CHENNAI: Times have changed and with that the focus too. The world junior chess championships used to be a stage that helped young talents acquire GM norms two decades ago and a straight GM title in the last 10 years. But today, if you go by the ratings and grades of the top competitors in the recent championships, it is clear that they are no longer there to pocket the norms or a GM title, they want to win the championship and get noticed at the highest level for invitations from elite tournaments.
In the 50th world junior and 29th world junior girls championships that get underway for the first time in Chennai on Monday, there are 19 Grandmasters in the open section and so is the case with the girls section where the top four are Women GMs. Which means that they are not here for the old motive of just making some grades in their careers, but something bigger: the world junior champions traditionally enjoyed some special advantages as they got invitations from super tournaments by virtue of their status as the No 1 among juniors, even if they are not No 1 in the ranking list. GM Maxim Matlakov (Elo 2632) and GM Sanan Sjugirov (Elo 2629) of Russia are the top two seeds in the open section. Sjugirov had just missed the world junior title on tiebreak last year in Poland.
This was the field that launched the career of India’s one and only Viswanathan Anand, but today he is not the only one Indian who enjoys the privilege. In the last 10 years, India added five more world junior champions, two in the open and three in the girls sections. But then times have changed and most of the junior champions in the last two decades have not had the chance to play in the world title match, leave alone winning it. For the record, the last world junior champion in the open section was also Viswanathan Anand.
Pentala Harikrishna and Abhijeet Gupta did India proud by winning the titles in 2004 and 2008 respectively but they have not got into the same league as their illustrious predecessors such as Kasparov, Karpov or an Anand, who were among the top 10 in the next three or four years. It is a hard fact and it is also unfair on the young Indian talents that they tend to be compared with Anand because he had set a new benchmark for the country, not only with the world junior title but with the accolades and rating grades that he climbed soon after that.
Having said that there is still one among the top players in the current field, No 10 in fact, who is capable of emulating the deeds of Anand, Hari and Gupta in the open section. Baskaran Adhiban has made some impact with his world under-16 title and also becoming the youngest GM from Tamil Nadu, his grade coming a shade faster than Anand’s at the age of 17. But the bigger test for these young lions such as Parimarjan Negi, Harikrishna, Koneru Humpy or Adhiban, who have set new marks for youngest GMs in India is that they have got to convert those initial promise into top notch performances and in that only Humpy has so far come anywhere close to Anand. In fact, Negi in eligible to participate in the current championship but his rating is beyond 2600 and he has already realised that the field has nothing to offer him.
In the girls divison, the early favourites are WGM Nazi Paikidze (Elo 2416 ) of Georgia, WGM Anastasia Savina (ELO 2398) of Russia, WGM Olga Girya (Elo 2371) of Russia, WGM Rout Padmini (Elo 2348) of India and WIM Irina Bulmaga (Elo 2293) of Romania.
Padmini Rout at 17 is one of the frontrunners in the girls section having won the bronze medal last year. But in women’s chess, you certainly can’t judge the strength of the Russians and Georgians, who invariably perform much above their rating expectations.
Yes, expectations are what keep this championship alive year after year.