The Tipping Point, Chess and My Prediction

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Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” was published in 2000. Gladwell defined a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point“. The book seeks to explain and describe the “mysterious” sociological changes that mark everyday life. The overarching theme is that there is a moment – a tipping point in life of someone or something at which things suddenly turned around. There is a paradigm shift in pre- and post- scenarios. It is hard to predict when the tipping point occurs; however, once it happens it creates huge thrust. This is somewhat like Flywheel Effect or Snowball Effect. There is a confluence of multiple factors that come together and start working in same manner/direction and the whole thing moves to a new level – new paradigm.

I think I read the book (in parts) in 2005 and it reminded me of a prediction I had made in 2000. I have been playing chess since 1988-89 and have been following growth of chess in India over the years. Between 1988-89 and 2000 I played as many local chess tournaments as I could; followed chess news, subscribed to magazines; saw many Indian chess players (many of them my peers who started with or after me) grow from strength to strength in FIDE rating.

I was seeing lots of activity on ground, and yet it was not reflecting in number of Chess Grand Masters from India. Till year 2000 India had only 3 Chess Grand Masters viz. Vishwanathan Anand (in 1988), Dibyendu Barua (in 1991), and Praveen Thipsay (in 1997).

After several misses, Vishwanathan Anand became FIDE World Chess Champion in year 2000. The same year Abhijit Kunte became the fourth Chess Grand Master from India and that is when I made a prediction. I discussed this at length with my friend who can confirm my prediction then. I predicted that “India has 4 Chess Grand Masters today (in 2002). But I won’t be surprise if India 40 Chess Grand Masters by year 2020 – 10 times as many in next 20 years

Yesterday (13th July 2017) I read news that Anurag Mhamal became India’s 48th Chess Grand Master! So, my prediction not only came true – it, in fact, was surpassed both in terms of timeline and the number of GMs. And we still have 3.5 years to go till end of 2020!

I had not read Tipping Point in 2000 (not sure if it was published then), I didn’t know about the term too. But I knew about “the concept” and saw it building up. Let me share what I thought then.

India won Cricket World Cup in 1983. Sachin Tendulkar was just 10 years old then. But he often mentions that that win was a turning point for him. He dreamt of playing for India and winning World Cup trophy for India again. Such phenomenal Sporting events or icons inspire kids, youngsters and the momentum builds up. For Example, surge in Tennis and Badminton players after Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal’s success.

Chess had always been a very popular game in India. So, it didn’t require the kind of trigger the other sports needed (Tennis, Badminton etc). However, two independent events helped reach the “tipping point” in Chess in 2000.

First event was of course Vishwanathan Anand becoming World Chess Champion in 2000! He had always been a Chess star – but becoming World Champion meant that he was known outside the Chess world – and that attracted media, press, advertisers etc. Chess started getting some column-inch space in newspapers and chess tournaments and players started getting sponsorships.

The second effect I could sense was more technical and subtle. Chess Grandmaster title can be earned by earning 3 Grand Master norms. The norms can be earned by playing in Grand master level chess tournaments worldwide, by playing and scoring certain points against Grand masters.

Current norm requires “a total of at least 27 games in tournaments involving at least three other Grandmasters, including some from countries other than the applicant’s”. Now since India had only 3 grandmasters till 2000, not many Grandmaster level tournaments used to happen in India. So mostly the players would have to travel abroad (multiple times) and participate in tournaments and earn GM norms. India had just opened economy in 1991 and travel abroad was just becoming affordable and ubiquitous. Many strong chess players in 1970s and 80s could not travel abroad. That changes by 2000 and continues to change dramatically since then. The overall GMs in the world was also increasing. In 1972 there were only 88 GMs in the world (33 of them came from Russia!). Today we have more than 1000 Chess GMs in the world!

Another point I though was about the lead time for producing top class chess players. That time was also shrinking. Garry Kasparov and Vishwanathan Anand became Chess GMs in their teens. Since then the age when players become GM has been coming down. Many players become GM by the age of 15-17. So even players who were born in 2000 could become Chess GMs by 2020. Plus, there were huge number of talented players born in late 70s and 80s who could potentially become GMs.

I didn’t do any calculation as such, but I could sense in 2000 that India was at the cusp of Chess revolution and we would have many more chess GMs in coming years! And I am glad that I was proven right…or maybe wrong, given that my prediction was surpassed long back!

So, here’s another prediction – considering that we had 4 GMs 2000 and that we have 48 Chess Grand Masters as of today.

India will NOT have more than 100 Chess GMs (alive) by 2030.

I will explain my prediction in 2030!  But I hope I am proven wrong this time!

Hint: Think about Chess GM Inflation and possibility of changes in norms

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