National Challengers C'ship: AICF’s decision invites lukewarm response

The 54th National Challengers Chess Championship, the most-awaited among those playing on the domestic circuit for decades, is set to become the one with least number of entries as the All India Chess Federation has decided to hold this edition as a 'non-rated' event.

Aravindh Chithambaram is the top seed in the National Challengers Chess Championship beginning on Saturday.   -  Special Arrangement

A dubious history in Indian chess is waiting to be made when the 54th edition of the National Challengers chess championship begins at the Amity University here on Saturday. The annual event, the most-awaited among those playing on the domestic circuit for decades, is set to become the one with least number of entries.

The reason for dismal player-response is All India Chess Federation’s decision to hold this edition as a 'non-rated' event. Playing in an unrated event means the players’ performances do not count towards their four-digit rating that indicates their playing strength. In such a scenario, the players strong and not-so-strong have decided not to waste their time and energy coming here.

The event is the first part of the two-tier National championship. Nine top finishers from this event will be part of the 14-player field to decide the National champion later this year. If the last edition attracted 261 entries, this time it is around 160.

The number of Grandmasters has slipped from 10 to nine and the International Masters taking part are down to 19 from last year’s count of 37! Tamil Nadu’s Aravindh Chithambaram is the top seed.

So what was the rationale behind making this decision that has reduced the event to a virtual non-event?

It is widely believed that stronger Indian players are too possessive about their rating. They do not want to risk losing rating points in case of draw or loss against lesser-rated players. In order to lure the leading GMs to participate, the AICF decided to make this event an unrated one.

No interest

But the response from the country’s chess fraternity is a telling rejection of AICF’s collective wisdom. Neither the leading GMs nor the IMs have shown any interest.

As one of top GMs observed, “I think, those GMs returning to the National Challengers run the risk of being called 'cowards’ because they are back since there is no fear of losing rating. I am not surprised strong GMs have nothing to do with this championship. Gaining and losing rating is part of one’s journey as a player. Anyone who fears losing rating points can never become even a reasonably strong player.”

The Uttar Pradesh Chess Sports Association secretary, Mr. A. K. Raizada was more worried than any player. The “non-rated” status of the event, leading to lesser number of entries, means a heavy loss of revenue.

Amity University has graciously provided the air-conditioned playing hall and suitable accommodation for nearly 300 people, including players, coaches and parents free of cost. But that only solves only part of the problems facing the cash-strapped organiser.

Raizada, the soft-spoken retired banker who is also the Tournament Director, is keen to put up a good show despite all the constraints. He is looking to raise Rs. 5,00,000 for prize-money, another Rs. 2,50,000 as arbiters’ fees besides the already-paid Rs 1,00,000 to the AICF as Ernest Money “Deposit” for having offered to hold the event.

“The decision to make it non-rated has changed the scenario beyond everyone’s imagination. I am sure there will be some rethinking before the next edition,” said Raizada and continued, “Can you complain about an accident? They happen. Blaming anyone does not help. Now, my effort is to do my best for the participants.”