Gwaze to play in British Championship amid controversy

IM Robert Gwaze has spent a lot of time in England since his golden performance in the 2002 Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. The 21-year old Zimbabwe native hopes continue the tradition of respectable showings by players from sub-Saharan Africa. IMs Odion Aikhoje (Nigeria) and Amon Simutowe (Zambia) are the most recent participants. 

2003 British Championship is not without controversy. A reported twenty-five of the top 27 English Grandmasters are effectively partaking in a "boycott" due to what they see as a tournament that's not truly British (Aaron Summerscale and Peter Wells are playing).

The Commonwealth includes former colonies under  British rule including countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Last year,
IM R.B. Ramesh and GM Humpy Koneru both of India, took the Men's and Women's crowns. Humpy also won the crown in 2000.

IM Robert Gwaze

IM Robert Gwaze

There is noticeable trend of diminishing power in sports where English players once held tremendous influence such as cricket and field hockey. Many Commonwealth countries learned these sports while under British colonial rule and now dominate. Is there the same fear with British chess? Perhaps not on the same scale. The current British Chess Championship brings a different issue… that of determining how British a particular tournament really is.

IM Malcolm Pein's recent article about this case,  he states,

As usual there are plenty of players from India, I counted thirteen in the Championship many of whom have sponsorship and can afford to come and play and they will make off with most of the prize fund. The situation is made even more absurd this year with the top seed being a Cypriot, GM Vasilios Kotronias who recently entered the Commonwealth when he left the Greek Chess Federation. The majority of entries to the British Women's Championship are from India.

Since 1999, there has been much talk of reforming the championship to ensure its authenticity. According to Pein's article, GM Nigel Short has advocated reforming the British Chess Federation and renaming it the English Chess Federation. The nationalistic reaction seems to be aimed at the gradual but steady influx of Indian players who made their debut in the 1920s with legendary player, Sultan Khan. Khan immigrated to England and was  three-times British Champion. There were (and still remain) similar comments and jokes about the 2003 United States Championship where more than half of the players hail from the Russian Diaspora, but as U.S. citizens.

This nationality argument is not original and has been the focus of debate in other countries' national championships as well as the choosing of Olympiad teams. With the British Championship, the argument is that the majority of the top players are from sovereign nations competing in another national championship. However, one wonders whether the presence of foreign players has always been an issue or has only become a issue because of the recent success of the Indian players in English tournament (e.g., British Ch., and Hastings). Perhaps it has always been an issue, but an effective boycott has moved the debate to a heightened awareness.

Read Malcolm Pein on British Championships (TWIC)

IM R.B. Ramesh
2002 British Champion
(Photo by R.V. Moorthy)

Posted by The Chess Drum: 21 July 2003