When Niaz Murshed became the country’s first Grandmaster (the first one from South Asian as well) back in 1987, a generation of youth were inspired to take up the game. They thought that chess would give them an identity and fame like no other sport could. But soon enough the harsh realities of the game dawned on Niaz and his followers — the lack of money in the game, the politicisation of the game’s governing body and the struggle to cope with modern tech-based chess — meant the positive vibe from the game slowly drifted away.
As a consequence, only four other players have made the grade 25 years after Niaz’s achievement. Whereas neighbouring India, which got its first GM (Vishwanathan Anand) one year later than us, produced as many as 29 GMs in the intervening period. The reasons are straightforward. There was little or no political wrangling over the administration of the game, corporate sponsorships were a sure thing as long as there was success, and most importantly there was genuine interest from the parents to get their children into playing chess.
Unfortunately none of those amiable factors were present here. Niaz, after a few years of initial success and stardom, got disillusioned with the game. So did his successors, being on and off with the game. The infrequent arrangement of International GM Chess/ Rating Chess and absence of some of the top-rated players from the circuit did little to help the youngsters who aspired to earn norms and get their ratings higher.
However, there has been a silver lining in the end after all. The five GMs, in a rare show of unity, decided they would forget all their grievances and thought it was time to put the country ahead of personal egos and ‘man versus institution’ clashes. So they took part in the Istanbul Chess Olympiad all united, and brought unprecedented success from there, by becoming 33rd among 150 nations, even leaving the mighty Indians behind in their wake. And that success drove home two more International GM crowns in the next two months.
The GMs thus showed that despite many obstacles, they still have the quality to make a mark on the international stage. The onus now rests on the governing body of chess to create a healthy environment for the game, to attract sponsors and take steps so that the young generation is encouraged to take up chess.
-With The Daily Star input