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Tata Steel Chess Kolkata

The Battle Of Grandmasters

Tata Steel brings India’s first ever international chess event to Kolkata, and the city responds with a checkmate

December 2018     |     830 words     |     3-minute read

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The Tata Steel Chess India tournament, held in Kolkata in November 2018, witnessed chess lovers and grandmasters, including Viswanathan Anand, congregate to celebrate their love of the sport.  

On a nondescript November afternoon, when the sun has mellowed, and winter seemingly arrived, Filipino-born American chess grandmaster, Wesley So, finds himself at a loss. Surprisingly, this loss is not at an international event or on a world stage but at a local chess club below one of Kolkata’s busiest flyovers, with the win credited to India’s very own Grandmaster Diptayan Ghosh.

“I was shocked. I said to myself is this the quality of players who play in the streets of Calcutta! It was only later I learnt my opponent was a grandmaster,” said Wesley, who was in the country to play in India’s first-ever international chess tournament — the Tata Steel Chess India tournament.

Viswanathan Anand went up against Hikaru Nakamura in the final event, winning the title in the Blitz category

This newest super tournament for Rapid and Blitz formats is a step forward for the company and its long-standing legacy of nurturing chess talent as well as providing one of the oldest and largest chess platforms in the world — the Tata Steel Chess Tournament held in the little town of Wijkaan Zee on the North Sea coast in the Netherlands.

The Classical tournament in the Netherlands has been the centrepiece of chess competitions for the past 80 years and introducing the Rapid and Blitz editions in India seems like the natural progression for Tata Steel. Kolkata with its innumerable chess clubs, training schools and a chess game in every para (locality) became the natural choice to host India’s first international chess tournament.

Held at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in Kolkata, the tournament witnessed participation of the world’s top grandmasters and a huge turnout of chess aficionados. Chess devotees both young and old flocked to the venue to not just watch the game but also interact with the players, who fielded questions on the game and on the losses and moves from games played in the past. 

Mr Sunil Bhaskaran, then vice president, corporate services, Tata Steel, said: “The company has a long-standing association with chess, having been the main sponsor of the famous chess tournament at Wijkaan Zee in the Netherlands, which is one of the most prestigious events in the international chess calendar."

The India edition was curated by Jeroen van den Berg, who has been the director for Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the Netherlands for nearly 20 years. It was in the tournament’s very first year in the Netherlands itself, that he was asked whether he would be interested in building a similar tourney in India. “I liked the idea instantly,” says van den Berg. “It is an honour to be asked to create such a big event in another country. It helps that both the main event and this one are sponsored and managed by the same team in Tata Steel.”

Bhaskaran added, “We intend to make Tata Steel Chess India a world-class and sought-after event in professional chess in the years to come. Kolkata has been the nerve centre of chess, and it is in the fitness of things that the city hosts the biggest chess tournament that the country has seen.”

Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, who last played in Kolkata in 1986 at a GM tournament—coincidentally organised by Tata Steel— said, “I am very happy to play in Kolkata. I have always maintained that this is one city where sports enthusiasm is much higher than elsewhere, so it’s special to be here.”

He added, “The fact that Tata Steel, which has a great tradition of chess in the Netherlands, has extended the format, with a variation, to India is wonderful. I know a lot of players want to be a part of it; the chess community welcomes this edition. And for chess fans in India, this is a great opportunity to see the world’s top players and enjoy the game.”

The Tata Steel Chess India tournament, which opened with the Rapid event on November 9, 2018, ended with homegrown Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, world number 11 in Blitz, going up against Hikaru Nakamura, the world number three in Blitz, and winning the title in the category.

Nakamura, who is also the world number two in Rapid, won the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid title.

Anand was glad to see an international chess event on Indian soil. “The team has effectively tweaked it for the Indian context, and there is no reason to replicate the Netherlands edition. This edition can easily be the Tata Steel Rapid and Blitz event; this format produces a nice perspective with a different kind of excitement.”

However, it would be ideal to see the India event replicate one aspect of the Netherlands tournament. “The success of Tata Steel Chess in the Netherlands has to do with various components, but tradition is the biggest one,” says van den Berg. “The tournament always takes place in the same place, the people of Tata Steel love the game and even the locals enjoy it. The Netherlands edition has created its own identity and built a tradition. It is now up to us to create the same in India.”

—Sanghamitra Bhowmik

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