JULY 30 ― Looking at the current FIDE rating list, it is China (average top 10 rating 2710, 36 grandmasters) which is ranked second behind Russia (average top 10 rating 2743, 230 grandmasters!).
China is also the current World Team and Olympiad men's champions, their current No. 1 Ding Liren is about to break into the top 10 and emulate his still very young predecessor Wang Hao who is starting to play again after focusing on university in the last few years. All eyes are also on just-turned-16 Wei Yi who has so far broken every rating record while improving with every tournament he plays in.
The current World Junior champion is Lu Shanglei who pipped Wei Yi to the title in arguably his only failure to date.
Even their young veterans like Wang Yue and his even younger friend Li Chao (who are not anywhere near 30) and brilliant even younger talents like Yu Yangyi together with stalwarts like Ni Hua and Bu Xiangzhi who are just in their 30s are all continuing to add to their already stellar reputatations.
China in chess as in so many sports first made its mark with their women and has a long string of world champions and world championship contenders beginning with the legendary Xie Jun.
China is ranked No 1 ahead of Russia and is led not only by the incomparable World No. 1 How Yifan who just left the teenage ranks but is also backed up by incredibly strong players like Ju Wenjun and Zhao Yue who have also earned the grandmaster title.
From March 1-10, 2015, China played its only serious Asian rival India in Hyderabad and their four ― Ding Liren, Wei Yi, Zhou Jianchao, and Wang Chen ― took on the Indian Olympiad team sans Parimarjan Negi who had started his studies at Stanford University, and it was a comfortable 18-14 victory that was pretty much expected.
The ante was upped this month when China hosted Russia in Ningbo for matches between both men and women and again China emerged winners by 29-21 (men winning 14-11 and women winning 15-10).
It was very representative with a mix of leading and upcoming players and for the men, China's Yu Yangyi, Wei Yi, Bu Xiangzhi, Lu Shanglei and Wang Chen took on Russia's Peter Svidler, Nikita Vitiugov, Maxim Matlakov, Vladimir Fedorseev, and Daniil Dubov, while for the women, Tan Zhongyi, Shen Yang, Huang Qian, Lei Tingjie, and Ding Yixin took on Russia's Valentina Gunina, Olga Girya, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Nataliya Pogonina, and Alina Kashlinsaya.
To what can China's success be attributed to?
I remember in the 70s and 80s when China was starting to make its presence felt in chess, they were far behind the Philippines which had Eugene Torre, Asia's first grandmaster and a genuine top 30 player who on his best day could beat anyone and in fact even qualified for the world championship cycle.
Their first players were from Chinese chess; perhaps the best player to emerge from this period was Ye Jiangchuan, who is both Secretary of the Chinese Chess Association as well as their National Team Chief Coach, but there were others like Liu Wenzhe who was the most prominent from the start and former No. 1 Xu Jun.
Now even their current top players are into coaching as are those who are no longer at their very best but who are are still active and successful players at less than top level events.
It is clear that China has always focused on performing on the world stage and since they started have had three generational waves, each one building on and better than the previous.
Their women made the first inroads as there was less competition and so easier to excel. For their men, it was first getting grandmasters and a solid group to represent the country, then having 2600+ grandmasters able to compete with anyone, and now they have super grandmasters 2700+ winning everything in sight. The Individual Men''s World Championship is the final and only remaining goal.
Forget the technicalities as it is easy to sum up China's recipe for success.
It is to strive to compete with the very best and to collectively work together to achieve this. This was evident at the Asia-Yugoslav Match in 1984 when the best bets from Asia then for the grandmaster title came together as a team, it was with awe every day that I watched how the Chinese players worked with the rest of us: not holding back, giving everything, simply striving to help each other become better.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.