India’s Kings and Queens of Chess
Though India has little to be hopeful about nowadays, one bright spot is chess, where the country has surpassed the United States and China and emerged as a rival to Russia. But to make the most of the opportunity, the country will have to address some of its most deeply entrenched sources of exclusion.
PROVIDENCE – Over the last decade, India’s political and economic progress has faltered. Its once-plausible aspirations of becoming a global power on par with China now seem fanciful. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating human and economic toll. In such circumstances, sports can be a national balm.
This year’s Tokyo Olympic Games brought a slight reprieve. India took home its first gold medal in track and field, achieved a partial return to past glory in men’s field hockey, and saw its women’s field hockey team display heart-wrenching grit and determination, even as it fell short of winning a medal. Ultimately, though, a ranking of 48th in overall medals – for a country with 1.4 billion people – only reinforced the sense of underperformance.
Against this backdrop, a game of the mind may be one of the brighter spots. India is quickly becoming a legitimate global chess superpower, leading the United States and China on key metrics, and running neck and neck with Russia, the historically dominant chess power. Since 2012, 44 Indians have been anointed as grandmasters (GMs) – the highest achievement in chess – compared to 18 for China and 22 for the US. Even Russia added just one more than India.