Saturday, January 12, 2013

Greatness in Chess

Chess can be played anywhere, by anyone!

So what constitutes greatness when it comes down to chess?

It's only a couple of hours before the start of the 2013 edition of Wijk aan Zee, the tournament that all the top players want to win. This year a star studded field including World Champ Anand, World Number 1 Carlsen and Olympiad hero and World Number 3 Aronian will do battle. I will be paying close attention to this event, as I guess will much of the chess fans around the World. Whoever wins the top section will fall in alongside the greats who have won this tournament before such as Euwe, Botvinnik, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand (Anand having won it the most times, 5 wins so far!). Then there are the hopefuls from the b-tournament, the winner qualifying for next year's premier event. Last year's winner, Harikrishna  from India, is ranked inside the top 50 in the World so the b-tournament is a great event as well!

Of course, greatness comes in many forms. For instance, the performance of 15 year old Victorian Bobby Cheng in the Australian Open Championship has been quite remarkable. With one round to go, the teenager leads the field by a whole point guaranteeing at least a share of first, and has secured an IM norm as well. In fact, Bobby heads a number of young players who are near the top of the standings, Moulton Ly (2nd), Max Illingworth (=3rd), Junta Ikeda and Andrew Brown (=6th) which bodes well for the future of Australian chess.

Giant chess for all ages on the streets of Frankston

Of course, the future of Australian chess lies not just in the hands of the players. There is a whole machinery that runs chess in this country (as in any country) and it doesn't always run smoothly! A few days ago in Sydney elections were held for executive positions in the Australian Chess Federation. There hasn't been much change, Gary Wastell retains the position of President, Bill Gletsos Deputy President, and Norm Greenwood Treasurer. Kevin Bonham holds the position of Vice President and is joined in that position by Victorian State President Leonid Sandler who makes his debut on the committee. Another Victorian joining the exec is Kerry Stead who has become Secretary. I guess it's worth noting the aims of the Federation as that is how the executive members will be judged in their performance:

i. to foster and control the game of chess throughout Australia;

ii. to represent the chess players of Australia in all chess matters;

iii. to conduct or authorise the conduct of Australian chess championships and other chess competitions for individuals and teams representing affiliated State Associations;

iv. to encourage excellence in the playing of chess, the promotion of chess and sportsmanship generally by the awarding of national titles and the presentation of awards;

v. to provide a forum for the discussion and resolution of questions relating to the playing and administration of chess in Australia;

vi. to co-operate with other organisations whose purposes and interests are in accord with those of the Federation;

vii. to maintain a national rating system to enable comparison of the chess playing abilities of Australian chess players;

viii. to provide through the promotion of chess an activity whereby leisure time may be used in a manner conducive to peaceful coexistence and enhanced quality of life; and

ix. generally to do all such things as the Federation may deem appropriate to achieve the above purposes or any of them.

(I have to admit that point viii brings a small smile to my face)

While the greatness of our national administrators may be judged by their performance and the performance of the country and its top players, there are countless numbers of volunteers at grass roots level  who are doing a sterling job of promoting chess in their regions through clubs, tournaments, libraries, shops, and in many other ways. For instance, my club the Melbourne Chess Club is fundraising by running a sausage sizzle tomorrow in South Melbourne. Some club members are giving up their time to do something which will be of benefit to their club, and thus are giving back something to the activity which they get so much pleasure from.

Bringing chess to the masses in Frankston
It is these sorts of actions which really set me writing this article today. I left my house about lunchtime today but had seen an inspiring picture of chess being played on the street in New York. I drove down the bay to Frankston where the local club was promoting chess and the club in the streets of the bayside suburb. A number of members were out playing chess and talking to anyone who showed an interest in chess. They had a giant chess set and players of all ages were playing games of chess and even backgammon (though I'll not talk more about this sacrilege). I have to give a big thumbs up to the guys at Frankston for getting out and taking chess to the public. My last article finished with the statement that"promotion of the game in its educational and sporting forms is a bigger problem that needs tackling". The volunteers at Melbourne and Frankston Chess Clubs are doing their bit, and every little bit helps. Good on you guys, to me you are as great for chess in your own way as the superstars at Wijk aan Zee!

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