March 28, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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Chess Kings and Queens of India

Although India today has no confidence, chess is a bright spot where the country has overtaken the United States and China to become rivals to Russia. But to take advantage of this opportunity, the country needs to look at some of its deepest sources of exemption.

Providence – Over the past decade, India’s political and economic progress has stumbled. Its one-time credible aspirations to become a global power alongside China now seem plausible. The Govt-19 epidemic has catastrophic human and economic costs.

In such situations, sports is a national balm. This year the Tokyo Olympics gave a little rest. India took home its first athletic gold medal, returning somewhat to its past glory in men’s field hockey, and saw its women’s field hockey team display heart-breaking courage and determination despite not being able to win a single medal.

However, in the end, the 48th overall medal tally for a country of 1.4 billion people only strengthened the sense of low performance. In this context, a mind game can be one of the bright spots.

India is rapidly becoming a legitimate global chess superpower, leading the United States and China on key dimensions and working with Russia, the historically dominant chess authority.

In the last 9 years, 44 Indians have been anointed Grandmasters (GM), the greatest achievement in chess, with 18 in China and 22 in the United States. Even Russia added only one more than India. This is no small feat considering that the first Indian to achieve GM status was in 1988, 41 years after independence.

Reflecting this descent, the Indian men’s and women’s team won first place with Russia at the 2020 FIDE Online Chess Olympiad. Like GM’s overall numbers, the age profile and regional distribution of India’s chess talents are encouraging. Nearly half of the last 20 GMs, and some of the most trusted of them are teenagers, and many players generally come from outside the cities representing chess champions.

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As opportunities have expanded beyond the English-speaking elite, as India’s competition in cricket has improved, chess has flourished to attract talent from smaller towns and cities.

Now why is this talent explosion happening? The success of the national sport cannot be easily explained; But for India, a “superstar effect” is inevitable. We will never know why Sweden created Björn Borg, the great tennis legend who won 11 Grand Slam titles in the 1970s, but we do know that there was an explosion of Swedish talent over the decades when Bork became a role model. The Swedes wanted to follow.

Similarly, India’s excellence in chess today is definitely linked to players like its first GM, Viswanathan Anand and Koneru Hampi. Anand became the world’s leading player in the late 1980s, winning five world championships and topping both traditional and fast chess for nearly 25 years.

Hampi is the current female Rapid Chess World Champion and the youngest female GM when she reached the rankings in 2002. A decade or two later, the current generation GM seems to have exploded on the scene as a result. Anand and Hampi effects.

But other factors also play a role. In the world before the digital world, learning, playing and competing at the highest levels of chess often required institutional infrastructure (not always India’s strong style). Now all players are connected to the Internet, and chess students can take advantage of chess engines and databases and virtual access to experts.

Online tournaments allow players to compete from far and wide. With the emergence of the digital revolution, millions of young people in India have become an excellent repository of chess skills. At this level, the probability of producing better players has increased exponentially.

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Another hypothesis is that the advent of sophisticated chess machines has improved the efficiency set in favor of memory compared to the approximate calculations on board. These machines memorize a player during a game and then establish memorable winning and losing patterns.

In this new era of chess, like the spelling bee competitions dominated by Indo-Americans, the greater emphasis on oral learning in the Indian education system offers a unique advantage. But India’s chess revolution was not complete.

Of all his Grandmasters, none are in the top ten in the world and pose no serious threat to current Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen, who won the title from Anand in 2013. Moreover, there is a sharp side to democratization. In the digital age.

Indian parents gamble their life savings to send their children to international competitions; Women have set aside their own dreams so that their male siblings can access limited resources; And athletes have to make difficult decisions between professional preparation and pursuit. Even with the new digital tools, it takes resources and a team of other gymnasts, psychologists, managers and coaches to succeed at the highest level. That is, although chess opportunities are expanding, there are still severe limitations.

Unfortunately, all the major molds in Indian society (group identity, geography and gender) seem to be involved in the game. Backward minorities like Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables”) and Muslims are under-represented, among the best players, as well as those from the poor Hindi-speaking heartland.

India has only two women on its list of emerging GMs (nine in China). Still, India is expelling GM-level chess skills at a drastic rate. If it can solve the problems of its exclusion and more limited resources – if possible, its future as a chess superpower will be bright. This would be a real historical contradiction.

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20th century filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players, two selfish lords, neglecting their wives and official responsibilities and play chess frantically even when the British annex their kingdom. Successful colonialism is described as Britain’s best skill in the metaphorical chess game of imperial strategy. Today, in the most direct version of the game (invented in India many centuries ago), the story turns upside down: Indians are gradually becoming the best teachers in the world.


Arvind Subramaniam, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, is the author of Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020