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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Chess returns to its origins in the 6th century with the Olympics in India

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Thanks to five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand, who is as famous in this country of 1.4 billion people as Rafa Nadal is in Spain, chess is now one of the most popular sports in India. This explains why the fifth largest city Chennai (11 million) has hosted in just four months what was planned in Moscow: an Olympiad and Congress of the International Federation (FIDE) that will bring together almost 3,000 of nearly 200 nations by August 9th. The absence of sanctioned Russia and restricted (due to Covid) China give Spain a chance for a medal.

“I can’t believe it. When I arrived four days ago, some of these pavilions didn’t exist yet,” several members of the organization commented to EL PAÍS. Minutes later, at the opening press conference, the director of the Olympiad, Bharat Sing, stated: Next to the “Thanks to the commitment and sacrifice of many people, the Tamil Nadu state government fell. The original budget was ten million dollars, but we will certainly spend much more.”

And what you see shows that he is not exaggerating. Thousands of billboards – some huge – are advertised throughout Chennai (formerly Madras) for the 44th Chess Olympiad, in stark contrast to the lack of publicity a month ago on the streets of Madrid during the Candidates Tournament. Anand, idolized across the country, will not play with the national team (seeded 2nd place) despite being one of the longest-lived elite chess players in history: ranked 12th in the world at 52. And he has a valid reason: he is the number two in the team that the President of FIDE, the Russian Arkady Dvorkovich, is most likely running for re-election. Anand made the penultimate relay of the Olympic torch to hand it over to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led a grand opening ceremony on Thursday.

Thanks to Anand, the big moment of rising popularity that chess is experiencing in much of the world was sparked in India three decades ago. Quite a few mothers and fathers change their job (or give it up) and their place of residence in order to promote their son or daughter’s great mental sporting talent as much as possible. This explains why half a dozen of the predictable chess stars within five years will be Indian. Even India B, seeded 11th out of 188 in the absolute Olympiad (150 women, Spain 13th), is a very scary team to anyone.

Viswanathan Anand, left, during his 2018 meeting in Chennai with child prodigy Rameshbau Praggnanandhaa, then 12, and his sister Vaishali, 17.ramesh

In theory, the gold goes to the United States, whose four starters are among the top fifteen in the world: Fabiano Caruana (Italian parents), Levón Aronian (born in Armenia), Wesley So (in the Philippines). and Leinier Domínguez (Cuba). And that’s missing Hikaru Nakamura (emigrated from Japan at the age of three), who prefers to focus on becoming like a millionaire Stromer being a lion’s tail, even if it means climbing to the top of the podium. World champion Magnus Carlsen, who has just announced he will not be defending his title in April 2023, will lead third-placed Norway but was absent from the opening.

In theory, too, Spain (4th place in the starting list) is the best team in history. But with some legitimate doubts. Paco Vallejo (39) has just returned to competition after being almost inactive during the pandemic. Alexei Shirov (50) is another impressive case of athletic longevity but with erratic performances. David Antón (27) has shown poor form in his recent tournaments. Eduardo Iturrizaga (32) divides his energy between chess and his recent fatherhood. Only up-and-coming Jaime Santos (26) seems to be at his best at the right moment.

Chess is not yet ready to eliminate women’s competitions: there is only one woman in the top 100 in the world, and only one in ten men plays. However, this Olympiad will break another important mark (in addition to attendance): 13 women across the 188 teams signed up for the absolute Olympiad, something unprecedented before the series exploded Queen’s move (Netflix). All the information collected in different countries over the past year shows that the increase in the number of practitioners is particularly noticeable among girls.

On the territory of present-day India, the oldest archaeological remains of chess are dated (around the 6th century), suggesting that its history is even older. Curiously, in Al Andalus, where the Arabs took it at the end of the VIII, many women played, as can be seen from the illustrations of the chess book written by Alfonso X. The wise, in 1283. But for centuries, chess has had a manhood label in most parts of the world Queen’s move alleviated the problem a bit. India is the top seed in women’s competition. Hungarian Judit Polgar, the only woman in history to have been in the top ten in the world and is now a commentator for Chess24, said in a morning press conference: “From what I’ve seen in the four days I’ve been here have, it’s going to be an Olympics to remember.”

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Source elpais.com

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