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New chess federation chief has ambitious plans

Posted on Aug 10 2014 | IANS

By Venkatachari Jagannathan, Chennai, Aug 10 : The All India Chess Federation (AICF) is mulling ways to ensure the country's teams perform consistently at world events, to get more than one player into the world top-20 and glamourise the sport to attract sponsors, its new president has said.

"I am also open to meet the players and hear their views and concerns. The communication channels between the players and the federation are always open," AICF chief Venketrama Raja P.R. told IANS in an interview. One of the issues deliberated recently at the AICF, Raja said, is to make Indian teams perform consistently at world team events.
When it was pointed out that the country's top chess players are not in the Indian Chess Olympiad squad, Raja said the federation cannot force players to play. He said if the system of selecting the Indian teams for global events like the Olympiad needs to be tweaked, it could be looked at.

Raja, the vice chairman and managing director of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company Ramco Systems Ltd, is not new to the chess world. The Ramco group has assisted several players and sponsored chess tournaments. The group had sponsored Indian chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, currrently the World No.7. Prior to his current position, Raja was president of the Tamil Nadu Chess Association (TNCA).

Queried about his agenda for the Indian chess, Raja said: "There is nothing called my agenda. We at the federation work as a team. After the election of new office-bearers we held a meeting and had preliminary discussions on taking the game forward in India."

According to him, there is a good number of chess grandmasters and international masters in India now to prove that the system is good. The next step is to see that these players reach the next level and above, Raja said, adding that apart from Anand, the federation would like to see at least one more player in the top 20.

There are many Indian players with FIDE rating points in the range of 2,550-2,630; they are finding it hard to break the 2,650 mark mainly for want of high-rated tournaments.

Queried whether AICF could organise really high-rated tournaments where high-ranked players of the world would come and play - similar to the Tata Steel tournament - he said funding is one major problem as the federation is not cash rich.

Attracting sponsors is also not an easy job as chess, as of now, is more an internet rather than a television game. And how much revenue one can generate from online is not known, Raja said.

"A suggestion was made to hold a German league kind of tournament here. We have to work out the feasibility of holding such an event in terms of costs and the challenges involved," Raja added.

Under the German league system, there are 16 teams each with up to 16 players. However, games are played with only eight players in a round robin system.

Top players of the world participate in the event and some are paid appearance fee/travel expenses.

Asked whether the AICF plans to take forward the Maharashtra Chess League (MCL) system - similar to cricket's Indian Premier League - Raja said things have to be deliberated upon and studied.

One of the views expressed by the chess lovers is that AICF has lost the tempo in building on the gains that accrued with India holding the World title match between Anand and Magnus Carlsen last year.

Though the World title re-match between World champion Carlsen and challenger Anand is yet to attract sponsors and the match venue has been changed, Raja said the idea of bidding again for the event did not occur.

In 2013, the Tamil Nadu government gave around Rs.29 crore for the Anand-Carlsen match in Chennai. Anand lost the title but soon qualified to challenge the new champion.

According to Raja, such money might not be a big deal for some corporate groups in India, but they may be sponsoring some other sport in keeping with their line of business.

To a query whether he would be a player-friendly president, Raja said the Indian chess world is small and all are friendly.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at )

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