The setting for the 44th Chess Olympiad, starting on July 28 at Mamallapuram near Chennai, serves as a fitting tribute to Tamil Nadu’s prowess as the ‘chess capital of India’, and Chennai, the ‘mecca of Indian chess‘. The south Indian state has produced the country’s largest share of international players, including the legendary world champion Vishwanathan Anand. The Olympiad is expected to further boost the State’s image as the numero uno destination for the chequered board game.

Here is the story of how Chennai bagged the Chess Olympiad hosting rights.

Of the country’s 74 Chess Grandmasters, 27 are from Tamil Nadu, including Anand; West Bengal is at a distant second with nine, followed by Delhi with seven. The State has produced seven women Grandmasters, including India’s first, S Vijayalakshmi.

Plaudits pour in

“Chennai, Where the Old Meets the New is the Mecca of Indian chess,” the International Chess Federation (FIDE) says on its website while introducing the host city for the Olympiad.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will inaugurate the championship, tweeted, “This is a special tournament and it is our honour that it is being held in India, that too in Tamil Nadu, which has a glorious association with chess.”

“The World Chess Olympiad is taking place in the birthplace of chess! It's a momentous occasion for India,” tweeted cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

Ancient moves

There are claims that chess, known as ‘Sathurangam’ in Tamil, could have originated in Tamil lands before spreading to other places around the world. The ancient ‘Sathuranga Vallabhanathar’ temple at Tiruvarur in southern Tamil Nadu is often cited as proof of the game’s local provenance. The name of the presiding deity, Sathuranga Vallabhanathar, means one who is an expert chess player.

According to legend, Lord Shiva was named so after he defeated the local king’s daughter Rajarajeshwari, an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi, in a game of chess and won her hand in marriage. Temple records show that the game was being played in the region nearly 1,500 years ago.

R Anantharam, one of the most experienced arbiters of Indian chess, believes that the presence of a large number of chess academies in Tamil Nadu, as also the proliferation of local tournaments have made Tamil Nadu a top producer of chess champions.

Agreeing with Anantharam, young Indian Grandmaster R Praggnanandhaa's coach RB Ramesh said that regular tournaments, the presence of numerous academies by former players, and an active district and State association are reasons for the growth of interest among youngsters in Tamil Nadu

Role models like Anand, Vijayalakshmi, Sasikiran, Adhiban, Sethuraman, Aarthie Ramaswamy, Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh spanning across decades, and the role of Tal Chess club all contributing factors to the State being numero uno in the game of Chess, said Ramesh, a Grandmaster himself.