Monday, 14 January 2019

EKA-IIFL Wealth 4th Mumbai International Chess Tournament- setting new standards!

India's commercial capital, Mumbai, (formerly known as Bombay) happens to be one of my favorite cities. The weather is warm, the people more so! It's a city where you can live life the way you want. People work hard on the weekdays and enjoy harder during the weekends. It's a happening city where (as the famous Anupam Kher would say) "kuch bhi ho sakta hai!" (anything can happen!). An ordinary man can turn a star overnight and a star can come down to the streets in no time - such is Aamchi (our) Mumbai! I believe in wonders, so such cities full of possibilities attract me!

It was around the end of November. I had just returned from my Senior Women Nationals and had been browsing through different tournament dates and circulars. The IIFL Mumbai International Chess tournament circular caught my attention. I have known the organiser, Praful Zaveri, for more than two decades now - he had been very supportive at the time of my recruitment in my first office, Life Insurance Corporation of India, back in the year 2000! Obviously I had great faith in Praful's organisational abilities and so I looked further in the circular. Something caught my eyes.

I rubbed my eyes! Did I read it right? The best female prize was Rs.75,000/-!! (around 925 euros!). That moment it seemed to me that this IIFL Wealth Mumbai Chess was the Indian version of Gibraltar International Chess Festival! Gibraltar was the first tournament to point out that for every successful tournament, there has to be good women prizes and participation of women players! No wonder, today Gibraltar is the most sought-after tournament in the world! I was extremely happy to see the women prizes in the IIFL Mumbai circular. I have always felt that more than anything else, women need respect and encouragement, in personal life and in the professional field. The prize money for women here catered to both the needs!

IIFL Wealth Mumbai International Chess has been setting new standards since the very inception! At first, the organisational novelty of introducing a tournament for the under-13 section was a bold and interesting idea back in 2015! To be honest, if young aspirants asked me for recommendation for tournaments in India, I landed in a difficult situation. (But not any more!) Yes, there are many tournaments below 1400 or below 1600 rating (but 3 rounds a day mostly!) or you might just say, play the open and improve- that's what I did as a kid! Many talents have come out from these open tournaments. However, one needs to understand that not every kid is a Pragg or Nihal or Gukesh. Many kids are talented in general but need some special motivation to keep them glued to chess. When I was a kid, what worked for me was that I was better than the rest and that motivated me to enjoy chess more! I feel the Under-13 section of the tournament is a great platform for aspiring kids- awesome prizes, one round a day, presence of the cream of Indian chess youngsters, international hall and standards!

Another great move made this year was-

The Indian non-titled players were strictly restricted below 2100. Foreign players were allowed as it helps in norm possibilities.

 The above was my comment to the ChessBase India article of Praful on the tournament and it clearly suggests itself. We did have some cut off tournaments in India on paper but most of them were not strictly speaking cutoff, often allowing a lot of exceptions!

I was really looking forward to the tournament and the above is my facebook post prior to the start of the event. I am known to be very honest and straight forward and most of the Indian organisers have friendly relations with me. So I am sure many would have thought why I consider this tournament to be the strongest. I can explain this. The lower limit cut off to 2100 combined with a total number of entry as only 120 in the Grandmasters' section is a dream for me for any tournament! For someone new to the chess world, this might sound strange. Aren't we supposed to measure a tournament's success by the number of players? I would say a clear no! Yes, on a broader level we want chess to spread, we want every Indian and every human in the world to be able to play chess and appreciate it but we do not want a fish market in a tournament! The lesser the players (and specially with lower limit cut-off), the stronger is the tournament. With lesser players, one tends to meet strong opposition everyday and even if one loses one round, one can win the next and make up for the rating loss and be back in the race. When there are hundreds of players, you lose a game and then you keep paying a big price for the next 3-4 rounds till you get back stronger opposition again!

The tournament had a new venue this year - the World Trade Centre with 25,000 square feet area- which meant good space for players and also for the guardians to wait while their little ones make the right moves! There was an Open Event going parallel to our GM event and I was surprised to see so many young girls taking part in it! It is very nice to see that chess is becoming a very important sport in Mumbai!

This year there were four events held in the "Mumbai festival"- Under 13, GM, Open and a blitz. India's pride,our one and only Vishwanathan Anand, is the patron of the event and the simul by Anand on the last day to the youngsters adds a special colour to the event! Next year there is going to be an extra addition, a women's event, as told by Praful and we will really look forward to the event!

The lucky few who got to play a simul with Anand! (Photo courtesy the facebook page of the organisers)

What could be improved for the next edition? Probably the addition of a wall clock somewhere in the tournament hall :) Watches and cell phones are not allowed in chess tournaments, so a wall clock is a necessity!

What was my kuch bhi ho sakta hai moment in the tournament? I guess I was leading among the women after the penultimate round but lost the last round to GM Atilia Czebe of Hungary. I was sad that I lost the first women prize of Rs.75,000 and will end up getting no prize! I thought that the loss had pushed me far behind in the ranking. Later my good friend Mrs. Bhagyashree Thipsay gave me the good news that I won the 3rd prize among women. I was richer by Rs.25,000/-. Another reason to thank the prize structure!

The best women prize winners (photo taken from the facebook page of the organisers). WIM Varshini played an excellent tournament, made a WGM norm and deservingly won the best woman prize. My good friend WGM Sarvinoz Kurbonboeva of Uzbekistan won the second prize and yours faithfully, the third! We are with the pillars of Indian chess by our sides, Sri Bharat Singh Chauhan and Sri DV Sundar. Both of them have worked very hard to make chess and chess players reach where they are today.

IM Rishi Sardana from Australia won the GM event, although, I do not intend to write a tournament report here. My intention is to write what I like about this event. I am hoping that more organisers in India conduct such tournaments for us with a rating cut-off and with a limit to the total number of players. If we have many such tournaments in India, it will save a couple of lacs of my bank balance which I spend in trips abroad every year!

I am back in my house in Kolkata but I miss the warm Mumbai and the warmth of the people there! I look forward to the next edition of the tournament in December this year with even greater participation of our top women players!


  1. Nice article, and I hope to read more. I just want to point out that to me, women tournaments are a step backwards. They actually serve to teach girls that they're not as good at chess as boys. Such division by gender doesn't exist in poker or go, and shouldn't in chess. Or at the very least, give an extra 75000 to the "best male".

  2. Nice article, Please provide your email address
    vikas sahu

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    I really appreciate you reading my article and pointing the problems in giving something extra to the women which in the long run pulls them back. Let me ask you a question. Do you have a girl child and more specifically do you have a girl child who plays chess by any chance? Also, are you an Indian? I did be surprised if you said yes to all my questions. I had written a full article (the most talked about article that I wrote) in back in 2015
    It will show you the other side of the story. In short I can tell you this- it is more expensive for a woman to be in chess than for a man. It is more expensive for the parent of a girl to keep her in chess than for the parent of a boy. One simple example. A girl has a male coach meaning when the parents take the coach along in tournaments, they need to book 2 rooms in a hotel = double expense. Chess coaching is done in closed doors, away from the world, will you be ok to leave your teenage girl alone in a room with a male coach for hours or days for chess training? It's not easy. Most parents prefer to be around when their teenage daughters are training or playing. The solution is female coaches but is there an availablity? Women tend to give up chess beyond a certain age. Say if I give up chess today, India will need another 10 years to get a Nisha who is an IM/WGM with a huge experience and who can train other female players. Out of my predecessors, only Bhagyashree Thipsay remains and recently Anupama Gokhale seems to be making a comeback. There is a need to make the women players stick to the game because if you lose the players from this generation, you need another 10 years to make a new generation come and stay. I will probably need to write a separate article to explain everything but hopefully "samazhne wale samazh gaye hain..." (people who understand, understood!)

  4. Dear Mr. Vikas Sahu,
    You may contact me at

    ...and for anyone who wants to get in touch with me, facebook is the easiest way, provided it comes with a proper message. I do not respond to a 'hi'.


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