The Kings and Queens of Chess of India by Arvind Subramanian

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While India has little to look forward to these days, a bright spot is setbacks, where the country has overtaken the United States and China and become a rival to Russia. But to make the most of this opportunity, the country will need to tackle some of its most ingrained sources of exclusion.

PROVIDENCE – Over the past decade, India’s political and economic progress has faltered. Its once plausible aspirations to become a world power comparable to China now seem fanciful. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating human and economic toll. In such circumstances, sport can be a national balm.

This year’s Tokyo Olympics brought a slight reprieve. India won their first gold in track and field, made a partial return to past glory in men’s field hockey and saw their women’s field hockey team show courage and determination heartbreaking, even though she failed to win a medal. In the end, however, a ranking of 48th overall – for a country of 1.4 billion people – only heightened feelings of underperformance.

In this context, a mind game can be one of the brightest points. India is fast becoming a legitimate global chess superpower, leading the United States and China on key parameters, and neck and neck with Russia, the historically dominant chess power. Since 2012, 44 Indians have been crowned Grand Masters (GM) – the highest achievement in chess – compared to 18 for China and 22 for the United States. Even Russia added just one more than India.

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