MAHABALIPURAM: Wesley So was born in the Philippines. Temur Kuybokarov was born in Uzbekistan. Alina Kashlinskaya was born in Russia. Amir Bagheri was born in Iran. At the Olympiad, So represents US. Kuybokarov plays for Australia. Kashlinskya wears the Poland jersey. Bagheri is on the top board for Monaco.
Welcome to the world of elite chess, where citizenship-related documents may be incidental as long as one federation wants a player and the other federation is willing to grant the player in question a No Objection Certificate (NOC). This year alone, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) has granted more than 150 player transfers.
Proof of how ‘easy’ it is to switch federations -- the exact word used by the event’s Deputy Chief Arbiter, Gopakumar Sudhakaran -- can be found across various team rosters at the Olympiad. Take the US for example. The top seeds from the Open category have So (Philippines), Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Leinier Dominguez (Cuba), who were all born outside the US, played for the federations of their birth before transferring the allegiance to the US.
So, one of the highest-rated active players in the world currently, was highly intimate with the issue at the post-game press conference on Friday. “They say the US is a land of immigrants. Basically, everyone in the US came from somewhere else at some point. Right now, chess is doing really well in the US. There are many private sponsors who enjoy the game. Personally, switching to the US is the best decision I made in my life.
“I got a lot more support, training and really good sparring partners. For Levon too, it was a really good decision to switch considering the politics happening in Armenia. It was the right decision for him too. Even for Dominguez, he was already living in Miami and later moved to St Louis (Saint Louis is US’ chess capital). Generally people have the right to live wherever they want to.
“There are many other nations also who are trying to recruit players. Romania recruited Richard Rapport recently, Spain got some new players and Russia got (Sergey) Karjakin several years ago. It is normal. It is an interesting part of chess. Because if you are a chess professional, it is important to be in the right place at the right time.” Players seemingly switch allegiances after disagreements with their original federations or if they feel like their chess career needs more support. For the 28-year-old So, it was an opportunity to further his career. “When you are a Grandmaster and trying to get to the next level, being in the right country (federation) at the right time is also very important. Otherwise, your strength will stagnate.”
It’s even more remarkable in Australia. Out of the two teams and 10 players that are at the Olympiad, seven of them were born elsewhere. Captain, Jack Rodgers, called the team ‘one of the most diverse at the Olympiad’. “I believe we have one of the most diverse teams at the Olympiad,” he told this daily.
“Out of the 10 players, seven were not born in Australia. Most of them have been long enough in Australia to gain citizenship obviously. We also have a high proportion of Indian-origin players in Australia. It is exciting to have that diversity because it brings different features to our chess. We will continue having diverse teams. We have a player from Uzbek, one from Russian heritage, one from Chinese heritage here.”
Kuybokarov, the 22-year-old who moved to Australia during his teens, said he had been representing the country from 2019. “I was born in Uzbekistan. I made the move to Australia five years ago in 2017. My father had a business visa and so he moved to Australia. I started representing Australia in 2019.”
There was another example in Sunday’s match between India women and England. Lan Yao, who faced Tania Sachdev, was born in China and won the Chinese national youth championship when she was 14. But Yao, who is currently studying at UCL, switched her allegiance to England after she realised trainers in China wouldn’t train her on till she completely quit school. She hopes to work in England after graduation.
This sort of open borders policy is thanks to FIDE’s regulations. They do have a cooling-off period but it’s not as strict as some of the other international federations. Apart from that, there has to be a compensation element paid to NCF for the time and money they spent in developing Carlsen.
“They need to apply to the world chess federation and they need an NOC from the previous federation. If it’s a top player (wanting to move federations), there is a compensation that needs to be paid to the previous federation. If you are a normal player, there is a charge of 50 euros. Compensation part comes if the player is a GM because the country has spent a lot of money to make that player,” Sudhakaran explained.
The compensation for a top GM like Carlsen is in the range of $60000. “FIDE has no issues if both countries are in the same boat. Players are holding a passport of another country and playing for another country,” one of the country’s top-most arbiters added.
Just another of those quirky chess things.
Team India B continue to fly
To nobody’s surprise, India B -- filled with some of the country’s best players in the game today -- blanked Switzerland 4-0 on Sunday. With the win, they are now 12-0 after three rounds, the best among the Indian teams. Interestingly, after the tie, R Praggnanandhaa said ‘his game was very poor’.
India A bt Greece 3-1
India B bt Swizterland 4-0
India C bt Iceland 3-1
India A bt England 3-1
India B bt Indonesua 3-1
India C bt Austria 2.5-1.5
US, Norway lose ground
US and Norway, two of the top three seeds in the Open category, lost further ground after some major upsets on Saturday. While Italy, who have no GMs rated higher than Norway, beat their more illustrious opponents 3-1 (Magnus Carlsen drew), US drew two of their games to Georgia but did manage to win 3-1. But they will consider this a point dropped.
Aronian a hit among the masses
US’ Levon Aronian, after his game against Georgia’s Mikheil Mchedlishveli, came out of the hall to speak to FIDE. When fans realised who he was, he was quickly mobbed. To be fair to the American, he obliged every autograph and selfie request before going back inside the playing hall a good 20 minutes later.