I have been in the US for 4 years and my 22 years of life and 5 years of chess career is in India. The difference in terms of chess is 'steep' to say the least.
I have been inspired to write this article after going through top chess countries on fide's rating site. It is amazing to see number of GM's ratio vs the place India has on the list. India has only 21 GM's but it is still in 5th position(in the last list it was in 3rd) well ahead of the US in 8'th position and 68 GMs! I have been part of the chess fervor that's going in India and I would like to document it.
My native place is Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The place is borne with chess prodigies- Humpy, HariKrishna, Harika, Rohit are all above 2450 rating and below age 15 when they achieved this rating. In Guntur/Vijayawada if there is a state tournament you could see several national champions, world champions playing (well in their age group) in it. Kids are so strong and active. They work with absolute dedication and have dedicated coaches prepping them for national championships.
Mind you these are not your typical scholastic chess players who are happy to make it to top 3 in their 1600 class. Quite often they end up in top 3 in open section and they have to stand up in order to put a queen a pawn. (That's how short they are). By the time you are 13 if you have not won your national championship there is no further career in chess.
Let me tell a bit about me - I started 'professional' chess rather late at the age of 13 and I couldn't win the Under-14 state championship never mind the national. So I was a bit late to the party and I could see young kids aged 8-11 becoming good and gradually overtaking me. Of this breed comes Harika(2450), M.R. Lalith(2400+) and IM, Rohit(2450) and GM elect and many others whom I might not even be aware of.
Let me tell try to list the factors that enabled this chess proliferation in youngsters.
- No school, these kids simply bunk the school and are into chess full time. The other sports activities they do are only for 'enabling' chess further.
- Strong parents - Harikrishna's grandfather used to travel daily 2 hours taking the 4 years boy on his shoulders in an RTC bus from a small village to Vijayawada, so that he could practice. Almost all these kids have a parent who also dedicated their 'full time' for the upliftment of their child. They would come to the tournaments, talk to people, coaches, sponsors. Some even give recommendations of openings to coaches! Most of all they are the child's moral support.
- Dedicated coach - All of these kids have one 'full time' coach working with them. Many rarents are good at picking a strong player and keeping him exclusively for their kid. They would pay him salary and bonuses for winning championships :) Harika is still being trained by Raju who is at may be 2150 level now.
- Good organizers - Organizers here are lazy to say the least. They conduct touraments once in a while and that's about it. They don't beg sponsors, they don't do prize ceremonies, they don't get press coverage, don't invite local politicians. These are some of things organizers back home do and they are excellent at this stuff.
- Goverment support - Do you know that Humpy and Harikrishna after their world championship victories were granted a one crore worth(now should be more than 5) of land in addition to other prizes? That if you win a national championship you are almost set to get a government job? Though I am not a big fan of state-sponsered support, you can imagine the number of parents that'll be considering chess a possible career just because of this.
- Sponsorships - Though cricket is the dominant game of the subconitent they are some times decent sponsors for chess players and mostly chess tournaments. High profiled players typically end up getting a corporate sponsor for their expenses. Also many of the tournaments, don't survive on entry fees but by sponsorships.
- Media coverage - Newspapers are still the dominant media for Indian folks and chess gets ample coverage. Can you imagine even as a media stunt - I was shown on the front page of a leading telugu paper? Stuff like that never happens in US. These are just adrenalin catchers.
In my next post I will talk about my coach and his students.