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Six months into the job, what has the secretary of AICF achieved?

by Sagar Shah - 24/12/2017

Bharat Singh Chauhan has been a great ambassador for the game of chess in India. Besides being the organiser of one of the biggest open tournaments in the world, the Delhi International GM Open, he has promoted Indian chess at all levels assuming important roles like President of Commonwealth Chess Association, Deputy President of the Asian Chess Federation, Chairman of the Technical Commission in FIDE and so forth. Roughly six months ago, he took over as the secretary of the All India Chess Federation for the second time. In this interview with IM Sagar Shah, he talks about his work so far as the AICF Secretary, his future goals, the role of the government and corporate sponsorship in promoting chess.

When Bharat Singh Chauhan became the Secretary of All India Chess Federation (AICF) we published his 15-point plan for promoting Indian chess. The article was published on 26th of June. It's almost six months now and a good period to review the work done by him and AICF in his tenure as the Secretary of All India Chess Federation.


At the World Youth Olympiad, I caught up with Bharat Singh Chauhan for a detailed interview. He was meticulously prepared for it. He brought the print outs of the decisions made at the Central Council meeting held on the previous day and he also had a print-out of the 15-point plan which he had sent to us six months ago. "I know you are going to ask me questions on this, so I came prepared for it." Like a true chess player Bharat Singh Chauhan had done his homework.

Interview with Bharat Singh Chauhan by Sagar Shah

SS: How has your life been as the Secretary of the AICF so far? Has it been stressful or enjoyable?

BSC: There is no question of stress. I’ve been doing what I wanted to do since my childhood. I wanted to work for chess; I wanted to be a good chess player. In fact, I consider myself to be a successful man because I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I am enjoying it. Of course, there is a new challenge awaiting me every day; there is a lot of work. But I am enjoying it.


SS: The central council meeting was held yesterday and some very important things were discussed. Can you tell us about the meeting?

BSC: I had said while I was taking over as the secretary of the AICF that there needs more effort with regard to the National Championships and the stipend that is paid to the players who represent our country at Olympiads. Also, there was no money given to our players who participated at the World Team Championship. So, we’ve doubled the existing stipend for players who represent our country at the Olympiad and we’ve also decided to devote some funding to the team championships as well. Of course, if Anand decides to play in these events, we’ll be raising this amount further. But for the moment, we’ve doubled the existing pool of funds.


SS: So, is Anand playing this year at the Olympiad?

BSC: Well, maybe. At least he has shown interest and we’re on it.

Vishy Anand with Bharat Singh Chauhan fighting it out on the chess board!

SS: Because he’s himself said in a news report that he is planning to play. So, I wanted to know how he was convinced to play – because he has not played since the last four Olympiads.

BSC: I don’t know that. You have to ask him.


SS: It seems this has something to do with you as it happened after you took over as the AICF secretary.

BSC: I don’t know; it depends on how you approach the whole issue. Of course, Anand had issues about the system. I will not say that it is only because of me. There is one more reason: Earlier we didn’t have a good team but now we have a fantastic one. There’s Anand, Hari, Vidit, and even at the lower boards, there are players like Adhiban, Sasikiran, Ganguly etc. So we have a lot of good players coming up. Still, I won’t say it is very easy to finish in the top bracket but our players are capable of achieving this. So, perhaps, Anand might have felt that now the other team members are also good and might have been motivated by this.


SS: The Badminton Nationals were held recently and we saw most of the country’s top players participating. There was Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and even Srikanth played. Can we expect something like this to happen in chess?

Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu both took part in the 2017 National Badminton Championships | Photo: Indian Express

BSC: Let me be very honest regarding this. We’ve already made the first move towards this at our last central council meeting. Now, we’re selecting the team on the basis of rating, which was a long-standing demand and we also felt that one slightly weak board can affect the chances of our team at the World Teams or the Olympiad. So, we formed a committee and discussed and this was approved at the central council yesterday that we select the team on the basis of rating.


After this, comes the National Championship. If the national championship is not a selection tournament for these team events, we reasoned that there was no need for two different National Championships (Challengers and Premier).  Therefore, we will have only one national championship for men and one for women.


For the men, the prize fund will be 20 lakh. For the women’s championship, the prize fund will be 15 lakhs. First prize in the men’s championship will be 5 lakh rupees and will be similar in women but there will be only ten prizes in each event. The idea is to attract top players to play for the prize money. I think 5 lakh is a pretty decent amount.


SS:  And will it be an open event?

BSC: Yes, it will be an open event. And we plan some kind of accelerated pairing which arbiters will look into. We have an arbiters’ commission in the AICF. They’re going to work on it.  Basically, we are doing everything required to attract top players to play in our national championships. We also have plans to make the prize fund more lucrative so that everybody plays.


SS: So was this one of the main things which were discussed at the central council meeting?

BSC: Yes, this was one of the main things. But there were some other things as well because I’ve been spending a lot of money since I have taken over as the secretary. This prize money, which I’ve mentioned before, sums up to 25 lakhs. Besides, we’re spending nearly 30 lakhs on prize money for age category tournaments. We’re also giving boarding money to the players, which is about 55 lakhs. We’re also going to spend another 16 lakhs on two round robin tournaments.


Apart from this, we’re also going to have trainers for girls. We’ve chosen 15 young girls on the basis of their talent and Landa has been engaged. He will be conducting three 10-day-long camps here in India. Our trainers’ commission, which includes GM RB Ramesh, IM Vishal Sareen and Neeraj Mishra, will decide when these camps will be conducted and will finalize the formalities.

GM Konstantin Landa, an experienced player and trainer will conduct three training sessions for 15 talented girls in India | Photo: 

We’ve also addressed the long-standing demand of hiring a foreign coach. GM Jacob Aagaard has been appointed for this Olympiad as the women's coach. Ramesh will continue as the trainer of the men's team. We’ll have camps starting from March until the beginning of the Olympiad. We’ll see the convenience of the players and of Aagaard and ensure at least three or four camps are conducted. So, we’ll be spending nearly 1 crore for chess promotion.

Jacob Aagaard and Ramesh will handle the training of the Indian team for the Olympiad | Photo: Amruta Mokal

There’s also one more proposal about chess in schools. If the government provides us with 50 lakh rupees, we’ll chip in another 50 lakhs to go ahead with this program. So basically, we’ll be spending 1.5 crores just this year.


SS: And do you plan to do this every year?

BSC:  Yes, and as I said, we’ve hiked the stipend for the players which is going to cost us about 15 lakh rupees a year as the Olympiad and the team championship keeps alternating every year. So, the expenses are going to be more. We are going to spend a lot of money for the game.


SS: So, this is fulfilling your vision in a way, that you are spending money in so many ways at so many levels for the benefit of the game. How are you exactly planning all of this?

BSC: See, personally I feel women’s chess in the country – in fact, I should say, in the world – is not in a good state. You can easily see this by comparing the numbers of male and female grandmasters. So, we need to support them. That is why, we are going to have two exclusive round robin tournaments for women and these training camps. We want to spend money for everybody. It’s not only for the top players but for everyone. As you can see, we also have plans and funds for the chess in schools program.

Two dedicated round robin tournaments for women players in our country

Ah, and I forgot to tell you that at the junior events, where the government sponsors only one player for the Asian Championships, we have requested sponsorship for all three players. Our proposal is that we will be taking care of the boarding and lodging for the players who finish second and third if the government covers their airfare. So we’re spending another 20-30 lakhs there, for the Asian championship and the World Championship.


We’ve come to this decision because it is very difficult for parents to spend this kind of money, doesn’t matter how wealthy they are. Perhaps, they can spend for the player but since the player is young, he/she needs to be accompanied by someone. Not to mention, a lot of money goes into coaching. Therefore, we thought we should support them by doing this.


SS: And how is the AICF able to sustain?

BSC:  We have a lot of ideas on this front. The last time we ran the registration drive, there were a lot of tournaments. So, I believe, the more number of players register, the more revenue we will be able to generate. Everything will reap the benefits of this. For example, higher tournament participation attracts more sponsors; not to mention, we, the AICF, will be stronger as an organization and will be able to generate more revenue.


That apart, we will then be able to generate more employment in training, arbitration etc. Former players could take up these jobs. Moreover, the booksellers who sell chess books and even equipment makers will see a rise in their business. So basically, it’s not just the former players or the AICF which will benefit from it but the entire chess community. We might even be able to support former players by giving them a pension or something.


Also, I must add that until five years ago, we hadn’t thought ChessBase India will be promoting the game so extensively. More and more people are following chess over the internet today thanks to ChessBase India. Let me tell you, when ChessBase did not have its Indian version, it wasn’t as popular in our country. But today, I do follow ChessBase India every day. And it’s not just me. There are so many people reading your reports. You cover everything and I think you are doing a tremendous job. Recently, there was the London Chess Classic going on. Since the games would go on until late at night, I wouldn’t be able to follow the tournament. But in the morning, I would log on to ChessBase India and even FollowChess to update myself with the happenings of the rounds.


Today we see that there are a lot of people in businesses related to chess. The more players we have the more sponsors we will get. And that is the primary reason why I am so keen on funding chess in schools. I don’t care about the funds because I am sure we will get good returns out of this.

The right kind of people will come forward to support the game of chess when the number of people playing it will increase | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Part II of this interview will be released soon.