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Vol. XXXII No. 6, July 1-15, 2022

Chess Olympiad on the Coromandel Coast

-- by Partab Ramchand

India is no stranger to hosting major international events. The country has played host to the first Asian Games in 1951 and again in 1982 with both events being held in New Delhi. The capital was also the venue of the Commonwealth Games in 2010. In addition several world meets in various sports have been staged here. Over the years the facilities and infrastructure have been developed to host such meets. But it is safe to say that the 44th Chess Olympiad to be held at Mahabalipuram near Chennai from July 28 to August 10 will be the biggest ever sporting event held in India.

On sheer numbers the Chess Olympiad being held in India for the first time and in Asia after 30 years will be a logistical challenge. Around 2000 participants from nearly 180 nations will participate and that fact along is of the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety. However as the secretary general of the All India Chess Federation Bharat Singh Chauhan put it “it takes four years to prepare for such an event. We are doing it in four months.”

Conducting such a mega event would require co-operation from several agencies and it is because of this that the country is going to proudly host the Chess Olympiad which has a hoary tradition being held for the first time in 1927. The event was originally scheduled to be held in Minsk, Belarus and was later shifted to Moscow. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine however meant that an alternative venue had to be found and India given its status as a chess superpower in the world emerged as a possible choice.

The search then began for a suitable venue when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, a keen sports lover stepped in and approved the project in 48 hours for the Olympiad to be held in the state.

It still needed the nod from the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and it was here that Viswanathan Anand played a vital role. India’s first GM has known the FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich for some time and he got him to come to Chennai and inspect the facilities. Dvorkovich along with a team from FIDE came down to Chennai, went around various possible choices and finally zeroed down on Mahabalipuram. Developments then followed swiftly. As the FIDE chief said “we didn’t have time for proper bidding process. It was just informal discussions and there was nothing comparable to what India offered” he said adding that he was pleased with the speed at which the AICF with support from the Tamil Nadu government had finalised everything.

Anand too was happy with his efforts to get the prestigious event to his home state. He spared no effort in thanking Stalin adding that he was delighted that Chennai was hosting the Olympiad while expressing confidence that it would be a great success. For his part Stalin has assured all help during the conduct of the tournament.

It is somehow fitting that Chennai will be hosting the event. For one thing it has produced Anand. Second the vast majority of the 73 Indian GMs are from the southern metropolis. In any case it is not for the first time that Chennai will be hosting a major international chess event. In 2013, the World Chess Championship match was held in the city with the then Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha playing a major role in getting the event to Chennai. Anand the reigning world champion and challenger Magnus Carlsen competed against each other with the latter winning it to emerge the new world champion.

This time if not Chennai Mahabalipuram a heritage venue and a well known tourist spot some 55 kilometres south of the city got the nod and Sanjay Kapur, AICF president cited three reasons for this – the sanctity of the place, the heritage associated with it and the logistics. The last reason could well be a major problem with so many participants from so many countries. Fortunately there are a number of beach resorts near Mahabalipuram and so accommodation is taken care of.

There is little doubt that the conduct of the Olympiad in the country will give a big boost to chess in the country. Already enjoying superpower status – India is ranked No. 4 behind US, Russia and China – it is hoped that the chess fraternity will benefit hugely as a result. Anand for one is in no doubt at all. The five-time world champion is firmly of the view that with many youngsters able to attend the tournament, see the top players and interact with them will have a considerable impact on them as well as on the chess scenario as a whole.

Also as host India will have the privilege of fielding two teams and this will boost the hopes of a good performance. India’s recent showing in the Olympiad has been encouraging. In 2014 in Norway the country bagged a bronze. Six years later it shared the gold medal with Russia in the first ever online Chess Olympiad held after the pandemic broke out. In the second edition of the online Olympiad last year India again won a bronze.

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