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how India became a superpower in chess

The Catalyst Behind India's Chess Boom: From No Grandmasters to 66

In 1987, Indian chess had no grandmasters. By 2020, the country boasts 66 Grandmasters (GMs) and over 93,000 players registered with FIDE. How did this remarkable chess boom come about?

Top Indian chess players like Viswanathan Anand, a five-time World Champion, were the catalyst for India’s rise to chess power. Residing in southern India, Anand’s influence has been particularly profound in the city of Chennai, which has produced over 24 GMs. Anand’s success and dedication inspired many young chess players from India to take up chess, accelerating the growth of Indian chess. This remarkable chess boom showcases the brilliance and strategy of chess in India.

chess players from india
 

However, Anand’s influence is just one part of the story. The support of government and public sector companies has been crucial in fostering this growth. These organizations provide financial stability to young chess players from India, making it easier for parents to see the advantages of their children pursuing chess. Companies like the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board, Indian Railways, Air India, and others have dedicated funds for chess players from India. They offer jobs and weekly paychecks to players, allowing them to focus on studying and playing chess without the burden of additional employment.

This system has been a key element in India’s chess success. According to ChessBase India, over 100 chess players from India have been employed by these organizations, ensuring that rising talents have the financial support needed to excel in the game.

India’s chess boom is a testament to the combined power of individual brilliance and institutional support, paving the way for a new generation of chess champions from India.

chess players from india
India Chess Champion GM Praggnanandhaa

Adding to this robust infrastructure, many strong trainers are dedicated to nurturing young Indian talent. Notably, several Indian Grandmasters are committed to giving back to society by developing future champions. They have established schools and coaching centers, identifying and mentoring promising young players.

The perception of sports as a viable career option has also evolved significantly in Indian families. No longer is sporting talent taken for granted. Families are now more willing to support their children’s aspirations, even if it means making significant sacrifices. As Akhila, the mother of young chess player Charvi, shares, “Quitting the job was not an easy decision. We are also from a middle-class background. But she was attending international tournaments, one after the other. It was very difficult for me to manage my work. I quit my job in March 2023 to support her. I have to help her with her studies also.”

This shift in mindset, combined with substantial government support, effective organization by the AICF, and the dedication of trainers and families, has been pivotal in transforming India into a global chess powerhouse.

chess players from india

The Transformative Support Behind India's Chess Success: Chess Players from India

 

The Government of India has been instrumental in fostering the growth of chess in the country. Each year, the government allocates a substantial grant to the All India Chess Federation (AICF). These funds are vital for organizing exposure trips, GM camps, trainers’ seminars, arbiter seminars, and more. This unwavering support has been a cornerstone of India’s thriving chess culture.

The AICF has effectively utilized these resources to establish district associations in several states, enhancing the organization and promotion of chess at the grassroots level. Furthermore, the AICF has introduced GM Norms chess tournaments, strategically planning these events back-to-back. This approach attracts international chess players to India, allowing them to compete in multiple tournaments without extensive travel. As a result, local Indian players gain invaluable experience and the opportunity to achieve IM and GM norms without leaving the country.

 

1. Landmark Achievements and Rising Stars

GM Gukesh

 

At the age of 17, D Gukesh became the youngest player ever to win a Candidates Tournament. Last year, on 1 September 2023, Gukesh became the first player in 37 years to surpass Vishy Anand as the highest-rated Indian player in the world. This monumental achievement underscores the rapid rise of Indian chess on the global stage.

For the first time in history, young Indian chess players occupied five slots — including the top spot — in the junior world rankings. The honors go to Grandmasters (GM) R.Praggnanandhaa (Elo rating 2747), D.Gukesh (2743) ranked third, Nihal Sarin (2693) ranked sixth, Raunak Sadhwani (2654) ranked seventh, and Leon Luke Mendonca (2631) ranked tenth as per the International Chess Federation or FIDE’s latest ranking list. This dominance in the junior rankings highlights the depth of talent emerging from India.

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2. Success in Women's Chess and Building the Ecosystem

GM Humphy

 

In the girls’ section, two Indian players are in the top 10: Sarayu Velpula (2444, 2nd rank) and Woman GM (WGM) Divya Deshmukh (2427, 3rd rank). In the women’s section, India’s seasoned GM Koneru Humpy is ranked third with a rating of 2554. Humpy will also be playing in the Women Candidates in Canada. This strong representation in women’s chess signifies the balanced growth of chess talent across genders in India.

In India, one wave has facilitated the next. The first generation of young players typically joined public sector companies and banks, providing them with financial stability. Many of these players went on to start coaching centers, increasing chess activities and passing on their expertise to the next generation. This ecosystem has been crucial in nurturing new talents and maintaining India’s prominence in the chess world.

When Viswanathan Anand started the academy with Westbridge Capital, the goal was not just to get Indians to play chess but to see how they can reach the very top. With a World Champion already in the country’s history, the focus is now on achieving the highest levels of success in the sport. The academy aims to produce world-class players who can compete and win at the highest levels.

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3. Legacy and Future Prospects

 

Viswanathan Anand, the 15th undisputed chess champion and surely the greatest Indian chess player of all time, has been a trailblazer for Indian chess. Born on December 11, 1969, in Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu, Anand’s achievements have inspired generations of Indian chess players. He competed for the classical championship in 1995, was FIDE champion from 2000-2002, and claimed the reunited title in 2007, holding it for six years until 2013. Anand’s influence extends beyond his playing career, as he continues to mentor the next generation of Indian chess talent.

The absolute acceptance of India’s prowess in chess has grown over the last decade. More Indian youngsters are participating in international tournaments and defeating top players. Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, has acknowledged India as a powerhouse, noting that the next world champion could probably be from India. This recognition reflects the country’s burgeoning chess culture and the emergence of new talents.

 

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