With Chess Olympiad in Chennai, India makes some big moves 

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on: Jul 11, 2022
Napier bridge in Chennai is being  painted like a  chess board ahead of the 44th World Chess Olympiad to be held  from  Jully 28 to August 10 at Mahapulipuram, 60-km away from the city

Napier bridge in Chennai is being painted like a chess board ahead of the 44th World Chess Olympiad to be held from Jully 28 to August 10 at Mahapulipuram, 60-km away from the city | Photo Credit: RAGU R

With the upcoming Chess Olympiad in Chennai and the chess league later in the year, all pieces are in place for the game’s growth 

Chess is making some big moves. As India — and Chennai — get ready to host the biggest ever Chess Olympiad in history, with 187 countries sending teams (over 2,000 top players in the fray), the mindsport is taking over the country’s mindspace. And with great hopes resting on India’s talented pawn pushers, who are seeded third, to win the battle of the black and white board, chess is getting unprecedented sponsor support.

A gung-ho Sanjay Kapoor, President, All India Chess Federation (AICF), goes as far as to declare, “If 1983 was the game-changer for Indian cricket, this Olympiad is going to be the game-changer for chess in India.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin with other leaders at the launch of Chess Olympiad Bus, at Marina beach, in Chennai, on July 1, 2022

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin with other leaders at the launch of Chess Olympiad Bus, at Marina beach, in Chennai, on July 1, 2022 | Photo Credit: R Senthil Kumar

His confidence stems from the kind of preparation and publicity the organisers are doing as well as the undeniable talent of the Indian squad. Though US may be the fancied team, seeded top, in the absence of Russia and China, India, many believe has a strong chance.

The knight’s tour

Host State Tamil Nadu, which is pumping in ₹92.13 crore for the event, is pulling out all stops to make the event a success, having audaciously won the right to host it, after the ruling body for chess, FIDE, dropped Russia because of the war with Ukraine.

Thambi, the official mascot of the 44th Chess Olympiad, seen near the Chennai airport

Thambi, the official mascot of the 44th Chess Olympiad, seen near the Chennai airport | Photo Credit: BIJOY GHOSH

All over Chennai, the chess capital of India, you can see posters of the cute mascot of the 44th Chess Olympiad — Thambi, the knight in a white veshti with black check border, whose Namaste or Vanakkam (greetings in Tamil) — is wowing fans.

From torch relays across the country to chess tournaments in schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu, and buses in Chennai sporting the logo and mascot of the games, there is unprecedented publicity blitzkrieg for the Olympiad.

Indian chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand holds the torch as torch relay for 44th Chess Olympiad begins, at Red Fort in New Delhi, Monday, June 20, 2022

Indian chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand holds the torch as torch relay for 44th Chess Olympiad begins, at Red Fort in New Delhi, Monday, June 20, 2022 | Photo Credit: Manvender Vashist

The 39-day torch relay, which was flagged off by India’s first two Grandmasters — five times world champion Vishy Anand and Dibyendu Barua at the majestic Red Fort will travel through 75 districts in the country, and reach Chennai on July 27, the eve of the inauguration of the Chess Olympiad.

Sponsor support

It’s also perhaps for the first time that a chess event and the Indian team have attracted so many corporate sponsors.

Tech Mahindra, which is creating a global chess league with FIDE, made the opening move, onboarded as digital sponsor at the Olympiad.

Workers preparing venue at Mamallapuram

Workers preparing venue at Mamallapuram | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ

The Indian team itself has three sponsors with the Tamil Nadu government shelling out ₹1 crore, Indorama ₹50 lakh and State Bank of India as much.

Tech Mahindra’s partnership on digital fan engagement is of great significance considering that in the last Olympiad, held two years ago, which was an online event due to the pandemic, nearly 70,000 Indians logged into chess.com to watch the finals and many more watched it on other websites.

For the Chennai Olympiad, Vishy Anand will work with Tech Mahindra, advising the corporate on next-generation chess tech and fan engagement. Tech Mahindra on its Fan Nxt.Now platform aims to provide hyper-personalised, data-driven fan experiences by leveraging artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technologies.

Says Jagdish Mitra, Chief Strategy Officer & Head of Growth, Tech Mahindra, “The partnership is central to Tech Mahindra’s NXT.NOWTM framework, which aims to enhance ‘human-centric experience’ focussed on leveraging cutting-edge technologies to deliver an enhanced experience and enable digital transformation.

In unison with AICF and FIDE, we hope to see this initiative further universalise the game and help encourage people from all walks of life to take part in this amazing sport of strategy and execution.”

High hopes

Meanwhile, ahead of the Olympiad, hopes are high as India’s A and B teams have a very strong line up in Nihal Sarin, R Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh D, Arjun Erigaisi, B Adhiban and Raunak Sadhwani.

Of these, teenagers Sarin, Praggnanandhaa and Erigaisi are ranked among the top 50 in the world.

As Lloyd Mathias, business strategist, and keen observer of sports, says, “The perfect trifecta of any sport’s success for a country is popularity, champion players; and strong commercial backing.

Indian Chess players Koneru Humpy, Tania Sachdev and Soumya Swaminathan to participate in the Olympiad

Indian Chess players Koneru Humpy, Tania Sachdev and Soumya Swaminathan to participate in the Olympiad | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Given that India has both a strong battery of grand masters, a sizeable following for the sport, and with the influx of sponsors and media attention — this bodes well for the future of chess in India and India becoming a chess superpower.”

Mathias thinks that with the Chess Olympiad now and the Indian Chess League (ICL) later in the year, India is taking the right steps to raise the profile and popularity of the game.

The ICL slated for September has a blitz and rapid format and Kolkata-based Gameplan Sports has won the exclusive rights to hold, organise, promote and market it.

The pieces are in place — now all hinges on execution.

With inputs from Narayanan V

Published on July 10, 2022
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