The Arcadia hotel in the Chinese city of Liaocheng played host to a match between the Chinese national team and five representatives from the rest of the world from the 7-9 April, 2018. Of the 10 rounds of the match, the first six were played on 7 April while the remaining four on 9 April, and 8 April was reserved for chess-related events. The match used the Scheveningen system wherein each player plays all of the players of the opposing team twice. The time control, under such a system, is 10 minutes for the all moves with a 10 second increment from move one.
In comparison to the rest of the world team, the China definitely looked stronger. As can be seen in the table below, talking in terms of rating, every Chinese player was higher-rated than his counterpart in the rest of the world team. After all, the Chinese Chess Association had sent its best team to the event.
Despite their rating deficit though, the rest of the world team had an interesting blend of players: there was Etienne Bacrot from France who brought in experience; Russian grandmaster Daniil Dubov, who is an expert in faster time controls, the always well-prepared grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi from India, and the chess Olympiad gold medallist from the US, Sam Shankland. Looking at this team composition, one cannot help but notice the fact that the rest of the world team had representation from some of the strongest chess-playing nations in the world today. It was clear that China wanted to make a statement on its chess potential.
And to a large extent, it also did. The Chinese team did extremely well on the first day, taking lead over the world by a two-point margin. The scoring system was such that two points were awarded for a win, one for a draw and none in case of a loss. And China, at the end of Day 1, led by a score of 11:9. Of course, the Chinese team had only one more victory over the rest of the world in the first six games but there was a big difference in the score margins. While the rest of the world won their games at best with a 3:2 score, China scored four points or more in every one of their victories. On the second day again, team China, even if it wasn’t able to win more games than the world, won by huge margins, collecting tons of board points.
Such matches also bring to mind the days of Soviet hegemony in chess. It was only the Soviet Union, with its plethora of extremely strong grandmasters, which dared to take on the world single-handedly in its days of glory in the 1960s and the 1970s. China, of course, is nowhere near what the Soviet Union used to be. But in the past few decades, chess in China has gained a lot of popularity. According to the FIDE’s rating list for April 2018, China is the second strongest country by average rating of its chess players. Moreover, nine of the world’s top 100 players are from China. In women’s chess, China has produced four world champions so far, including the current world champ, Tan Zhongyi and the world number one (by rating), Hou Yifan.
The match, therefore, might be representative not of China’s prowess but its potential as a chess superpower. Another important feature of this and some previous matches held in China is the country’s emphasis on making chess popular. Through this, and many other such events, China has been supporting its players to bring out their best.
At this particular event, the Chinese Chess Association had organised various other activities alongside the match. On the rest day on 8 April, young Chinese players got the opportunity to play against some of the grandmasters in simultaneous exhibitions. Thus, with such events, China gives not only its grandmasters but also its young aspiring players a great exposure to world class players.
One of the World Cup qualifiers this year for the Candidates was China’s No 1 grandmaster, Ding Liren, and the Chinese Chess Association had a big role to play in his preparation for the big event. Before the World Cup, Ding got a chance to play matches against some of the world’s top grandmasters like Anish Giri, Wesley So, Alexander Grischuk and so forth. This clearly worked wonders for the 25-year-old who not only qualified for the Candidates tournament, finishing among the top two at the World Cup, but also did exceptionally well at the Candidates, where he finished fourth, scoring an unbeaten 7.5/14. And one must remember, Ding wasn’t the only one who did well at the World Cup. Another Chinese grandmaster Bu Xiangzhi was the one to knock the mighty Magnus Carlsen out of the event.
What’s in it for India to take?
India, like China is one of the world’s emerging chess superpowers. India, too, had players with 2700-plus rating participating at the World Cup. However, none of the Indians were able to get past the third round of the event. A big reason for this is the lack of exposure to players and sponsorship for events. In comparison to China, India has five more grandmasters (India: 50; China: 45), 62 more international masters (India: 96; China: 34) and 180 more titled players (India: 344; China: 164), but when it comes to overall standing in the world, China stands second while India remains fifth due to the rating strength of the Chinese players.
One must appreciate that China, with its national league (the Chinese Chess League) and corporate sponsorship, has, within a few decades, been able to rise meteorically. India has a similar, if not bigger, potential. What has set China apart, though, is the systematised honing of talent which includes providing opportunities to young Chinese players within their own country.
The Chinese League today includes the strongest grandmasters from all around the world and gives local players a chance to not only compete but also interact with them. Indian grandmasters (or even just chess players in general), whether or not they are sponsored, hardly ever get such opportunities. Despite this, India has six players in the world’s top 100, three of whom are among the world’s top 50. The need of the hour for Indian chess, therefore, is to take a lesson from China’s success and give Indian players the boost they need to take on the very elite of the chess world.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 17:53:26 IST