Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chess professional and amateur

There are 2 news stories about chess that have grabbed my attention that couldn't be more different. One involves the Super Grandmaster tournament being held in London at the moment, the other a story about 2 primary school boys being asked to leave their school for travelling to Brazil to represent Australia in the World Youth Chess Championships.

The London Chess Classic has the top 4 players in the World playing, along with World number 10 Nakamura and 4 top English players. The Tournament started with a match between the Grandmasters and anyone via Twitter and there is an odd number of players in the tournament so that the player with the bye can provide commentary on the other games. There is something for everyone at the tournament, with the GM tournament great for chess spectators, a FIDE open with 10 Grandmasters and a host of International Masters and other strong players, shorter events, fast chess events, a women's invitational and junior events. There are simultaneous displays, and film screenings and free coaching to schools.

This festival of chess brings professional chess players and amateurs together, and creates great press coverage. When the top players go to battle every chess player takes notice of their games and results. At London this year, ex tennis Champion Boris Becker made an appearance to make the first move against the Grandmasters in the Twitter game.

Unfortunately, chess in Australia is anything but professional. This doesn't mean that there aren't good players, or that it isn't run to the best of the ability of the organisers. However, there are limitations when a game which is considered a profession in some countries, is not considered a profession in others. In Australia, funding for chess has been non existent (at least in the 7 years I've been here). Our top players have to find their own way to the events, even when they are representing their country. Chess players in Australia do the right thing and donate from their own pocket to help our top players travel to Olympiads and World Championships, but mostly the players themselves have to fork out, or do some fundraising themselves.

The funding issue follows on with tournaments. Without decent government funding (chess isn't a sport or an art according to government, so they don't have to fund it via either of those avenues) chess tournaments seek private sponsorship which has created some great events (Doeberl, Sydney International Open, to name just 2) but these are few and far between. And more often than not, tournaments will be funded by the entry fees of the competitors, or may even just accept a small loss.

Of course, when an activity like chess isn't recognised by the authorities as anything other than a pastime, then incidents will occur like the one in Sydney last week. There should be no greater honour for a school than to say that one of their students has represented their country, but alas this was not the case. And things will continue to be marginalised for Australian chess players as long as they are seen as happy go lucky amateurs. If there is one thing that chess players and administrators should be doing in this country, it is working towards getting chess accepted as a sport and then applying for funding from the government. Getting recognition is the first step towards greater professionalism of chess in Australia, and until that is done, tournaments such as the London Chess Classic will sadly not be happening on Australian soil.


  1. It has always been the case, in Australia, that chess may as well be a hobby for even the best players. While quite a few generate an income giving lessons or retailing, any chess player (even the most gifted) can earn more income as a plumber, baker, office worker, cleaner or pretty much any profession than as a chess professional. What is the answer? State grants to players? Generate money through media/advertising? Sell the MCC building to pay for chess scholarships? If you come up with a workable solution please let us know!

  2. Thanks Anonymous, my first plan would be to convince chess players themselves that things could or should be different. Obviously, from your comment, you accept where we are, but personally I don't think it is good enough. Amazingly, Australian chess does very well taken into account of the recognition it gets, thanks mainly to a bunch of dedicated volunteers and private enterprises. However, things would be better with a unified front, a common direction, and national recognition for our top players' achievements.