44th FIDE Chess Olympiad Inaugurated In Chennai, India

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The 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad was inaugurated on July 28 at the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai with fanfare, in the presence of Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, and MK Stalin, the chief minister of the state of Tamilnadu, the main initiator of the event The evening witnessed a march-past of the participating teams and was a spectacle of sound and music to behold.

A total of 187 teams in the open section will vie for the Hamilton-Russell Cup, and 162 teams in the women’s section for the Vera Menchik Cup, while the best combined results of a nation in both the sections will decide the winner of the Nona Gaprindashvili Trophy.

The 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad and Women’s Chess Olympiad are over-the-board team events. National chess federations compete in classical games for gold medals, trophies, and the title of strongest chess nation in the world. The event consists of an 11-round Swiss tournament; each player from a national team plays against another player from the opposing national team. Teams receive “game points” for winning or drawing games and “match points” for winning or drawing a match. Teams with the most match points for each section become the champions of their section, with a third award going for the team with the most points from both sections combined.


Participation – All Entered Minus One:

The open section of the Olympiad will feature a total of 187 teams, with the USA, India-1, and Norway as the top three seeds. The number of teams participating in the open section was lessened by one when Pakistan pulled out from the competition at the last minute, even after their team traveled all the way from Pakistan and reached Mahabalipuram itself. Earlier, a Facebook post by Amer Karim, captain of the team, had confirmed their arrival in India:

The Pakistan Chess Team at Amritsar Airport waiting for the flight to Chennai. Photo: Amer Karim/Facebook.

In a press release, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan criticized India for “[choosing] to politicize this prestigious international sporting event by passing the torch relay of this event through [Kashmir],” referring to the torch passing through Srinagar, the capital of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, on June 21. The spokesperson of the Indian External Affairs Ministry in return criticized Pakistan for “politicizing a prestigious international event.”

The territory of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between the two neighboring countries and cause for three major wars and several armed skirmishes in the past eight decades.

This last-minute pullout has also resulted in an awkward situation for the host, as India fielded its third team to balance the odd number of entries at the beginning of July, after the expiration of the final deadline of registration on June 27. After Pakistan’s withdrawal, the total number of entries has once again become an odd number, with the first round of the tournament scheduled for July 28.

The women’s section will feature a total of 162 teams, with India-1, Ukraine, and Georgia as the top three seeds.

All Roads Lead To Mahabalipuram:

As I drive from the city of Chennai to the historical city of Mahabalipuram (or “Mamallapuram” as it was anciently known) through the East Coast Road, which starts at the south-eastern edge of Chennai, the impressive preparations for the Olympiad are evident . Every hundred meters there is a policeman for security, to watch over the smooth flow of traffic—apparently a total of more than 4,000 police personnel are deputed at Mahabalipuram itself, as I later find from police officials present at the venue. There are several billboards and wall paintings along the way welcoming the participants and highlighting the event.

All roads lead to Mahabalipuram. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

In fact, the blitzkrieg of promoting the Olympiad has been in full swing in the city and elsewhere for months now. The most attractive of the spectacles has been the transformation of the iconic Napier Bridge of Chennai:

The location is featured mainly in the promotional song produced by the Tamilnadu Government, composed by Oscar Award winner and music composer ARRahman with appearances by many of the Indian players:

The mascot Thambi (a Tamil word meaning ‘”younger brother”) is a perpetual presence all over the city, with the slogan Namma Chennai, Namma Chess (‘This is our Chennai, our Chess’).

A promotional SpiceJet flight with the mascot and the slogan, giving a free ride for school children. Photo: Office of the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.

The Government Hand

How did the state of Tamilnadu manage to pull off this miracle of successfully preparing for the Olympiad in just four months? “Whatever we touched became gold!” gushed Bharat Singh Chauhan, the secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) at the initial press conference, crediting MK Stalin solely for bringing the event to Mahabalipuram. He had earlier confessed that the chief minister had approved the plan to host the Olympiad in Tamilnadu in just a day’s time, with GM Srinath Narayanan being instrumental in reaching the proposal to his office through bureaucrats of the state government.

The press conference in progress, with Judit Polgar, Sanjay Kapoor, Arkady Dvorkovich and Bharat Singh Chauhan at the podium: Photo: Madelene Belinki/FIDE.

GM Srinath Narayanan at the press conference. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.


Stalin approved an initial budget of about ten million US dollars (750,000,000 Indian rupees at that time, approximately) for the event, which has gone up to more than 13.3 million dollars (1,000,000,000 INR) by now, apart from the publicity expenditure by the government and the subsidy for traveling to Chennai provided to many of the teams by the FIDE and the organizers of the Olympiad, confessed Chauhan.

Mahabalipuram, situated at a distance of about 40 miles from Chennai, is a UNESCO heritage site with beaches and resorts. The state government blocked about 1800 rooms in the vicinity of the town to host the Olympiad, apart from notifying many of its staff from various departments, to organize the event. Thus, the volunteers and government staff formed a massive workforce for the Olympiad at the airport, hotels, and venue. Expectantly, it resulted in happy feedback from many of the participants when they actually arrived in Chennai:

The glittering inauguration function was held in the city of Chennai, attended by Tamil film stars, politicians, media, and other prominent citizens of the city.

The concluding part of the Inauguration Ceremony, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives the Olympiad Torch from Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Finally, the chess part

Leading up to the Olympiad, a rapid tournament was organized in the main hall of the event, in which a total of 1,414 participated, with all the games from 707 boards transmitted live, creating a record of a sort. The event was won by GM Vishnu Prasanna with a perfect score of 9/9, taking home the first prize of INR 5000,000, about $6,300.

Main tournament hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Chesskid.com conducted a pre-Olympic event with GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Akash Ganesan sharing their wisdom with selected youngsters.

The Favorites – Open Section:

After China—winners in 2014 and 2018—and Russia being non-starters, the USA takes the top billing in the open section, which features 187 teams from 185 federations, a new record for the event. The USA team consists of GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Levon Aronian, GM Wesley So, GM Leinier Dominguez, and GM Sam Shankland (Reserve), with an average Elo of 2771. The team is captained by IM John Donaldson. This will be the first Olympiad with Aronian representing the USA, after shifting from his home country Armenia.

The second-seeded India-1 consists of GM Pentala Harikrishna, GM Vidit Gujrathi, GM Arjun Erigaisi, GM Sunilduth Narayanan, and GM Krishnan Sasikiran with an average Elo of 2696. The team is captained by Srinath.

The India-1 team with support staff: (from lr: GMs Vaibhav Suri, Vidit, Narayanan, Arjun, Sasikiran, GM Sankalp Gupta, and Srinath. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Notably absent in the top two teams are GM Hikaru Nakamura (USA) and Anand (India). While Nakamura “did not want to play as a reserve,” Anand is interestingly scheduled to figure in the FIDE elections to be held during the Olympiad as a deputy president in the team of the current president, Arkady Dvorkovich, hoping “to be part of a brighter and better future for Chess” (Anand).

The most depleted team at the Olympiad will be France, who will miss the services of GM Alireza Firouzja, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Etienne Bacrot, and other grandmasters. Other absentees from various teams include GM Richard Rapport (Hungary), GM Taimur Radjabov (Azerbaijan), and GM Vasyl Ivanchuk (Ukraine).

The Favorites – Women’s Section:

The women’s section will be drastically affected by the non-participation of teams from China and Russia, as only four of the top 10 women players in the world will be seen in action. GM Koneru Humpy (India), GM Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine), GM Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), and GM Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine) will play for their respective teams.

India is the top-seeded team, represented by Humpy, GM Dronavalli Harika, IM R.Vaishali, IM Tania Sachdev, and IM Bhakti Kulkarni, with an average rating of 2486.

The India Women-1 team with support staff: (from LR GM Swayams Mishra, Vaishali, Kulkarni, Sachdev, Humpy, GM Shyam Sundar and GM Abhijit Kunte (captain). Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Ukraine are the second seeds, with Mariya Muzychuk, Anna Muzychuk, GM Anna Ushenina, IM Nataliya Buksa, and IM Lulija Osmak in their ranks, with an average rating of 2478.

The action starts on Friday at 15:00 local time. Stay tuned for daily reports of the action.

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