Big-time chess returns to India with Tata Steel tourney

The $40,000 prizemoney tournament, with Aronian as top seed, begins today

In this the birth centenary year of Satyajit Ray, it was perhaps only fitting that Levon Aronian talked about the Apu Trilogy. More so at a function held here in Ray’s hometown.

“I am a big fan of Ray,” Aronian said of one of Kolkata’s greatest sons, after the draws were made at Hotel Taj Bengal on Tuesday evening for the third edition of the Tata Steel Chess, India’s only world-class chess event. The Armenian may have pleasantly surprised many when he spoke about how he enjoyed watching those three classics by Ray (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar).

Of course, he also talked of chess and the challenges the young Indians posed. It would indeed be interesting to find out how the Indian contingent without their icon, Viswanathan Anand, who is here though as a brand ambassador and mentor, would take on Aronian and other big stars from abroad at the $ 40,000, five-day tournament, the opening move of which will be made at the National Library on Wednesday.

Aronian, who has declared to switch allegiance to the United States, is the top seed in the event, which will have rapid and blitz sections. For the uninitiated, those formats are rather like One-Day and T20 in cricket.

Some of the young Indians, like Nihal Sarin, are rather good at chess played at lightning speed. Vidit Gujrathi, B. Adhian, Karthikeyan Murali, Arjun Erigaisi, D. Gukesh, R. Praggnanandhaa, Raunak Sadhwani, Dronavalli Harika and R. Vaishali are the other Indians in the fray. Le Quang Liem of Vietnam, Sam Shankland of the United States and Iranian Parham Maghsoodloo complete the line-up.

Only six players – Aronian, Liem, Shankland, Gujrathi, Maghsoodloo and Adhiban – will play both the rapid and blitz tournaments. This may not be as strong as the two previous editions – the last of which was won by World champion Magnus Carlsen– but it still promises some top quality chess.

It also marks the return of big-time over-the-board chess to India. Though there has been plenty of activity in chess in the country, and the rest of the world, while the coronavirus brought the world to a halt, it had all happened online. So the return of the mind game to the physical world means much to Indian chess and its young stars.

As for Aronian’s love of Ray films, he could think of watching – if he already hasn’t – Shatranj Ke Khiladi, the backdrop of which is chess.

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