The disappearing act of top Indian players at top events in India
They seek relevance and ‘respectable’ rewards or muse that it be scrapped
Strange it may sound, the best of Indian chess players are no longer seen in the country’s most lucrative events. Even the race to the National title is decided without most of the top-10 players!
In two months. ending January, the country hosted back-to-back international events at Bhopal, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai, but the highest-rated Indian on view was Abhijeet Gupta, ranked a distant 10. Last year, even the strongest-ever National championship field was headed by Aravindh Chithambaram, ranked ninth!
With this being the background, National team championship which concluded here on Wednesday, appeared hugely enriched in the presence of two top-10 players — Surya Shekhar Ganguly and B. Adhiban, ranked sixth and eighth. Moreover, the event witnessed a rarity. Under one roof, there were four men and 12 women who have accounted for a whopping 30 National titles!
On the flip side, given the miserly share of the winner’s purse of ₹25,000 in the Open section and ₹20,000 in the women’s, most top players remain dismissive of the event.
“After all, the winning team does not qualify to represent the country. Add to it the effort of playing a maximum of nine rounds, and at best, receive ₹5000 (₹ 4000 for women) and worse, take home even less after sharing it with the team manager,” pointed out one Grandmaster.
Another senior GM questioned on the continuity of the event. “What purpose does this event serve? The All India Chess Federation has not paid any attention to make this event an important one in the annual calendar.
“The prize-money has remained virtually the same for years. No wonder, the lack of motivation of even the stronger players becomes evident once they realise their team has no chance of making it to the podium.”
In reality, the higher-rated players say ‘yes’ to participating in the event only because they cannot say ‘no’ to their employers.
It is for this reason the annual Petroleum inter-unit meet presents the strongest field involving marquee names. In December last, second-ranked P. Hari Krishna headed the star-cast of seven top-10 Indian GMs in this in-house meet!
Privately, the players strongly feel that either the AICF, with a few crore rupees and growing as bank balance, should make the National team event relevant by considerably raising the prize-money or simply scrap it.
However, with even the National championship set to be reduced to just another prize-money event this year, country’s top players don’t foresee a change in tide.