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‘Mind’ over matter

Updated March 19, 2017


Group chairman of Mindsports International, Dave Brannan, belives that the biggest advocates for mindsports in the country will be top Pakistani players of that particular sport. — Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Group chairman of Mindsports International, Dave Brannan, belives that the biggest advocates for mindsports in the country will be top Pakistani players of that particular sport. — Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

In simpler times, chess, Scrabble, Go, board games, card games, even video games were individual pursuits. But things changed in the late 1990s as games where mental exertions took on greater significance than physical endurance were given the collective term ‘mindsports.’ In an attempt to popularise these games and create greater awareness, Dave Brannan, group chairman of Mindsports International Ltd, recently visited Karachi. He spoke to Eos about the potential of mindsports in creating healthy citizens and how Pakistan can excel in mindsports.

What brings you to Pakistan?

Dave Brannan: I came here seeking connectivity. I wanted to see if we can launch an online training programme for mindsports here.

Can you tell us a bit more about these online training sessions?

DB: At the moment we have the Mindsports education website and a Facebook page. Schools can register for free and they can download lots of material from there such as two-letter words, training plans, PDFs, lots of fun stuff for children, etc.

The children, too, can go to an online game and play Scrabble, chess and Go against each other but they don’t know who they are playing against. We have locked the software as we want to protect the children.

Some sports require physical endurance, others neccessitate mental resilience

So how are they going to interact and learn?

DB: As we develop this page, we are going to add training programmes. As part of the training programmes, you may be able to see your opponent. We can bring in, say, the world champion of any mindsport from anywhere in the world and everyone would be able to see him or her up on a big screen. What we could then do is to get a teacher to supervise a challenge game against the entire classroom.

The next stage after that is to add functionality where the teacher can challenge a teacher in another school through the software and the children can play against the children in another school that can be anywhere in the world without leaving their classrooms.

That way you can create leagues. You can create tournaments. And you are using mathematics and English as a part of your Scrabble, too, which can also help you excel in those subjects as you play. You can also do the same for chess. Go is also just as good as the other two games, and can be played this way.

But all this can only be done if the schools register. What if parents want their children to get involved in mindsports but the schools aren’t interested?

DB: Wait, there is the next phase, too, which could be after-school training. What you’d be able to do is request a trainer from anywhere in the world to train your child. Then a parent can negotiate with the trainer about how much to pay him or her, and the trainer can go ahead with online training. It can be up to four children being trained at a time. This kind of thing is already in place in America, by the way.

The difference here is that for Pakistan this could be a massive opportunity to create jobs. Because somebody training from Pakistan is going to charge a much lower rate than someone charging from America for the same thing. But the quality of training is going to be just as good if not better. And in all this you are earning revenue for your country, creating an economic factor.

"I only came to Pakistan after hearing about and witnessing the Pakistan youth scrabble team’s performance in the World Youth Scrabble Championship.”

And have you met anyone who could this from here?

DB: Your country’s top Scrabble or chess player can be roped in. We are already talking to Pakistan’s number one Scrabble player, Waseem Khatri, about this. He already coaches students in Scrabble. So we can work with him, building him as an ambassador before selling him to the world. He can do this. And the kids he trains can then also train others their age right here. Meanwhile, Waseem could also be doing a training programme for other trainers here.

Do you think that mindsport has flourished this much in Pakistan to be able to find so many interested children and trainers?

DB: There is obviously a lot of Scrabble talent here. I only came to Pakistan after hearing about and witnessing the Pakistan youth Scrabble team’s performance in the World Youth Scrabble Championships. That’s at least one mindsport. Of course we need many children playing mindsports for it to flourish. It is only going to be good for your society.

Now chess would be slightly difficult because there are countries way, way, way ahead of you. It will take time to catch up with them from where you are. But because you have already got the Scrabble programme in place, you’ll find that a lot of Scrabble players here would want to play chess, too. And we are going to give you a mindsports ranking, whether you are playing Scrabble or chess.

And is this mindsports training programme for children only?

DB: Well, actually Harvard Law School uses mindsports as a part of its training programme. They recommend our training programmes.

We are also petitioning the Olympic Committee and sports groups around the world to recognise mindsports as a sector. Even if we fail there, in many areas it would still build public awareness. So far conversations about it are getting quite extensive worldwide.

Playing a mindsport, even if you lose, you are meeting someone, you are learning to win as well as to lose, you are learning to be social, you are learning good manners, all very important things, things that are very lost in certain parts of the world at the moment.

Are Scrabble and chess the most-played mind games?

DB: Go is the biggest game out of Scrabble, chess and Go. It has got the most money in it. It has an elitist group playing it. In China alone there are more than a million Go players. Korea also plays Go as does Japan. Quite, frankly it is the most boring game to watch but it is the most strategic. There are more moves in Go than there are stars in the universe but all you seem to do is lay a black tile over a white tile. It looks that simple.

Of course, there are huge opportunities to tap into if you can get the Koreans, the Japanese and the Chinese behind the theory of mindsports.

And what about bridge? Is it not a mindsport?

DB: I would love to get bridge involved in training programmes, too, but I have tried and failed twice. Bridge is a very closed British institution. They may want a lot of players but then they are not very accommodating when they know what it takes to bring in more players. I believe the bridge scene here in Pakistan is quite small but I think it is potentially enough to light a fire. But it won’t be able to build a natural momentum without a push.

The interviewer is a member of staff

She tweets @HasanShazia

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 19th, 2017