In a world currently torn by strife from the Ukraine to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia, and from rising fears of a pandemic of Ebola, we may be grateful to the game of chess for providing, in about a week’s time, a welcome respite and a veritable vaccine against cynicism.
The 2014 world chess championship match will be sponsored by the Russian Chess Federation, and will be held in the Russian city of Sochi—but, unlike in former times, it will feature no Russian or former Soviet players as combatants. It will be contested by current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, a young Norwegian, in a rematch against former world chess king Viswanathan Anand, of India.
This type of international pairing is rarer than one outside the chess world may suspect. It was, decade after decade, the rule, not the exception, to find a world chess championship match contested by a Russian against a Russian, a Russian against an Armenian, a Latvian against a Russian, or the like. And this was the case for more than half a century.
However, in the past two decades, players from as far-flung locations as China and India, and from Italy to Scandinavia, have been stating an indisputable case that chess is indeed more international than it formerly was, and that the Soviets do not anymore “own” the title of official world chess champion. The current list of top-ranked 20 international chess stars also includes Grandmasters from Bulgaria, the United States, the Netherlands, and France, in addition to those regions already mentioned.
It is a pleasure indeed, and a welcome relief from the current spate of negative international news, to find the chess world giving a healthy shot in the arm to global brotherhood, opportunity, and equality.