Friday, March 9, 2012

Little chess giants

TINY Armenia is a giant in the world of chess. The game is a national obsession in this nation of three million and can you believe this? They have 33 grandmasters, 22 International masters and 29 Fide masters!

The passion started with Tigran Petrosian, who won the world championship in 1963 and then defended his title three years later.

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Last July, the national squad came first at the World Team Chess Championship in Ningbo, China. The returning players and their coach were greeted as heroes and awarded $20,000 collectively. That group included Levon Aronian, 28, who is currently rated no. 2 in the world.

Armenia won the men’s gold medal in the chess Olympiad in 2006 in Turin, Italy and also in 2008 in Dresden ,Germany.

It has a new gambit that could make it even better. The chess-obsessed nation has just made chess mandatory in schools along with such subjects as math and history for children between the ages of seven and nine.

Armenian authorities say that the reason behind this move is to help build character, not necessarily to breed future chess players. .

The education minister, Armen Ashotyan, says “Taking the pastime into classrooms will help nurture a sense of responsibility and organization among schoolchildren, as well as serving as an example to the rest of the world.”

One and a half million dollars have been allocated to the national chess academy to draw up a course, train instructors and buy the necessary equipment.

The country’s chess rivalry with its neighbor Azerbaijan, the birthplace of Garry Kasparov, is as intense a sporting rivalry as you could wish to find. It makes England versus Germany at football seem almost gentle.

Azerbaijan is not too far behind in chess as it has 20 grandmasters,16 International masters and 37 other titled players.

Iceland has the highest per capita chess population in the world. A government-run lottery helps finance chess activities.

Iceland has 13 Grandmasters, 13 International Masters, and 25 Fide masters in a country of only 300,000 inhabitants!

Professional chess players receive a government state pension to support their chess playing activities. In 1997, Iceland staged the first national Internet championship in the world.

Iceland is a rich country with one of the highest per capita income in the world mainly through fishing.

The story of chess in Iceland is quite remarkable. For a long time Iceland boasted of more grandmasters than all the Nordic (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) countries combined.

When Iceland´s first grandmaster, Fridrik Ólafsson, competed in international tournaments in the 50s and 60s, local schools and movie theatres came to a halt. Every activity was put on hold to announce Fridrik’s results in the latest game. Chess became a national obsession.

Olafsson (b. 1935) joined the world’s elite from the mid 1950s onwards. His illustrious career included victories at Hastings, Wijk aan Zee and the Reykjavik Open (three times), beating four world champions, Tal, Fischer, Petrosian (twice) and Karpov.

He was also president of Fide.

A rare discovery of a 12th Century gaming piece in Iceland is fuelling fresh controversy over the mystery of the famous Lewis Chessmen. The Lewis Chessmen are the world’s oldest chess pieces that bear the features of modern chessmen.

Chess genius Bobby Fischer is buried in Iceland.

Tournament. Cepca will be sponsoring the Colonnade Grand Prix Open tentatively scheduled on March 24-26 which will be NCFP rated. Registration is P150 while kiddies and ladies is at P100.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 09, 2012.

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