Winter 2000 (8.4)
Chess is still extremely
popular in Azerbaijan despite the fact that since the collapse
of the Soviet Union, there are far more pastimes than previously
available to distract youth. According to Fuad Jafarov, Director
of the National Azerbaijan Chess Center and a qualified judge
at international competitions, there are chess schools in nearly
every region of the country. "You'll even find chess schools
among the refugee camps representing specific occupied regions
of Karabakh, such as Aghdam and Kalbajar," he says.
Azerbaijan is not a stranger to chess, even on the world level.
Garry Kasparov (1963-), who reigned as the world's chess champion
for 15 years before losing to Vladimir Kramnik this past November,
grew up in Baku. Kasparov started playing chess at Baku's Children's
Pioneer Palace when he was seven years old; six years later,
he was competing internationally.
On several occasions in the 1980s, Heydar Aliyev used his position
in Moscow's Politburo to facilitate Kasparov's chances to play
in international competitions. Eventually, this led to his toppling
the Russian Karpov. Kasparov, whose mother is Armenian, moved
to Russia after the outbreak of the Karabakh war.
The youngest ranks of Azerbaijani chess players are also gaining
international acclaim. BP sponsored the Azerbaijani team this
year to World Youth Chess Championship in Spain.
This past October, 17-year-old Zeynab Mammadyarova brought home
the gold in the World Youth Chess Championships in Spain in the
category of "Women Under-18". Zeynab had often won
matches in Azerbaijan, but this was the first time she had ever
competed for the world championship, though she had competed
in several European championships - France, Estonia, Belarus,
Spain and Turkey. In 1998, she was slated to compete in Austria,
but arrived too late at the airport and missed her plane. "I
cried a lot," Zeynab remembers.
For the 2000 World Championships, she competed against players
from 56 countries in her age category. "Actually, I played
really well - I couldn't believe it - especially since the other
players had much more experience. Others had taken part in many
international competitions and had higher ratings than I did,"
In her final match, she was up against Georgian Sopico Khukhashvili.
At the next table, a Chinese girl was playing a Romanian. All
of them were tied with 7.5 points each. "I beat the Georgian,
and the Chinese and Romanian had a draw," Zeynab remembers.
"Altogether I won seven games, made three draws and lost
the game to the Chinese player."
Zeynab says she has a new strategy that seems to have paid off.
"Every year I usually place second or third in Azerbaijan's
Championship. But this year, I made a very poor showing. When
I returned home, Dad talked to me and asked me a lot of questions.
In the end, we concluded that I had spent too much time thinking
through each move. In chess matches, you have only two hours
to make 40 moves. But I had created a situation where I ended
up having to make my last 20 moves in five minutes. Obviously,
I made a lot of mistakes and lost the game.
"Dad taught me how to gain the advantage step by step, by
making fast, simple moves. It took me about three months to master
this technique. Then I had the chance to compete with men in
the international competition that took place in Azerbaijan this
past September. My father never lets me take part in weak competitions,
insisting that to become a great chess player, you have to play
with men because you'll become stronger psychologically. He says
you have to have a man's character, believe in yourself, be strong
Father is Trainer
Zeynab's family lives in Sumgayit, a satellite city on the shores
of the Caspian about 40 minutes north of Baku. The city used
to be known for its petro-chemical factories, though most of
them have been closed down since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Zeynab began playing chess at age 10. It all started one summer
in Zangelan when she visited her uncles, who are avid chess-players.
"All of my father's brothers play good chess," she
says. "Dad, too, has always been keen about chess and followed
the Kasparov-Karpov games very closely."
Zeynab's father, Hamid Mammadyarov, decided to encourage his
children's interest in the game. "He knew that we were strong
in mathematics," Zeynab says. "We could multiply two-
and three-digit numbers in our heads."
Today Mammadyarov coaches Zeynab, her brother Shahriyar, 15,
and her sister Turkan, 11. Jafarov admires the three siblings'
determination: "Zeynab is very hard-working. It's interesting
that all three children play chess. They compete at home and
push each other. All of them have won gold in Azerbaijan national
championships in their respective age categories."
"Our father trains us," Zeynab says. "He gets
chess books describing the moves of great players like Botvinnik.
But most of the time we analyze our own games. After every game,
no matter whether you win or lose, you need to analyze it. Only
then can you correct your mistakes and move on to the next game."
Their training also involves exercising together, she says. "You
need to be physically strong to sit and concentrate for so many
hours. After playing chess, we go to the seaside to run, exercise
and play soccer for a few hours."
After the World Youth Championships in Spain, Zeynab was named
to Azerbaijan's team for the adult World Chess Competition in
Istanbul, Turkey. Jafarov explains, "We have a very young
team. For example, the oldest player on our men's team is 24,
whereas other teams have players in their 60s. We hope that chess
will develop more in the future, especially now, as our youth
are making such a strong showing."
To read more
about chess in Azerbaijan, see "All
the Right Moves: Teymur Rajabov, International Chess Master", AI 7.4, Winter 1999.
SEARCH at AZER.com. Zeynab Mammadyarova and Fuad
Jafarov were interviewed by AI staff member Arzu Aghayeva.
(8.4) Winter 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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