Bharat Singh: You have to showcase your players as stars!

Bharat Singh Chauhan is a name that is synonymous with Indian chess administration. However, his contribution is not limited by boundaries. Not only is he the CEO of the All India Chess Federation (AICF), but also the Chairman of FIDE’s Technical commission, Commonwealth Chess association & Deputy President of the Asian Chess Federation!

I had a chance to meet him when he came to Bangalore. We discussed a lot of technical things, apps and stuff. Finally we got down for some Q & A about Indian Chess and where things are headed!

Bharat Singh Chauhan with yours truly Asim Pereira

Asim Pereira: (Given your involvement with FIDE & Asian Chess) Are you still actively involved with AICF & Indian Chess?
Yes yes. I am involved in policy making and long term element planning. I am involved in almost all the things.

What are India’s chess goals or what are we trying to achieve at the highest level? What is the aim for the next few years?
To be very honest with you, in AICF we feel that its ‘Chess for everyone’. Ofcourse medal in Olympiad, world champions are some goals which any federations should have. But we give more priority to chess for everyone, so that more and more people can play.

We have substantial FIDE rated players and we have overtaken France…

(interrupting) we are number one in the world!

…so at some point should we also be focusing on getting more people in the world top 100 and getting existing GMs into 2700 and that kind of thing?
As I mentioned regarding hunt for medal, this is very important actually and we should concentrate on that kind of tournaments (Editor: Closed round robin, elite events etc). Unfortunately it requires a lot of money like Tata Steel, Bilbao, Dortmund all are big budget events.

So this is my personal opinion: if someone asks me to add fifty thousand chess players or running this one-two tournaments in a year, I would prefer to add fifty thousand people. I personally feel we are doing service to the society with fifty thousand people added to Chess. So I give more importance to that.

I know its a requirement for federation and our players that you should have such tournaments as Bilbao & Tata Steel, but unfortunately we are not able to concentrate, but very soon we are going to have some category tournaments.

Bharat Singh: but very soon we are going to have some category tournaments. Click To Tweet

In fact we started few in Airport Authority but not such a large level. But now we have lot of players already in the top 20-30 and recently I saw Adhiban (Editor: Adhiban finished joint 3rd in Tata Steel Masters 2017 ahead of many higher rated elite players) is doing well and our team played so well in the Olympiad (Editor: Indian men finished 4th and women finished 5th). Their standard has gone up. So maybe we should have some tournaments like these. Maybe atleast one or two big tournaments in a year where we can bring our players to this level.

With my limited interaction with some of these IMs and players, what I have realized is one of the problem and challenge is not having good strong tournaments in India with say a cut-off of minimum 2200 or 2300 which will give strong exposure to players. Else you end up going abroad to play. Recently there was a Marienbad tournament in Czechoslovakia where 3 Indian players participated in Round Robin tournaments (Editor: Marienbad GMa & GMb).
So some kind of tournaments like these? Maybe not absolute elite, not Bilbao not Tata Steel, but some kind of round robin tournaments which can help people gain rating and norms?
Actually round robin tournaments were organized earlier and they were doing well, but we had some problems with the round robin tournaments at lower level. Grand Master round robin tournaments may be ok. But nowadays we have 5-6 Grand Master events in the country. And some norms were gained there. And our neighbouring countries also have events.
I mean there are lot of opportunities for the players to achieve norms in India also. But I told you the reason why we stopped this. We have brought Chess to such a level, we don’t want a bad name and get back to this (lower) level.

Recently I did a bit of study (Editor: Details in the post here). By Nov 2016 India really had a good user base. But per 100 players, the amount of Titled  (GM, IM..) players that we had was lowest amongst the Top 10 nations. But the observation there was that once our players are Titled, we are good at getting Grand Masters from amongst the Titled players. Which means once our guys become Titled, the guys really go on to become GMs. So our focus should have been to get people to earn more titles because maybe then that (becoming GM) would happen automatically?

Rank Fed Titled Rated Titled/Rated (TPR) %
1 Russia 2443 60893 4.01
2 USA 724 13677 5.29
3 China 147 2072 7.09
4 Ukraine 539 8803 6.12
5 India 302 59088 0.51
6 France 405 44797 0.90
7 Azerbaijan 128 2710 4.72
8 Armenia 113 1353 8.35
9 Poland 377 18529 2.03
10 Hungary 458 9619 4.76

Table1 : Top 10 nations with total Titled + Rated players and their ratio

Rank Fed GMs Titled GMs/Titled (GPT) %
1 Russia 236 2443 9.66
2 USA 90 724 12.43
3 China 39 147 26.53
4 Ukraine 87 539 16.14
5 India 44 302 14.57
6 France 49 405 12.10
7 Azerbaijan 24 128 18.75
8 Armenia 37 113 32.74
9 Poland 41 377 10.88
10 Hungary 54 458 11.79

Table1 : Top 10 nations with total GMs + Titled players and their ratio

We have lot of things to do. I don’t say we are perfect and we are very fine. There is lots to be done. I don’t want to say people in the past have done bad or good but I just want to remind you in 2005 we had only 10 Grand Masters and now we have 48 odd Grand Masters and lot of IMs. Those days, IM was a real luxury. Manuel Aaron was the only IM for a long time.

Recently I was in Budapest and Grand Master Csaba said, if they play Indian players below 18 who have gone there to play, they feel very scared. The below 18 players are very strong. And they say that Indian rating is 200 points lesser than FIDE because standards are more. That is possible because we have lot of rating tournaments since 250 odd FIDE rated tournaments or held in a year.

We are able to get money, whatever way the money comes. Lot of money is coming and going to the players through FIDE rated tournaments. Atleast we are able to provide opportunity. We send biggest delegation to Asian youth championship, where titles are given to the winners. Our major titles like CM/FM come from there. We don’t have specialized youngster-events or Title events.

Mumbai tournament has come up further for young children which is a good beginning (Editor: IIFL Wealth Mumbai tournament had a Under-13 age category section with a huge prize fund of 8 Lakhs Indian Rupees). I would say we should have atleast 5-6 more tournaments for school children or young people. That will give more titles.

I know that data for Titled players, but its also essential to have more rated players.

Yes ofcourse, there are so many tournaments which have exploded recently. So there is a lot of opportunity to get initial rating. But maybe if the IMs or 2400 guys who are stuck had some tournaments.. or say Praggnanandhaa, if he played strong round robin events instead of playing under-age category events? Lets take an example of Jeffery Xiong the World Junior Champion from US. He recently played in the Tata Steel Challengers. (Editor: Jeffery finished a credible 3rd inspite of being the youngest participant!)! If our players get that kind of exposure, that would be really amazing. So do we right now have any plans to have some kind of round robin events?

I explained there were certain issues regarding round robin tournaments. But will be definitely doing category events; for GM tournaments or elite tournaments. But I don’t see any immediate plans to have round robin rating tournaments or IM round robin tournaments.

Bharat Singh: I don't see any immediate plans to have RR rating tournaments or IM RR tournaments. Click To Tweet

There is a lot of opportunity. We encourage them. We don’t stop people going for round robin tournaments. If they get an invitation they go. But in India there were issues and some other issues were reported. I mean we cannot do policing in all the tournaments. There are more than 500 tournaments in a year. How can we do policing for all the tournaments? But we have to try our best.

I personally feel we are able to give so much money and opportunity to the players. Ofcourse playing in India, even the Indian GMs feel that the standards are very high and they find it difficult. I don’t know if you have noticed. Lot of Indian Grand Masters don’t play in Indian tournaments. But they will go and play similar kind of tournaments with similar standards and lesser prize money outside India. I don’t blame them. But the strength of the youth in our country and the strength of our young players is really very good. Everybody abroad including foreign GMs are scared of (young Indian players).

Is there a plan for a league structure, for children, middle guys, to get experience? Has this been thought of in the future?

We already had negotiations with many people. And there is already Maharashtra league which is successful (Editor: Maharashtra Chess League (MCL) completed its 4th season last year). It is happening and it is a wonderful thing to happen for Maharashtra chess. We had plans. But again we don’t want to go the Millionaire way (Editor: The highly publicized Millionaire Chess will not be organized in 2017 due to lack of sponsorship). We want to start a sustainable tournament with a sustainable plan and policy. The person who is organizing tournaments should not conduct for a year and stop. We want somebody to organize for alteast 10 years. So we are already talking (to organizers) since a year. More money for the players will attract more people to Chess.

When we used to play Chess, most of the people in the society compared it to gambling and that one should not play chess. Now, every household ladies proudly talk that their son/daughter plays Chess and if he/she got a medal. Atleast in the metros, winning medal in a chess tournament is kind of a status symbol. Many people talk about it. But we want more and more people introduced to Chess. Anand did it (popularized chess) in a big way, and lot of youngsters like Praggnanandhaa, Murali Karthikeyan, Aravindh Chithambaram, Parimarjan Negi, Aryan Chopra are contributing to develop chess. And to introduce more people to chess, we have to make it more lucrative to parents and players. More money, more respect, more professionalism will attract more people. There is no doubt about it. If you want to grow in Chess, you have to showcase your players as stars.

Bharat Singh: More money, more respect, more professionalism will attract more people (to Chess). Click To Tweet

You know when India won the world cup (Editor: he probably meant the 1983 world cup), the Cricket Board didn’t have money for the press conference. And look at what the cricket board is today (Editor: BCCI is apparently the richest cricket board in the world)! So people have to learn that you have to showcase your players as stars. You have to respect your players.

People have to learn that you have to showcase your players as stars and respect your players. Click To Tweet

Yes that is a good point, to have stars. What Magnus Carlsen has done is single handedly put Norway on the Chess map. Anish Giri for Netherlands. Caruana/Nakamura for US. So if our guys get into that league of say top 20-50, wouldn’t that automatically become a nice circle such that players get to the top and then others follow and take inspiration from it?

Anand has done a big thing. Now people are talking about Harikrishna, people know Harikrishna, people know Praggnanandhaa, Aravindh Chithambaram etc. I mean you go to the lay man, taxi man, everybody will know. Even in Europe if you go to any taxi driver, they will tell you 10 names about Indian players (Editor: Obviously not an easy claim to verify!). Many people take it as their ideal and start playing.

Q: But maybe if these youngsters had an opportunity of playing strong or testing matches? Recently Wei Yi was playing Rapport. The Chinese association invites foreign players to play 4 or 6 games against their own (Editor: And Ding Liren played Wesley So). In a way these guys are just conditioned and prepared to face a future World championship match. But our guys say Praggnanandhaa or Aravindh Chithambaram might not have got an opportunity to play such a tense match.

I think in our system, in our country everybody thinks that Govt. of India should do everything. Govt. of India cannot put one person for securing one person. One police man cannot be there with every lady (Editor: probably referring to the recent spate of crimes against women in some Indian cities). People of this country have to work together. Europe has so many tournaments. There, people take it as a social responsibility. Like Tata has taken the steel company (Editor: India’s Tata group acquired Corus in 2007), but they have an agreement to continue what the previous company was doing (Editor: We have reached out to the Tata Steel Organizers for more details on this). Whether they have sold it or not, whether they have become bankrupt, whether it is a profit making venture or not, but they have to continue the social responsibility.

You go to Spain and towns like Benasque have a lot of tournaments. I had a big discussion with them to understand how they do this. They said they have people who have to do this under social responsibility. In our country, we all kill our responsibility. We don’t think what we have to do for the society. Everybody talks about their rights. Nobody talks about their duty. If people think that only federation should do this thing, it is practically impossible.

Bharat Singh: In our country..Everybody talks about their rights. Nobody talks about their duty Click To Tweet

According to me, whoever is contributing to our federation are doing a reasonably good job, leaving their personal and professional things aside. Presently I think our federation is doing very well. The endorsement comes from the people. The appreciation comes from the performance of our players and our growth in Chess. But still, I am not saying I am satisfied. Still there is lot of work to be done. And how will it be done? If people think only AICF should do it, it is wrong. We all should do it!

Lets say if somebody wanted to help out like this. What kind of support can we expect. Say some enthusiast, has passion for organizing tournaments?

Full support. AICF has got a pretty open policy. If you want to organize a tournament, do it. But once again, we are very open, we allow everybody to organize tournaments, but there are a few things to follow. We cannot allow liquor, cigarettes in our tournament publicity, not have them as sponsors. Also the prize money for the players should be secured. You cannot announce 50 Lakhs and run away. It happened in a few places abroad also. We make state association responsible. If you (state association) are forwarding us a tournament request, then the state association is responsible for the prize money. One incident happened in Gujarat. One person ran away with 5 Lakhs prize money. He did not give the players. So Gujarat association paid for it. 5 Lakhs money was paid to the players. So we have to take care of their interests. we are very open with the rest of the things. We encourage people to come into chess and run the tournaments.

Recent National premier in UP. What went wrong there. What could have been done better? (Editor: The event ran into venue crisis, which had to be changed after round 2. Couple of players withdrew from the event)
One thing I can say is that the players were not on the wrong side. It was messed up by one of the organizer. They did not take full precaution. We have taken steps already that such thing does not happen. Its very unfortunate, but players were not wrong. I am sure about it. I went there personally for the closing and met all the players and discussed. I saw all the facilities that association has offered. They had some local issues. The inspection was done. The school were the championship was happening was perfect. The players liked it. 2 rounds were played and suddenly there were issues (with the venue.)

(Editor: This tragedy made national news. You can read about it here and here.)

Does AICF usually check the background of who is organizing the event and if its the first time.
UP chess association has already organized many events. Even National B (Challengers) was done very nicely. The school where the championship was held is a world class school with good facilities. I had also visited it personally and saw all these things. It was perfect. But suddenly this political thing happened.
I don’t blame the players. It is the organizer who should have taken care.

Similarly heard there was a problem with the Maharashtra Chess Association? What happened there and whats going on right now? (Editor: Although this did not make much news, the Maharashtra Chess Association was dissolved and an ad-hoc committee created in its place)
There were issues for a long time. There are guidelines from the sports ministry. (Editor: Per clause 3.19 of the guidelines, State level associations which are affiliated to the National Federation should have a minimum number of affiliated district-level associations (say 50% of the districts in the State).) We should have 50% affiliated districts in the association. There were anomalies and serious things happened. AICF had warned them again and again. AICF gave them a long rope for a long time. They did not do it. And in the past 6 months they started fighting each other. The President and secretary were fighting each other. President called one meeting. Secretary called another meeting. They cancelled the meetings three times. And finally the commissioner stopped both the meetings. Nobody can operate the accounts. Players cannot play tournaments. You cannot send entries. Who will send the entries? Who will give permission to the players? So AICF had no option but to make an Adhoc committee and run the affairs.

Has this affected the players?
It is in the best interest of the players. The basic mantra for development is we have to go to the grass root level. All the districts should be affiliated. Districts should have all the Talukas. But Maharashtra is such a vibrant state. They don’t have 50% districts affiliated? What a joke!? They were fighting each other, lot of issues. There is no option.
We have dissolved the body. A 5 member committee is working. They look after the day to day affairs till the time its all sorted.

It is again very unfortunate. People fighting and players getting affected. Its like a mother and father fight and the kids get affected.

Bharat Singh Chauhan with FIDE President Illyumzhinov
Bharat Singh Chauhan with FIDE President Illyumzhinov