SOUTH LOOP — At 16, twin chess players Akhil and Nikhil Kalghatgi commonly battle each other for supremacy.
But their recent win was a team effort: the National Bughouse Championship, held in Tennessee, which pits two-player squads against other teams. It was their third national win.
The U.S. Chess Federation describes the brothers as "seemingly bughouse machines."
The Kalghatgi twins, South Loop residents, have been playing chess since first grade. They received their first chess set as a Christmas gift from their parents after they took an interest in their neighbors playing chess.
Akhil and Nikhil joined their first chess club at South Loop Elementary School, 1212 S. Plymouth Ct.
Akhil and Nikhil playing chess as kids. [Sunil Kalghatgi]
“The teacher organized and ran tournaments for the elementary school chess club. For the most part it was just us in the club,” Nikhil said.
By third grade Nikhil and Akhil were able to beat their dad in chess matches. They began playing chess in city-wide tournaments and eventually reached a point where they would battle each other for first place.
Akhil and Nikhil winning their first city-wide championship. [Sunil Kalghatgi]
For the last six years, the twins have made it to the final round of the city championships, with one taking home the top prize and the other runner up.
“The car ride back is always a bit tense because while congratulating one of them we also have to remember that the other one lost,” said their father, Sunil Kalghatgi.
Nikhil and Akhil insist they aren't that competitive with each other. Their father and mother, Vijaya Kalghatgi, think differently.
“They can get quite competitive especially since they have been playing against each other for so long and understand the way they play and the tactics they use,” Sunil said.
Their most recent win was in May at the Bughouse SuperNationals in Nashville, Tennessee.
Bughouse is played on two chess boards with four players. Aficionados say the game is more fast paced than regular chess and relies on strategic communication between team members.
Nikhil and Akhil winning BugHouse tournaments
Soon-to-be juniors at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, 211 S. Laflin St., Nikhil and Akhil are part of the chess team at the school. The school's chess team has a history of success in chess, claiming top notch players such as Sam Schmakel and Mike Auger.
“The chess team at Whitney Young is much bigger than the ones we have been a part of in the past. It makes it much more fun and our friends are part of it, too,” said Akhil Kalghatgi.
Akhil and Nikhil say the high school chess squad is a team building experience. For the Kalghatgi twins, traveling the country with teammates is one of the best parts of being part of the team.
Their father says chess provides a valuable learning experience.
“The stereotype is obviously that kids who play chess perform better in school. But more than that, I think it teaches kids how to deal with losing and winning,” Sunil Kalghatgi said.
The positive benefits on memory will surely help Akhil and Nikhil since their plans for the future involve pursuing math and computer science.
For now, the twins are stuck betting over which one of them has the better chance to win next year's city-wide championship.