Chess Olympiad: Explaining why Chennai is called the 'Mecca of Chess'!

The clock is ticking for Chennai to savour a historical moment as the city is all set to host the 44th Chess Olympiad from July 28 to August 10. For the next two weeks, monumental Mahabalipuram will be the world for chessers from across the globe and while it is the first time for any Indian city to host this global prestigious event, chess is not new for Chennai. Besides its hardcore cricket fans, Chennai has been nurturing a rich culture of Chess, which has become an important factor why Chennai is more than just the host. 

Chess Olympiad for chessers is like Olympics for athletes and participating in this indoor festival would be crucial for every chess player from across and beyond the borders. In this 44th Chess Olympiad, Chennai would be hosting over 2000 players and 340 teams from 188 countries. The inaugural event of this season will be held on Thursday - July 28 in Chennai and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be taking part in it. As Chennai is just hours away to open the global show, let's take a look at why Chennai is called the 'Mecca of Chess' and its culture. 

Chennai - the Mecca of Chess 

Chennai is an Indian city with successful grandmasters and the city was the first to open India's account in the club of International Masters. In 1961, India's Manuel Aaron won the country's first International Master's title. Aaron grew up in Chennai. In 1988, Chennai-based Viswanathan Anand became the first Grandmaster from India, followed up by Subbaraman Vijayalakshmi, who became the first Indian to achieve the title of Woman Grandmaster in 2001 and Praggnanandhaa from Chennai, who is the second youngest Grandmaster in the world. 

Praggnanandhaa won this title in 2018 at the age of 12 and as the home of a league of grandmasters, the city has been regarded as the Mecca of Chess. Chennai is also been fondly called as India's chess capital and as per the data, Tamil Nadu had more than twelve thousand registered players and lakhs of unregistered players as of 2018. Tamil Nadu has been conducting over 200 chess tournaments every year and it is one of the very few Indian states that have more chess academies. 

Tamil Nadu is home to the finest chess champions. From the veteran Viswanathan Anand, who is the five-time world chess champion, to the young Praggnanandhaa, the state has no dearth in nurturing the chess culture. Chennai has also been preserving a long walk of life with chess as the game is popular in the city since the 1950s. Earlier, in an interview, Viswanathan Anand said that the culture of playing international chess existed in Chennai and that's because the city always had a wonderful group of volunteers who ran chess clubs. 

Notably, one of the first well-known chess clubs in Chennai was started by Manuel Aaron in 1972. Aaron was a hero of chess in India for two decades from the 1960s to the 1980s. Following that, Chennai had seen the birth of several clubs and the players were trained to give a tough contest to their global opponents. These clubs must be credited for producing several grandmasters. Anand said that this Chess olympiad would create a deep impact on young people's minds.

Speaking to DW, the All India Chess Federation (AICF)'s secretary, Bharat Singh Chauhan said that nearly a third of all emerging young chess talents in the country hail from Tamil Nadu. With such a huge density of chess players, Chennai has become a hotspot for chess events over the past decades. "When I was playing, tournaments would happen only in Tamil Nadu, and most of them in Chennai", Chauhan added. 

Chauhan further said that Chennai was picked as the host for this Chess Olympiad as the event would gain better visibility in a city that had a wider chess culture. As per the recent data, Tamil Nadu has more grandmasters in India, which would strongly imply how the root of chess has been spread across the state and how the sport is watered. According to the International Chess Federation, there are 73 Grandmasters, 125 International Masters, 18 Woman Grandmasters, and 42 Woman International Masters. Of the 73 Grandmasters, Tamil Nadu roughly shares nearly 40 per cent of the total Grandmasters in India.