The perfect ambassador

YE JIANGCHUAN is the highest rated Chinese chess player. The 42-year-old Grandmaster commands respect not just because he is the oldest member of the Chinese squad but also for his contribution to his nation's fortunes in the game of 64 squares.

RAKESH RAO

YE JIANGCHUAN is the highest rated Chinese chess player. The 42-year-old Grandmaster commands respect not just because he is the oldest member of the Chinese squad but also for his contribution to his nation's fortunes in the game of 64 squares.

A member of the Chinese teams which won the men's Asian team chess titles in 1983, 1985, 1989, 1991 and 1993, Jiangchuan made it a sixth time by leading his country's successful campaign at Jodhpur in April. He is also the coach of former women's World champion Xie Jun, since 1988, besides the current World Cup winner Xu Yuhua.

Jiangchuan comes across as the perfect `Chess Ambassador' for his nation. Soft-spoken, genial and dressed immaculately, Jiangchuan shared views on several subjects with The Sportstar during China's successful campaign for a `double' crown.

``I think, our players were not in any great form in this championship,'' says Jiangchuan, who headed China's strongest ever squad in this continental competition. Though Jiangchuan was pleased with the strong finish of the men's team (scoring 7.5 points from the last eight games), he regretted not playing well against any of the three Indian teams.

``We played badly against India `B' and lost. Even in our matches against your `A' and `C' teams, we did not play to our potential. But all credit to your team members. They played very well against us. We have no doubt that the Indian players are much stronger than what their ratings suggest,'' said the man who lost to K. Sasikiran and escaped from inferior positions to hold Neelotpal Das and Koneru Humpy.

"We played much better in the Olympiad and finished fifth. Olympiad is, of course, a much stronger event and we were more inspired,'' explained Jiangchuan, who enjoys a rating of 2684 and is presently ranked 20th in the world.

The Chinese squad also included World number 29 Zhang Zhong (2666), twice Asian champion Xu Jun (2628) and an unconquered Zhang Pengxiang (2557). Jiangchuan, who contributed 5.5 points from eight rounds, was ably assisted by Zhang Zhong (6/9), Xu Jun (6.5/9) and Pengxiang (7/8). However, reserve Yu Shaoteng lost both his matches.

China may not have played truly like champions but they surely finished like one. By contemptuously dismissing holder Uzbekistan in the penultimate round and blanking Malaysia for the title, China showed that it is most ruthless when trailing.

"After losing to India `B' in the seventh round and trailing India `A' by a point, we knew we did not have much choice in the remaining rounds. Against Uzbekistan, we played with determination because we realised that this was our only chance to catch up with India `A'. Once ahead, we did not have much problem because Malaysia is not such a strong chess nation.''

Continuing with his assessment, Jiangchuan said, "We prepared very hard against Uzbekistan. As you are aware Rustam Kasimdzhanov (runner-up to Viswanathan Anand in the World Cup at Hyderabad last year) is a very strong player. Luckily, I had an easy victory. Other members of my team also played well to help the team win (3.5-0.5).

Jiangchuan had no reservations in admitting that he was extremely lucky to get away with a draw against Humpy. "Against India `B', we played real bad,'' was his candid admission.

About the women's competition, Jiangchuan said the Chinese were very strong and there was never any doubt over their success in the championship. The Olympiad champions, served well by World champion Zhu Chen and Xu Yuhua, could even afford the luxury of quickly drawing on all three boards in the final round before raising the winner's trophy. Zhu Chen, despite losing to S. Vijayalakshmi, scored 5.5 from seven rounds, Xu Yuhua contributed seven from nine games and Wang Yu, 5.5 from eight. Reserve player Huang Qian had two from three rounds.

Jiangchuan feels that chess in India is developing well. "It is good to know that gradually sponsors are coming forward to support chess in India. I learnt that many children are getting attracted to chess here. Even in China, children are taking up chess more seriously nowadays. Our federation has managed a few sponsors but not enough to support our chess entirely.''

Looking ahead, the Chinese ace said, "I think in times to come, Indian chess will become much better and stronger. In this competition (the Asian team championship), I noticed some very good players from India.''

Jiangchuan was quick to add that though talent was plenty in China, he would like to see more boys playing chess. Jiangchuan, who took up chess at the age of eight, became an International Master "too late'' at 22 and a GM at 23.

When asked about the inability of the Chinese male players to break into the big league, Jiangchuan said, "one reason is that our players lack opportunities. Zhang Zhong did well to win the Corus `B' tournament and that was good for China's chess. Chinese players have very good rating but we have not won big tournaments around the world because we don't get many chances to play as the Europeans do. We don't have many strong tournaments in China and for our players, going to Europe to play is a very expensive proposition.''

How about India and China playing bilateral series?

``I think it will be a good idea. It will generate more interest in both countries and also among those watching. I feel that in a few years, China and India will not only remain among the strongest in Asia but also establish themselves among the chess nations in the world.''