A championship or just another big tournament?

JULY 2 ― The Commonwealth Chess Championship which was held in New Delhi, India has just ended. I have never been sure what to make of an event that hardly has any foreign participants but yet always enjoys a large local participation.

But of course it is almost always held in India where nowadays if you throw a stick into a crowd, you will very likely hit a chess player!

It must be said that the Commonwealth Chess Association arguably exists just to hold this annual event and naturally its president is All India Chess Federation CEO Bharat Singh who also happens to be the president of the Delhi Chess Association which is the organiser while he is the tournament director.

Each Commonwealth country is given a number of official (free) places with accommodation on triple sharing basis and meals provided at the designated "five" star official hotel which this time around is the Hotel Park Plaza, Shadara, New Delhi; that applies to one Man, one Woman, one Senior (above 60), one Junior Girl (under 20), one Junior Boy (under 20), and one Junior Boy and Girl in each under 8, under 10, under 12, under 14, under 16, and under 18.

That's a lot of places plus a decent prize fund of approximately US$18,000 (about RM68,000) although foreigners are subject to a 20 per cent tax by the authorities. 

Yet from the 298 players in the main Open Championship there are just 11 National Chess Federations participating which means 10 countries other than India, of which two are from Australia, six from neighbour Bangladesh, one from England, one from Malaysia, two from Maldives, two from New Zealand, six from Pakistan, 13 from South Africa, four from Sri Lanka and one from Zambia which of course makes a grand total of 38.

I am of course completely unsurprised that the Malaysian Chess Federation did not inform the local chess community of this event. Instead of making an effort to send players just so they get some exposure for the cost of some air tickets, it allowed someone to represent the country and essentially benefit from the hospitality provided by the organisers, who while perhaps grateful for another foreign player, cannot be happy with our single representative.

Going back to the Commonwealth Chess Championship proper, from the way it is structured, other than the name, it could well be another big Open tournament organised in India but without the pretence (and handicap) that it will ever attract more than a few players from the rest of the Commonwealth.

This year, however, the Commonwealth Championship finally got some significant publicity but sadly of the wrong kind! Shoddy organisation, together with a a very poor arbiter team, resulted in a number of leading players having their games forfeited by inadvertently losing on time.

Koneru Humpy, the top Indian woman player who is good enough to be one of the favourites to win the Commonwealth Championship (she was the second seed), was a victim and her return after many years to play in an Indian event was short-lived.

She subsequently withdrew  after accepting the default and felt slighted by the organisers when she sought an apology for the poor communication of rule changes. 

Earlier, World Champion Magnus Carlsen had the worst tournament of his life in the first of the designed Grand Tour events in his native Norway when he too ― in a winning position in the very first round ― lost on time because he was not aware of a change in the rules of time control.

Carlsen, however, got an apology but the event was ruined for him and his subsequent play was absolutely horrific. But like Koneru, he also took it on his chin ― that's class for you!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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