Chess 1
Five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand hands over the Olympiad torch to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin at the opening ceremony of the 44th Chess Olympiad, in Chennai on Thursday. Image Credit: ANI

Chennai: With a good mix of experienced elite players, debutants and promising prodigies, six Indian teams, comprising 30 players, are all set to begin their challenge at the 44th edition of the Chess Olympiad, which kick-started in Mamallapuram on Thursday.

The event was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Governor RN Ravi also attended the opening ceremony along with Union Sports minister Anurag Thakur.

The star-studded US team-led by World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana is numbers ahead in terms of average rating with Elo 2771 while India seeded second with Elo 2696.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s Team Norway is third seeded at Elo 2692 followed by Spain (Elo 2687), Poland (Elo 2683) and Azerbaijan (Elo 2680).

The Team India 2 boast of teenage prodigies Nihal Sarin, D Gukesh, R Praggnanandhaa, Raunak Sadhwani and also has 30-year-old B. Adhiban as the oldest player. It has caught the imagination and fancy of most enthusiasts, not just in India but abroad too. The average Elo of this team is 2649 but their ability to score over fancied opponents in the past six months place them as strong contenders for the medal.

Proven credentials

The top Indian team, comprising Vidit Gujrathi, Pentala Harikrishna, Arjun Erigaisi, SL Narayanan and Krishnan Saiskiran, has experience and strength combined. Arjun and Narayanan are making their debut. Arjun has been hovering tantalisingly close to the Elo 2700 mark and Narayanan exhibits an enviable positional and solid style. Harikrishna and Sasikiran are old warhorses with proven credentials while Vidit, too, has made a mark among the elites.

The women’s team with Koneru Humpy, D Harika, R Vaishali, Tania Sachdev and Bhakti Kulkarni are given top billing with an average Elo of 2487 and are firm favourites. Ukraine (2478) and Georgia (2475), on the other hand, are too close for comfort and India need good performances each day to gun for gold.

The other Indian teams, too, have the potential to notch upsets and with no pressure, they have the ability to snatch a medal.

Dancers perform during the inaugural ceremony of the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai on Thursday. Image Credit: AFP

Impressed with the craze and passion for chess in India, Hungarian Grandmaster Judit Polgar said the Chess Olympiad will be one of the best editions of the prestigious event and also lauded the efforts to organise it over a short period of time.

“I am very happy to be here in the Olympic Village. It is amazing to see the interest and passion of the people here. The enthusiasm in the organising committee is amazing. To get ready for this Olympiad in just four months is incredible,” the 45-year-old veteran said on Thursday.

“I have spoken to other people and see them appreciating the effort and I already feel from a distance that this Olympiad is going to be very special.”

Polgar is considered as the strongest female chess player of all time. She was speaking at the greet and meet session conducted by the All India Chess Federation (AICF).

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, AICF President Sanjay Kapoor and AICF Secretary and Olympiad Director Bharat Singh Chauhan also present at the occasion.

First time in India

India were handed hosting rights in April when FIDE decided to shift the event outside the original host country, Russia. And since then, AICF has been putting Herculean efforts, working round the clock, in preparation of this grand event, which is happening in India for the first-time ever.

“The biennial Olympiad is a celebration of chess, the event is aimed at unifying as per our motto ‘gens una sumus’ which is Latin for ‘we are one people’,” FIDE President Dvorkovich commented.

New era for chess in India

AICF President Kapoor further explained the challenges in the preparation of this event and added, “It is the biggest extravaganza ever held in India. Enjoy the show. I think this is going to usher in a new era for chess in India.”

The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held from July 28 to August 10 with registration of 187 countries, a world record in terms of the number of participating countries in a single edition of the Olympiad.

“It still feels like a dream but it’s true that we have managed to prepare for the Olympiad in just four months,” Olympiad Director Chauhan said.

He also acknowledged and thanked the Tamil Nadu government and the Central government for their help and support.