How a grandmaster can impact his community... if not the entire country

JULY 28 ― We live in a world desperate for leadership and it is no different in chess or for that matter, every other sport.

The world chess champion today is Norway's Magnus Carlsen who won the title in 2013 when he easily defeated India's Viswanathan Anand in their match held In Chennai, India.

Carlsen belongs to that small group of world champions who dominates their era; he has been officially ranked No. 1 since 2010 while also boasting the highest rating in history at 2882.

Like so many of his predecessors, he was also a child prodigy. He became grandmaster at 13 which is the third youngest of all time, and at just 18, the youngest ever to be rated above 2800.

In 2014, Carlsen became the first player to hold the world championship titles in all three forms of the game when he competed in the World Rapid and Bllitz Championships held in Dubai.

What probably best characterises the young 26-year-old champion is his will and absolute self belief which manifests in his play.

Carlsen, like all great world champions in history, not only brings his own style of play to the game but is greatly influencing how the game is being played today.

He is a child of the computer era, of the Information Age, and yet he is not obsessed with the use of technology to ensure his success.

In stark contrast to his contemporaries, Carlsen is less of an openings expert but understands his positions well, plays with unbelievable accuracy throughout, and is already one of the great endgames players of all time.

Since Carlsen, the level of physical training amongst elite chessplayers too has gone up several notches.

Till today, no player has had the impact on chess globally as Bobby Fischer although it is easy to say that Viswanathan Anand has made India a great chess nation but Carlsen is already well on his way to changing the perception of chessplayers singlehandedly.

He is as organised as any other  professional sportsman with a manager and entourage, is constantly on the move promoting chess and himself together with sponsors while often being featured in mainstream media.

In fact the young world chess champion is so unlike any public stereotype of a chessplayer that his impact is becoming immeasurable in its value!

Carlsen even has his own chess app and because of him, Norway TV has not only invested huge amounts of money into acquiring chess broadcast rights but is also developing technology innovations which are making the game more and more accessible to the public.

Because they have Carlsen, Norway is enjoying a chess boom that is almost unprecedented elsewhere given its scale and penetration. And more interestingly, very young potentially super chess talents are starting to emerge as well! 

For chess to capture a nation's attention (or at least be recognised) having a world champion is arguably not always needed, but for sure it is a measure of excellence or achievement at the very least.

Yet there is no doubting the impact in Uzbekistan of having even a FIDE (World Chess Federation) World Champion and of course what has happened in India as result of Anand deserves not just many more lines but many more pages!

Eugene Torre, by becoming Asia's first grandmaster in 1974 and later on a World Championship candidate in the 80s, not only propelled the Philippines to No. 1 in Asia and help Florencio Campomanes become FIDE president, but also ensured that subsequent generations played chess and for a time, new hope emerged in the form of Wesley So.

It is certain that China needed Xie Jun to win the Women's World Championship in 1991 to put the seed in place for the current top Chinese men ― the best in Asia now together with India ― to join the world chess elite today; to be able to win the last World Chess Olympiad and dream of even more.

The emergence of Vietnam as an Asian chess power coincided with their Le Quang Liem becoming one of the best players in the world but more surprising was Myanmar also having a grandmaster during its time of isolation while Singapore's Wong Meng Kong did it much later in life in his spare time while concurrently pursuing a medical career.

Bangladesh had the brilliant talent Niaz Murshed becoming a grandmaster at 21 but he and the many later grandmasters who followed in his footsteps benefitted from being part of the Indian sub-continent and a member of the Commonwealth with the English chess explosion.

Closer to home, Indonesia has had in Senator Utut Adianto its one true world beater and even today their current No. 1 Susanto Megaranto still has the ability that is envied by many despite his lack of personal sporting ambition.

Yes, all these countries certainly have chess crazy communities as we do here in Malaysia and perhaps now newly-emerging Thailand.

But we do not yet have even one grandmaster, despite having organised more international chess in the last 30 years than the rest put together.

Why? Look no further than our “Malaysia Boleh” attitude which translates to more talk than do, and so our choice of an easy way out by choosing dependency on benchmarking mediocrity from the Philippines and Indonesia for our exposure and training.

But if we ever get our act together and here we are talking not just regime change in the Malaysian Chess Federation alone but a paradigm change in the thinking of our chess community, our hopes for a grandmaster have to be in a genuine young talent willing to do what it takes.

Torre, Murshed and Adianto are the best models as they must be good enough to carry our flag even among their grandmaster peers, and to embark on a journey at a point when there are no limits.

So that the country can dream of the seemingly impossible together with him or her, and that then is a hero who can inspire us as a people and community to greater heights.

In short, to have in chess, a Lee Chong Wei or Nicole David.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.