Issue 5, 2017. October-November

   

GEORGIA'S CHESS-A NEW GENERATION

Georgian chess players-particularly women-have long enjoyed tremendous success in the game despite limited budgets and training facilities. But the coach of the national team warns more support is necessary to continue the country's tradition of strong grandmasters.

Lika Jorjoliani

In September, top male chess players from around the world flocked to Georgia to compete in the World Chess Federation (FIDE) World Cup.

The event was a major coup for Georgia-it competed against South Africa to host both the September World Cup and the 2018 Chess Olympiad, which will be held in Batumi.

But for chess advocates at home, the FIDE World Cup was also a stark reminder of how Georgian chess has struggled to maintain its tradition of strong players and generations of grandmasters.

Baadur Jobava, a Georgian grandmaster and three-time Georgian champion


Three out of the four Georgian players competing left in the first round.

Baadur Jobava, a Georgian grandmaster and three-time Georgian champion, was bested by reigning U.S. Chess Champion Wesley So in the fourth round.

Legacy of Winners

The loss stung for Georgian coaches and fans.

Jobava, who is ranked 49th in the world according to FIDE, defeated the world's top chess player, Magnus Carlsen, in 2010. He won a gold medal in the 2016 Chess Olympiad as well, making him one of the latest in a long tradition of world-class Georgian chess players.

His peers, especially on the Georgian National Women's Chess Team, have been winning international accolades for years.

"Georgia is well-known for its famous chess-player women. We should name famous Georgian veterans, such as Nona Gaprindashvili, Nana Aleksandria, Maia Gaprindashvili and others. The Georgian Women's National Chess Team is one of the top three teams in the world," noted a coach for the Georgian Men's National Chess Team, Zurab Sturua.

World champion Magnus Carlsen


He added that the women's team, which includes players Salome Melia, Nino Batsiashvili, Nana Dzagnidze, Lela Javahishvili and Bela Khotenashvili, won the Women's World Team Chess Championship two years ago, beating teams with more resources and support.

The September competition in Tbilisi, which was for men, included two women, both invited to participate: the world women's number one and former Women's World Champion, Hou Yifan, and also the number one Georgian women's player and current European Individual Women's Chess Champion, Nana Dzagnidze.

Yifan lost to finalist Levon Aronian in the second round after besting grandmaster Kacper Piorun.

Dzagnidze fared worse, losing to grandmaster Anish Giri in the first round.

The September match aside, Dzagnidze-who is also a chess grandmaster-has triumphed at international tournaments since she was a teenager. This year, she won the Women's European Individual Chess Championship, one of three Georgian women chess players to land in the top 20 at the tournament.

Dzagnidze and her teammates are part of a long tradition of Georgian women chess masters that dates back generations.

The pioneer, Nona Gaprindashvili, was the first woman to become a chess grandmaster- the highest honor in chess awarded by the World Chess Federation.

She ruled the game for a generation, holding the women's world championship from 1962 to 1978, when it was won by fellow Georgian Maia Chiburdanidze. Between the two of them, they were the Women's World Chess Champions for 20-odd years.

Nurturing the Next Generation

But chess advocates warn that Georgia's legacy could be at risk if young people are not encouraged to learn and play.

"Any kind of sport has a star generation; now Georgia has many young people who are interested in chess. But, in my opinion, they can't reach the necessary level because interest in chess is gradually falling among young people, perhaps due to other interests," Sturua told Investor.ge.

"We should support this kind of sport," he added.

Levon Aronian, Armenian chess grandmaster who won the 2017 FIDE World Cup


The tournament organizer and President of the Georgian Chess Federation, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, told Investor.ge that he has managed to attract $20 million for chess, which has allowed Georgia to offer major awards and prizes for male and female competitions.

In addition, the government is trying to encourage young people to learn and love the game: chess has been introduced as a subject in elementary schools around the country.

Chess has also received support from athletes from other sports: Georgian soccer legend Manuchar Machaidze came to watch Jobava during the World Cup in Tbilisi.

"I played when I was young; I participated in other tournaments. I played in the Tbilisi championship, and was a candidate for master," he told Investor.ge.

"We have very strong chess players, which is why this type of sport [in Georgia] has been able to preserve its position [in the world], which I cannot say about soccer," he added.

Georgian Women, Chess Masters

Georgia has produced a number of female chess grandmasters, starting with the first two women to ever hold the title, Nona Gaprindashvili (1962 to 1978) and Maia Chiburdanidze (1978-1991).

Chiburdanidze, who won her first international championship at the age of 13, became the 14th highest rated female player of all time when she achieved her FIDE Elo rating of 2502 in 2011.

Two other Georgian women, Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant and Bela Khotenashvili, are also chess grandmasters.

Today the country also boasts of a strong female team. In 2015 the team became the world chess champions after defeating the Chinese women's chess team - the women’s eighth win in a row that year.

The Georgian women's chess team won the Chess Olympiads in 1992, 1994, 1996, and 2008. The Olympiads are a biennial international chess tournament.

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