Opening of the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad in Chennai, India

The 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad opened on July 28 at the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai with great fanfare, in the presence of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, and MK Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the main initiator of the event. The evening witnessed a march for the participating teams, and it consisted of an audio and musical show.

A total of 187 teams in the Open Division will compete for the Hamilton Russell Cup, and 162 teams in the Women’s Division will compete in the Vera Menchik Cup, while the nation’s best combined results in both divisions will determine the winner of the Nuna Gabrindashvili Cup.

The 44th FIFA Chess Olympiad and the Women’s Chess Olympiad are public events. National chess federations compete in classic games for gold medals, trophies, and the title of strongest chess nation in the world. The event consists of an 11-round Swiss championship; Each player from a national team plays against another player from the opposing national team. Teams receive Match Points for winning or drawing matches and Match Points for winning or drawing matches. The teams with the most match points in each division become the champions of their division, with a third prize awarded to the team with the most points from both divisions combined.

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The open section of the Olympics will feature a total of 187 teams, with USA, India -1 and Norway as the top three seed. The number of teams participating in the open division dropped by one team when Pakistan withdrew from the competition at the last minute, even after their team traveled all the way from Pakistan and reached Mahabalipuram itself. Earlier, Aamir Karim, the team leader, confirmed on Facebook, their arrival in India:

A Pakistani chess team at Amritsar Airport awaits the flight to Chennai. Photography: Amer Karim /Facebook.

In a press release, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized India for “[choosing] To politicize this prestigious international sporting event by passing the torch relay to this event [Kashmir]Referring to the passage of the torch through Srinagar, the capital of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, on June 21. An Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson in turn criticized Pakistan for “politicizing a prestigious international event”.

The Kashmir region has been a flashpoint between the two neighboring countries and has caused three major wars and many armed skirmishes in the past eight decades.

The last-minute withdrawal also left the hosts awkward, as India sent its third team to balance out the odd number of entries at the start of July, after the June 27 registration deadline expired. Withdrawing, the total number of entries is again singles out, with the first round of the tournament scheduled for July 28.

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

All roads lead to Mahabalipuram:

When I drive from Chennai to the historic city of Mahabalipuram (or “Mamallapuram” as it used to be) on the East Coast Road, which begins at the southeastern tip of Chennai, the preparations for the Olympics are remarkable. Every hundred meters there is a security policeman, to monitor the smooth flow of traffic – it appears that a total of more than 4,000 policemen are posted in Mahabalipuram itself, as I later found out from the police officials present at the place. There are many billboards and murals along the way to welcome the participants and highlight the event.

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

In fact, the blitzkrieg to promote the Olympics has been in full swing in the city and elsewhere for months. The most attractive sight was the transformation of Chennai’s famous Napier Bridge:

The site mainly appears in the promotional song produced by the Tamil Nadu government, composed by Academy Award winner and music composer AR Rahman with several Indian instrumentalists appearing:

mascot Thambe (Tamil word meaning “little brother”) is a constant presence throughout the city, with the motto Nama Chennai, Nama Chess (“This is our Chennai, our Chess”).

A promotional SpiceJet with mascot and logo and a free ride for school children. Photo: Office of the Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu.

government hand

How did Tamil Nadu achieve this miracle of successful preparation for the Olympics in just four months? “Everything we touched became gold!” Bharat Singh Chauhan, Secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) rushed to the initial press conference, crediting MK Stalin only for bringing the event to Mahabalipuram. He had earlier admitted that the Prime Minister had approved the plan to host the Olympics in Tamil Nadu in just a day, as GM Srinath Narayanan had been instrumental in getting the proposal to his office through bureaucrats in the state government.

The press conference continues, with Judit Polgar, Sanjay Kapoor, Arkady Dvorkovic and Bharat Singh Chauhan on the podium: Photo: Madeline Belinky/FIDE.

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

Stalin approved an initial budget of about US$10 million (INR 750,000,000 at the time) for the event, which rose to over $13.3 million (INR 1,000,000,000) so far, regardless of expenses Publicity by the government and travel subsidy to Chennai given to many teams by FIDE and Olympic organizers, Chauhan admitted.

About 40 miles from Chennai, Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO heritage site with beaches and resorts. The state government has blocked off about 1,800 rooms in the city’s periphery to host the Olympics, apart from notifying several of its employees from various departments, to organize the event. Thus, volunteers and government employees made up a huge workforce for the Olympics at the airport, hotel and venue. Predictably, this resulted in happy reactions from many of the participants when they actually arrived in Chennai:

The glittering opening ceremony was held in Chennai, attended by Tamil movie stars, politicians, media and other prominent citizens of the city.

Closing part of the opening ceremony, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives the Olympic flame from Pragnananda and Gokesh. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Finally, the chess part

In the run-up to the Olympics, a quick tournament was organized in the main hall of the event, in which a total of 1,414 took part, with all games transmitted from 707 live boards, creating a record of some kind. The event was won by General Motors Vishnu Prasana with a score of 9/9, taking the first prize of INR 5,000,000, which is about $6,300.

The main tournament hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE. conducted a pre-Olympic event featuring GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Akash Ganesan judging by a select group of youngsters.

Favorites – Open Section:

After China – winners in 2014 and 2018 – and Russia being a non-rookie, the USA ranked first in the Open Division, which features 187 teams from 185 leagues, a new record for the event. Team USA is made up of GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Levon Aronian, GM Wesley Sue, GM Linear Dominguez and GM Sam Shankland (reserve), with an average elo of 2,771. The team is led by M. John Donaldson. This will be the first Olympics in which Aronian has represented the United States, after moving from his native Armenia.

The second seed India consists of GM Pentala Harikrishna, GM Vidit Gujrathi, GM Arjun Erigaisi, GM Sunilduth Narayanan and GM Krishnan Sasikiran with an Elo average of 2,696. The team is led by Srinath.

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

Notably absent from the first and second teams are General Manager Hikaru Nakamura (USA) and Anand (India). While Nakamura “did not want to play as a reserve,” it is interesting that Anand is set to appear in the FIDE elections to be held during the Olympics as Vice President on the team of incumbent President, Arkady Dvorkovic, hoping “to be part of a brighter and better future for chess.” (Anand).

The most exhausted team at the Olympics will be France, which will miss the services of GM Alireza Firouzja, GM Maxime Vacher-Lagrave, GM Etienne Bacruet and other top leaders. Other absentees from various teams include GM Richard Roth (Hungary), GM Timur Rajpov (Azerbaijan), and GM Vasyl Ivanchuk (Ukraine).

Favorites – Women’s Section:

The women’s division will be greatly affected by the absence of teams from China and Russia, where only four of the world’s top 10 players will be seen. GM Konero Hampi (India), GM Maria Muzychuk (Ukraine), GM Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia) and General Manager Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine) will play with their 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.

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

Ukraine comes in second with Maria Mozychuk, Anna Mozychuk, GM Anna Ochinina, EM Natalia Buxa and Im Lolija Osmak in their ranks, with an average rating of 2,478.

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

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