25 December 2020

Andrey Filatov: Interest in Chess Has Grown, Not Fallen

CFR President summarised the results of 2020 in the interview to Sport-Express.

- Mr Filatov, at the end of 2020 the CFR Supervisory Board met to review the results of the current year. What conclusions did it reach? 

- The most interesting thing is that the pandemic saw a growth of interest in chess. Several indicators point to that, from searches in Yandex and Google to the number of newly-registered online players and the frequency of media coverage. Our findings support this, as the Russian ratings list has seen 250,000 new players. Registered players are those who participate in rated tournaments and play chess regularly. Obviously, there are many more who don’t play in competitions but who follow chess and play friendly games at home or on the Internet. There are several million of those in Russia. 

Chess has once again become a notable feature of our lives. This is supported by the fact that cultural figures have turned to chess and composed the first musical, CHESS, which was released in 2020 in Moscow. At the same time, a film is being shot about the rivalry between Karpov and Korchnoi, with leading Russian actors. I hope it will be successful. Meanwhile, The Queen’s Gambit has become one of the most successful releases in 2020, with hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe. 

- Why do you think chess is in demand once more, especially now, when multiple types of sport are suffering huge losses?

- We are also suffering losses, as the calendar is in disarray due to the postponement of multiple competitions. It’s impossible to go through a lockdown painlessly. But organisers can hold competitions online and our experiences so far have shown that spectators are interested in this format, though it is obvious that things are different that way. World champion Magnus Carlsen, for example, has successfully developed his own competition for elite players, who managed to maintain their incomes in 2020 thanks to online tournaments. FIDE held its first ever online Olympiad, which Russia managed to win. The Chess Federation of Russia held a large charity competition, which was covered live by Match TV. All in all, the chess world has found new formats, which have proven to be fairly popular. The pandemic has bestowed quite a few people with newfound leisure time and chess players have been successful in getting these people’s attention. 

- To follow chess competitionsfollowers must have a certain level of knowledgeIsn’t it easier to follow other sports?

- We understand that, so we are putting in a lot of work with schoolchildren. The Belaya Ladya school tournament has become a well-attended, prestigious event, and in 2020 it was held online instead of being cancelled. Our project Chess in Schools- carried out with the help of the Timchenko Foundation- is working in 16 Russian regions. The project has worked in 3000 schools, which hold regular chess classes. Over the last six years, more than 300,000 students have completed the introductory chess class. It is not important to us whether chess is a principal or optional subject, since that is a decision for the schoolteachers and parents. We are helping with the process by giving schools inventories, educating chess teachers and holding inter-school competitions. This work has reaped its benefits and the popularity of our sport is growing thanks to the schools project. 

In 2020, we launched a psychological research project, which should show how chess lessons affect children’s cognitive abilities. We will be able to see the first results in 2021. 

Another interesting development in the world of education is that the Chess Federation of Russia has published the first chess text book for the blind, written in Braille. It will be in great demand, because people with disabilities often enjoy playing chess- this year, the Russian team came second in the FIDE Olympiad for players with disabilities- also held online. 

- What is the principal difference between OTB and online tournaments? Will chess move entirely online in the near future?

- I doubt something like that will happen. But we will not see any full return to the conventional process after the pandemic. Most likely, chess will continue in both formats, online and offline.

The main challenge to hosting large tournaments online is the lack of arbiters who guarantee fair play. We think that large tournaments can be held online, but players and arbiters must be in the same room. In 2020, we began to form a network of authorised centres in Russia, based on existing chess clubs. Our finest young players took part in the first online European championship, winning thirteen medals and coming first in the overall table. This was a wonderful result that proved the growth and development of our young players, regardless of the pandemic. 

We need to change our operations to allow a player to show up to a chess club in his city and take part in a tournament, under the supervision of an arbiter. Only then could these results be used for ratings, titles and qualifications, both in Russia and abroad. I know that FIDE is taking steps to modify the rules of international chess to make them more flexible and adaptable to current conditions. The aforementioned changes would allow us to host larger tournaments, but the elite competitions will probably continue to be in-person, once the pandemic is under control and flights resume between countries. 

- How do you rate the sporting achievements of Russian chess players this past year? Would you pick out any individual player?

- The best results this year were shown by Ian Nepomniachtchi and Aleksandra Goryachkina. At the beginning of this year, Aleksandra was fighting for the world championship against Ju Wenjun and only lost on tiebreak. Ian is in the lead at the Candidates Tournament, which was halted by FIDE in March. I hope he will finish the tournament successfully and play in the world championship. Both Nepomniachtchi and Goryachkina demonstrated their abilities by winning gold medals at the Russian championships in a tough fight. 

Out of the younger players, I would point out Polina Shuvalova, who came second in the Russian championship, and Andrey Esipenko. These young grandmasters show impressive dedication and I am sure we will hear more about them in the near future, as well as others from the chess direction of Sirius.

The Russian national team has also achieved a historic milestone- after winning the FIDE Online Olympiad, our sportsmen won the full collection of gold medals, including world and European championships. Happily, their achievements were recognised by sporting journalists, who awarded the grandmasters the prestigious Silver Doe prize.

2020 showed that chess can develop even during a pandemic, while Russian sportsmen continue to play at a high level and win medals. That is the most important result of a difficult year. 

Original in Russian