Two things chess really struck me yesterday.
Last year, FIDE started a "Grand Prix," intended to be a series of 6 tournaments with a rotating set of top players, with each player getting to participate in 4 of the events. Thus each tournament would have a slightly different composition of players, yet standings could be relatively fairly compared at the end of the series. The concept for this event was terrible, however it was plagued by some typical problems of FIDE events: location, date, and rules changes. In particular, I think that the grand prix was supposed to somehow play into the fide world championship, and when those rules were revised the motivation for many of the players to play in the series dissipated-- and accordingly several withdrew, notably magnificent Magnus (the Norwegian teen ranked 4th in the world).
Given the failure of the Grand Prix, it was only natural that FIDE should choose to build upon it with a Women's Grand Prix starting in 2009 (with the locations and dates of the 3 remaining men's Grand Prix events not available). Again, I wouldn't hold my breath for details about the further events of this Women's Grand Prix, and I would not be surprised if the participants end up unhappy-- but as a chess fan, the first event, now ongoing in Istanbul, is an excellent event, with the players producing some awesome games. Yesterday in particular, I saw a game that made me ooh and aaah, so I thought I'd share it with the rest of chess.com.
The hero of this game, GM Pia Cramling of Sweden, is a very nice woman and a very strong player-- yes, I'm deducing a lot from a single meeting; but it was nice to have one opportunity to analyze chess with her, one year ago... in Istanbul! Normally, her play is more solid and positional, but from this game you will see that strong players can often do a little bit of everything. It's a game of the highest creative, deep, and aesthetic qualities.
I think this pic is very appropriate, because Gopal looks surprised in it, and what follows is surprising news.
On the same day, I read the following: http://chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=5286 . Briefly summarizing, the Indian Chess Federation wants to ban young Grandmaster GN Gopal from representing India in international competition, because of his failure to attend the Indian Championship. To me this seems preposterous. Firstly, it's not clear to me why he should be obliged to play in this tournament-- I am used to many top American players skipping our national championship (thus allowing guys like me to participate!). Well, it's a drag for chess fans when they have to watch my games instead of Larry Christiansen's, but as long as they don't contribute the money that would lead to Larry participating, they oughtn't complain. This is a sidetrack, which we could discuss another day. But even if the AICF officials do have some reason to expect him to play, they should understand Gopal's excuse for not playing: he already had a contractual obligation for another event by the time they decided on their dates. I'm not sure that these officials have any understanding of (not to mention sympathy for) a professional player's scheduling problem. Certainly it's not an easy matter, and once you make a commitment to an event, it is very important for your reputation to honor that commitment. They said that playing in another tournament instead was not a satisfactory excuse, but I wonder what they suggest he do? Bail out on another organizer, possibly leaving them in the lurch? If it was so important for them to have Gopal and other top Indian players in their National Championship, then they should perhaps have alerted those players to their planned dates at an earlier time. To me it seems like the typical madness of chess officials who are quite happy to spend their efforts hindering their own top players, rather than assisting them.
The primary impact of this ban for Gopal would be missing the Asian Individual Championship and the World Junior Championship. At 19, he is in his last year of eligibility, and would sorely miss the chance to compete for that world title. Last year, India had an incredible result there, with Abhijeet Gupta capturing the Boys' section and Harika Dronavalli capturing the Girls' section. Indian chess fans had good reason to be jubilant about such results, and this coming year, Gopal could given India a good chance to repeat its triumph. But the AICF apparently judges it more important to A) scare its players into participating in a national tournament and B) let the players know that the federation is in charge of them than to C) support its best players in their quest for excellence. This behavior matches the first model of a chess politician that was ever explained to me: chess players who failed to meet their ambitions, and switched to chess politics in order to have power over those who had power over them when they met across the board.
I think it might be a good idea for Indian chess players to express their opinions on this matter to officials of the All-India Chess Federation. I'm not sure where best to direct a letter, but you could try indianchessfed at gmail.com
And by the way, having met and talked with Gopal on a few occasions, I can say that he strikes me as an honest and responsible young man, unlikely to have ever treated chess organizers or officials poorly. Personally, I hope he's able to play in the World Junior.