King’s here, but where’s The CROWN PRINCE?
The World Chess Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand brought chess into the limelight despite the fact that the IPL was on. Anand extended his reign as world champion with a hard-fought victory over the Israeli.
Chess in India has been associated with Anand for the last two decades, and with his consistently brilliant performance, the genius from Chennai has kept the Tricolour flying high. At 42, he is at an age where the mercurial Garry Kasparov quit competitive chess. The match with Gelfand showed Anand’s grit and determination coupled with his ability to keep a cool head in the tensest of situations. He is no longer the ‘Lightning Kid’. His perplexing play and stunning denouement is less in evidence as
Read full story
So what will be the fate of Indian chess when Anand no longer rules the roost? That hour hasn’t dawned upon us, but it sure will. It is time to look around. But it is highly unlikely that you will find another Anand. There is only one Viswanathan Anand and, unfortunately, there is no factory in India which can churn out replacements. That is hardly surprising. Geniuses are one of a kind and we must not expect that another one is ready to take centre stage. However, the story of Indian chess has more to it than just Anand. Let us take a look at the other stars in the firmament. They may not burn as brightly as the brightest one in the sky, but they are certainly there.
After Anand, Grandmasters K Sasikiran, P Harikrishna and Surya Shekhar Ganguly have been the strongest players in the country for some time now.
Sasikiran has steadily climbed up the ladder and is ranked third in Asia and the 26th in the world. He has broken into the Super Grandmaster category with a rating of 2720. To put things in perspective, Sasikiran is just seven points behind Gelfand. At 31, it may be a little late for him to have world championship aspirations. But Gelfand, who just played (and lost) his first world championship match, is 43. Who knows what the future holds for Sasikiran?
GM Harikrishna is another top-class player. With his current rating at 2693, he is tantalisingly close to the 2700-mark which separates the Super GM from the rest. Hari plays in a harmonious manner and possesses excellent technique. He has always shown great promise and at 26, there surely is great scope for improvement. He has won world youth titles, a world U-10 title and also the world junior championship (2004).
Kolkata-born Ganguly is another Indian GM who has maintained a 2600-plus rating for a long time. He was a member of Anand’s team of seconds for the world championship matches against Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov as well as Gelfand. A player of great promise, Ganguly’s performance appears to have stagnated. His talent is formidable and he may well bounce back and resume his upward graph. The same must also be said about another GM from Kolkata, Sandipan Chanda.
A major hurdle in the path of these players is that they have not yet received many invitations to Super GM tournaments. Most of these tournaments are held in Europe and it is difficult for an Indian player to get invited to such events unless he is in the top 10. The All India Chess Federation has to organise such events in India for the benefit of our best players.
Parimarjan Negi recently added another feather to his cap by winning the Asian Chess Championship at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, almost at the same time as Anand was defending his world title in Moscow. Just 19, Negi is, perhaps, the most promising player in the country today. He became a GM at the age of 13 and was the youngest in the world at the time. With a rating of 2640, he is all set to make the top 100.
GM Abhijeet Gupta, who is a couple of years older than Negi, is also up there with a current rating of 2644. And he, too, is making rapid progress. Vaibhav Suri became the 27th Indian GM last month. He is just 15.
Another big player who deserves mention is Koneru Humpy. Indian fans were hoping that she would bring the women’s world title to India, but unfortunately it was not to be. Humpy stumbled at the final hurdle, losing her match against Chinese prodigy Hou Yifan last year. Humpy has a rating of 2589. She was above the 2600-mark some time back and could be there again in the near future.
There are other young Indian GMs who promised a lot, but appear to have floundered despite their obvious talent. B Adhiban, SP Sethuraman, GN Gopal , Deep Sengupta, P Magesh Chandran, Lalith Babu, Arun Prasad… Their careers show an upward graph, but not steep enough to rise to the very top in the world rankings.
So there won’t be ‘another Anand’, but we have superbly talented players. There is much that can be done to ensure that the Indian success story in chess continues unabated.
The problem plaguing Indian chess appears to be at the two ends of the spectrum. A player who makes a mark at the national level has ample opportunities to make it to the world level. There is no dearth of tournaments in India (thanks to the efforts of organisers at all levels).
The problems are apparent at the grassroots. There is no chess club culture in India. In his interviews after winning the world championship, Anand remarked that he had benefited from playing at the Russian Cultural Centre (Tal Chess Club) in Chennai when he was very young. There used to be such clubs all over the country. A player who took baby steps in chess had easy access to such clubs. One could either play against experienced players or at least watch them play. I gained a lot by visiting the Bombay Chess Association’s playing facility in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Alas, such facilities no longer exist in the city. I think the situation is more or less the same across the country. What are the various chess organisations doing? If India is to become the strongest chess-playing country in the world, this needs to be rectified.
The second problem surfaces once a talented player gains the GM title. And this seems to be affecting many of our young GMs. There are many tournaments in India which provide players with opportunities to become GMs. Once this goal is achieved, the players are, more or less, on their own. Our country needs more prestigious events because it is expensive and unviable for players to travel frequently to Europe. For many years, the Indian Chess Federation worked towards the goal of producing GMs in India. We now have 27 GMs in the country. It is time to raise the bar.
The All India Chess Federation and the state and district chess associations need to do a lot to provide players with suitable facilities and high-level tournaments. The government also needs to pitch in. Chess in India also needs support from private sponsors and, of course, the media.
There is no dearth of sponsors in cricket, but that’s not the case in other sports. There is no doubt that cricket is the most popular sport in the country, but should it have the whole pie?
—IM Sharad Tilak is a two-time Olympian. He is based in Mumbai
WHO AFTER ANAND?
Let’s accept the fact that the ‘Lightning Kid’ won’t be around for ever. Here are the ones expected to lead the Indian challenge in the years to come...
With a world ranking of 26 (Elo 2720), the Chennaiite is the second-best player in the country. What’s more, he is ranked third in Asia. The 2006 Asian Games gold medallist is only seven rating points behind Boris Gelfand. Many believe that his
best is yet to come.
The 26-year-old from Andhra Pradesh is ranked No 6 in Asia and No 56 in the world. Hari (Elo 2693), who won the world junior title in 2004, brought home the Asian Chess Championship last year. He is majoring in political science, sociology, and public administration.
The 25-year-old from Vijayawada has an Elo rating of 2,589, placing her No 4 in the world for women. The former world junior girls champion (2001) also made the semifinals of the world women’s chess championships in 2008. She is a Padma Shri.
Negi added another feather to his cap by winning the Asian Chess Championship in Vietnam almost at the same time as Anand was defending his world title in Moscow. Just 19, Negi is, the most promising player in the country today. He has an Elo rating of 2640.
Copyright restricted. Under license from www.dnasyndication.com