have soured the situation further.

Anand’s manager and wife Aruna said Kamath had spoken to them over phone before sharing the text of what he was going to tweet.

“Anand didn’t insinuate anything but said he will go by what the algorithm (used by the fair play team at chess.com) says. He told Kamath, ‘please do not personally involve me in whatever you want to say. Whatever you do in your personal capacity to clear the situation is your call, but do not use my name in your personal tweets’,” Aruna told The Indian Express.

On Kamath’s tweet, Aruna said: “It (tweet) basically alleges that Anand was helping him and it is the most outrageous thing I have heard in Anand’s career. He (Kamath) has taken a lie and used another lie to cover that. If he was helped by computers and friends, so be it. That is on his conscience. But he can’t drag Anand’s name and say Anand helped him.”

Anand chose not to get dragged into the controversy. In a short tweet, he said: “Yesterday was a celebrity simul for people to raise money. It was a fun experience upholding the ethics of the game. I just played the position on the board and expected the same from everyone.”

At the event, Kamath, who has played chess as a teenager, started with a rarely-used opening to lose a pawn. But after the early setback, much to everyone’s surprise, he pushed Anand to the limit in a 30-minute rapid game. Anand graciously resigned instead of waiting for Kamath, who played with black pieces and had just seconds left, to run out of time.

On Monday, Kamath did not respond to text messages and calls from The Indian Express seeking comment.

Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay said: “Anand is a master of tactics, accuracy and calculations. Even (world champion) Magnus Carlsen hasn’t beaten Anand in this way. It was obvious that he (Kamath) was getting external help.”

Chess.com, which was quick to block Kamath’s account, said its Fair Play Team comprised several experts, including titled players and engineers who specialise in algorithms.

“Our systems have been thoroughly vetted by mathematicians and experts in the fields of data science and audits have shown that chess.com makes its decisions conservatively and with the confidence that an account once closed is statistically certain to have violated rules,” Danny Rensch, chief chess officer of chess.com, said in a statement.

The storm did have a silver lining, though: chess.com director Rakesh Kulkarni said the event raised about Rs 12 lakh.

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