Tourism is relatively new in this former Soviet state. It is an oil-rich country with so much history. Its people don’t enjoy smiling in public and the most loved games are chess and backgammon. The most important attraction is the Inner City, a fully functioning medieval city in the heart of Baku, the capital city. The country is Azerbaijan, and chess in Azerbaijan is a serious matter.
The Soviet Union was known for many things and one of them is that it produced many chess grandmasters in the world. The best chess players came from several Soviet states, which include Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which became an independent state in 1991. Azerbaijan, as well as rival Armenia, has maintained the chess superpower status until today.
In 2009, Azerbaijan won the European Team Chess (ETC) Championship in Serbia over Russia (second), Ukraine (third) and a host of other European countries. Azerbaijan finished third in 2007 and second in 2010. (Since the ETC was organized in 1957, Soviet Union bagged the gold for nine consecutive years until 1989.)
Three of the most notable and internationally popular Azeri grandmasters are Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Teimour Radjabov and Vugar Gashimov. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is the only grandmaster in the world to have won the World Junior Chess Championship twice. He became U20 (under 20) champion in 2003 and 2005. He belongs to a family of grandmasters. Her sisters, Zeinab and Turkan are also world champions. These siblings have made their parents proud by bringing home a total of 12 world chess championship medals.
Today, the leading Azeri grandmaster is Teimour Radjabov. He is ranked 1st in the country, 5th in the world and 2,784th in the chess Elo ranking, an internationally-acknowledged relative skills level system of measurement. Teimour became a grandmaster at only 14 years old when he was recognized as the youngest member of the FIDE Top 100 Players list. FIDE stands for Federation Internationale des Echecs, which is French for World Chess Federation.
To produce more top chess players and maintain the country’s international championship status, the Azeri government issued an order to develop the sport of chess from 2009 to 2014. No less than Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyeh signed the national order.
Meanwhile, another popular board game is backgammon. Although the country is yet to win a backgammon world championship title, backgammon in Azerbaijan has been a part of the local culture for centuries. Historical records prove that the Azeris have been enjoying this game since the country was under the ancient Persian Empire. Today, men play backgammon for hours inside local tea houses while sipping black tea.
Azerbaijan is a very interesting country and its people very unique. The country is developing its capital city to someday be the Dubai of the Caucasus region, and that is not difficult to accomplish. Baku is a fast growing metropolis, the largest and most developed in the region.
While the country attempts to attract international attention to its capital city, oil industry, volcanoes, rich tradition, and amazing history, chess in Azerbaijan will definitely not fail to continue garnering international accolades.