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The Rediff Interview/Nigel Short
'India could easily be one of the great chess nations'
January 19, 2004
British Grandmaster Nigel Short is in Mumbai, competing in the Commonwealth Chess Championship. He justified his top billing by winning the tournament, which ended on Sunday.
The outspoken player, who also writes for The Sunday Telegraph, believes India has the potential to become a great chess nation. The British number two, once ranked as high as world number three, spoke to Ashish Magotra about India's place in the new world chess order.
International Master at 14, the second youngest in history, Grandmaster at 19, now you have an Elo rating of over 2700.
The 2700 Elo rating does not excite me a lot. There has been an inflation in the Elo rating. Today this rating does not even get you into the top 10, whereas if you go back to 1988, 1989, I was ranked third in the world with a much lower Elo rating.
Do you think there has to be a better way of judging a player's calibre? For example, Garry Kasparov hardly plays all year round, but his Elo rating (the method which calculates the relative strength of chess players) remains the best?
When he [Kasparov] does play, he plays very well. I think it is fair enough. He was preparing for his match against [Ruslan] Pomonariov, which eventually did not take place, but he was preparing very hard.
There are some problems with the Elo system. I am playing in this event [the Commonwealth Chess Championship] and have won five rounds out of six, and I am losing rating points. A man can only score 100 percent; he can't score more. The rating system as it is discourages players with a high rating from playing in such events. I think we should be encouraged to play such events. But the rating system and the importance attached to it by everyone is not all that fine.
Ratings get you qualified for various events; you only get invited to certain events because people are obsessed with getting a Category 20. I think this is nonsense. People must actually see whether we are playing interesting chess or not.
There are some players -- even among the top 10 -- who are pretty dull. It doesn't matter; they still get their fees. Organizers are only concerned with the number after their names. You have players like [Alexander] Morozevich and [Alexei] Shirov -- they are very creative, fascinating and dynamic. And you have others who are pretty dull but with the same rating.
Organisers don't seem to care about that; they are obsessed with high category. And because of this, players are taking care of their ratings; massaging their ratings as best they can. This means they won't play as much as perhaps they would.
Would you say chess is more of a positional game these days?
No, quite the opposite. I think chess has become much more tactical because of the advent of computers. I think the computer programs have shown us there are many, many tactical resources in positions. I would say that is one of the big changes in chess.
Who would you say are the top three in the game?
The top three are quite clear: Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand, according to the rating. I think the ratings are correct. Kasparov is one of the greatest chess players of all time, if not the greatest! You cannot say that about the other two guys. They are right there at the top but they are not the towering figures in the history of chess.
Have you seen anyone in recent times who could challenge Kasparov's supremacy?
Kramnik defeated Kasparov. In fact, Kasparov's chess has gone backwards a bit since then. Maybe a direct result of his not playing too much. So that is very significant already.
Do you have a favourite opening?
Anything that wins games for me is my favourite. With black, I play the Queen's Gambit Declined. With White, I generally play E4 and then wait to see what my opponent plays.
According to you, what is India's standing in the chess world?
Indian chess is in a very, very good state. There are lots of extremely gifted players. There is also a huge amount of publicity. But the technical aspects need to be sorted out. Perhaps there also needs to be more private tournaments. If you look at the big tournaments -- for example, the Corus Tournament, this is a private tournament. There are almost no private tournaments in India and it needs to be addressed pretty urgently.
I think it is very good to have strong chess federations but it should not be a monopoly. You should have lots of private tournaments as well. This will produce the greatest good. I believe there is a huge amount of untapped sponsorship in India.
India could easily be -- in one or two years -- one of the great chess nations. Already, India is strong. With the exception of Anand, it is not super strong. But you have [Krishnan] Sasikiran, who is a level down, and then you have a lot of good players under him, lots of young players. Some of them will fade away and the others will do great things.
There was an era when the Russians with their huge back-up teams dominated the sport. Do you think other nations are starting to catch up?
Things are different now. Earlier, there was an enormous amount of State sponsorship and support for chess in Russia. They put in a lot of effort and money. The Russians still dominate because they have this culture, the climate for chess. I can perfectly imagine India dominating chess; not overnight, but if the changes I suggested are acted upon. India has gone from being a very ordinary chess nation to being a serious medal contender at the Chess Olympiad. When I was starting off, India was nothing to speak of. India has gone a long way, but it still has some way to go.
When you have such resources -- let us say a couple of 100 million (people) -- it is a pretty massive pool of brain power. Chess was invented in India, it is the home of chess. The Indians like thinking. I think the game is suited to their temperament.
Who are your favourite players of all-time?
I like Paul Morphy [the great American player of the 1800s] for the principles of development, very logical, very clean attacking play.
José Raúl Capablanca [world champion between 1921 and 1927] was a pure positional player who was very good in the end game.
I respect all the world champions. I respect anyone who has been at the very top. I have been close to getting there so I know how tough it is.