Delhi Int'l Open: Leading Indians ignore richest prize-money event

From last year’s Rs. 35 lakh, the prize-fund for the Delhi International Open, which begins on Monday, stands enhanced to a staggering Rs. 51.51 lakh spread over three categories. However, from India, not a single top-10 male or top-15 female is part of this large field.

M. R. Lalith Babu leads the Indian contingent in the tournament.   -  Sandeep Saxena

The country’s richest prize-money chess event – the annual Delhi International Open – will offer more than ever when it begins here on Monday.

From last year’s Rs. 35 lakh, the prize-fund stands enhanced to a staggering Rs. 51.51 lakh spread over three categories. Not surprisingly, the raised prize-money has also attracted a record 27 Grandmasters and over 1600 entries from 28 countries. But ironically, from India, not a single top-10 male or top-15 female is part of this large field.

Headed by Tajikistan’s lone Grandmaster and former Moscow Open champion Farrukh Amonatov, rated 2619, the field lacks the appeal of accomplished performers. On the brighter side, the depth of the field is bound to test the title-aspirants.

M. R. Lalith Babu, ranked 11th in the country, leads a pack of five Indian GMs among the top eight seeded players. Diptayan Ghosh, twice National champion M. Karthikeyan, local Vaibhav Suri and S. L. Narayanan form the creamy layer of home challenge. Meanwhile, among the overseas contenders, third seeded Ukrainian Olexander Bortnyk is yet to arrive due to visa issues.

It is pertinent to note that for a number of years leading Indian players have ignored this event, along with the other International Open events held in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bhubaneswar.

In private, many players justify their decision to stay away by pointing to the “conditions’ offered by the host. These conditions include appearance money, accommodation, travel etc. Many players do no wish to play two rounds a day (on two days). Some others are not in favour of rounds starting before noon. Some do not agree to the appearance money offered while others question the playing conditions in the tournament hall.

From an organiser’s point of view, it works out cheaper to invite overseas GMs and players. Moreover, as an organiser stated bluntly, “the Indians demand unreasonably in India but agree to play overseas for much less while staying in accommodation inferior to what we offer. In short, no organiser wants to deal with those making unreasonable demands.”

‘Creditable’

As a result, for long, Indian organisers hold events aimed at attracting quantity (entries) and not necessarily quality players. “In the absence of sound sponsorship for chess, it is indeed creditable that Delhi International has enhanced the prize-money by Rs. 15 lakh. Moreover, almost all the expenses are met from the revenue generated from entries,” said a modest player-turned-organiser.

For eight days, competitions will be played in three categories. Category ‘A’, for those rated 2000 and above, offers Rs. 18.17 lakh. Category ‘B’ for players with a rating of 1999 or below in the last three years, has Rs. 17.17 lakh on offer. Category ‘C’, which begins on January 13 for those with rating of 1599 or below in the last three years, offers Rs. 16.17 lakh

What attracts large entries has much to do with the prize-money structure. In each category, the first three finishers receive a six-figure amount. If in Category ‘A’, a 35th-placed player gets Rs. 10,000, those ending up 60th in ‘B’ and ‘C’ are richer by Rs. 6,000. This lures large entries mainly in the two lower categories.