National team chess: Players seek relevance, ‘respectable’ rewards

Players feel much needs to be done to consistently draw in top-ranked candidates for the country’s most prestigious tourneys.

Rare sight: The just-concluded National team chess championship at Bhubaneswar brought together 12 players who, amongst them, have won a whopping 30 National titles. From left: (Back row) Tania Sachdev, B. Adhiban, M, Karthikeyan, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, D. V. Prasad, (front row) Mary Ann Gomes, Aarthie Ramaswamy, S. Vijayalakshmi, Nisha Mohota, Padmini Rout, Swati Ghate and Soumya Swaminathan.   -  Rakesh Rao

Strange it may sound, the best of Indian chess players are no longer seen in the country’s most lucrative events held in the country. For that matter, 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!

Read: Petroleum completes 'double'

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 section, 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.

Stagnant prize money

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 his 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 the marquee names of country’s chess. 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.