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Uzbek chess: More than just Abdusattorov. Triumph at Chess Olympiad is ‘Our independence day gift’ to Uzbekistan, says coach

‘The victory would be the most historic day in Uzbekistan chess. It’s our independence day gift,’ says Uzbekistan’s coach after they win the Chennai Chess Olympiad.

The victorious Uzbekistan chess team. (Twitter/International Chess Federation)

The incessant focus on Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Uzbekistan’s talisman and world rapid champion irritates coach Ivan Sokolov. “I can understand the attention he gets. He is a world champion, a national hero and gives stability on the first board. But this victory has proved that Uzbekistan chess is not just about him. We have more players here and thousands back home,” he says.

As though to prove a point, he did not bring Abdusattorov to the press conference room after the gold-sealing win over the Netherlands. Instead, he tagged along Nodirbek Yakubboev, and Jakhongir Vakhidov wearing the traditional doppa, a round skullcap. Yakubboev is only 20 but already rated 2620; Vakhidov is the oldest at 27 and is respected for his sound tactical game. There is also the 16-year-old Javokhir Sindarov, considered one of the most talented youngsters around. “There are these guys too. You can’t win a team event on the shoulders of just one guy alone, and we had quality on all five boards. It’s a sign that we are a genuine force. We have a history and culture of playing chess that goes a long way back,” he says.

Scientific history proves chess existed in the country several centuries ago. During archaeological excavations in Dalvarzintepa (Surkhandarya) in 1972, chess pieces of the Kushan period (I-II centuries) were discovered, and in 1977, during a study in Afrosiab (Samarkand), seven chess pieces of the VII-VIII centuries were discovered. Samarkand, a city in Southwestern Uzbekistan used to host annual tournaments as early as the 14th centuries, according to records.

Modern chess history in the country, part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, began with the legendary Georgy Agzamov. Born in a small town of Almalyk in the province of Tashkent, into a family of doctors, he took to professional chess late and became a GM only when he was 30. But he was considered as one of the finest players around and encountered the legendary Mikhail Tal and Tigran Petrosian. Tal was impressed with aggressive style of play and took him along with him for world tours.

A philologist, another passion of his ended his life at the age of 32. While on a tour to Sevastopol, the Crimea, he went for solo hiking, slipped from a cliff and fell between two rocks. There were reports that local tribes murdered him for money, but there was little evidence and only intrigue. But he is widely regarded as the father of modern chess in Uzbekistan. In his memory, the government started the prestigious Tashkent Memorial at the Tashkent Chess Club, the nursery of all Grandmasters from the country.

Several years later sprung Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who won the World Championship in 2004, beating a string of world-class players like Vasyl Ivanchuk, Alexander Grischuk, and Veselin Topalov before embarking on a fruitful career as a second to some of the finest ever players. He was a longtime second to Viswanathan Anand, including during the 2008, 2010 and 2012 World Championship matches. He has also trained with World Championship candidates Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana. Equipped with a strong tactical sense, he was a master at giving philosophic quotes. Like this one: “Playing chess isn’t about what you see. Playing chess is about what you can seize from that.”

Later he became a chess teacher and most elite players have at some point sought his tutoring or advice. His DVDs on chess openings like ‘A World champion’s guide to the King’s Indian’, are quite popular. But as his playing days staggered, leading to a lull in Uzbekistan chess, came along Abdusattorov, who most say has been the single largest influence on Uzbek chess. His Rapid World Championship triumph last year was celebrated as a national holiday. The 17-year-old, the youngest-ever world champion was gifted a two-room apartment and a hefty prize-money.

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Another round of celebrations and gifts await them when they land in Tashkent in two days. Sokolov chimes in: “The victory would be the most historic day in Uzbekistan chess. It’s our independence day gift to the people of the republic, and hopefully they would inspire thousands of kids to take up the sport. This would capture the imagination,” Thousands of children, aspiring to be not only Abdusattorov but also Yakubboev, Vakhidov and Sindarov.

First published on: 09-08-2022 at 09:59:50 pm
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