Mamallapuram's tryst with chess

The sport's showpiece event is being held for the first time ever in India and people in the city of Chennai and Mamallapuram seem to have lapped it up big-time and the buzz it has created across Tamil Nadu is unmistakable.
Screengrab from Chess Olympiad animation video
Screengrab from Chess Olympiad animation video

MAMALLAPURAM: The hoary town of Mamallapuram was in the spotlight three years ago when Chinese President Xi Jinping met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is back in the news again as it gears up to host the 44th chess Olympiad from July 28.

The sport's showpiece event is being held for the first time ever in India and people in the city of Chennai and Mamallapuram seem to have lapped it up big-time and the buzz it has created across Tamil Nadu is unmistakable.

The Olympiad's mascot 'Thambi' (the knight in white veshti) can be seen at several places while the Tamil Nadu government is leaving no stone unturned in its effort to promote the event for which it is the major sponsor.

For those in Mamallapuram, it is an opportunity for the world to take notice of the seaside town. Known for its sculptures and the shore temple, people in the town are basking in the glory as some of the best minds and biggest players have landed to take part in the battle of wits.

According to G Mohan, a resident of Mamallapuram, "it is really wonderful that such a mega event has come to the town. It is not often that Mamallapuram hits the headlines. However, the Olympiad has meant that our place is on the lips of so many people. Though I don't follow chess, I am aware of Viswanathan Anand and his achievements. I hope the India teams win medals in our place and make it more famous."

India, which will be fielding three teams each in the Open and women's sections would be the cynosure of all eyes and expected to win. However, for ardent chess fans, it is an opportunity to watch top players like Magnus Carlsen, the world No.1, Americans - Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian - and Poland's Jan-Kryztof Duda, to name a few.

G Subramanian, a marketing executive in Chennai, is excited about the event happening near the city and is planning to go to the venue as a spectator.

"I am excited and happy that an event like the Olympiad is happening in our own State. I am planning to go to the venue on one of the days and watch the action. My 12-year-old son is even more thrilled and has been asking me to take him to watch (Magnus) Carlsen, the world champion," he added.

A record 188 teams in the Open section and 162 in the women's are set to participate in the Olympiad. The sheer volume of matches to be played and the personnel needed to oversee things make the event appear to be a momentous one.

Indian chess legend Viswanathan Anand said the Tamil Nadu government and the All-India Chess Federation have done a great job of organising an event of such a magnitude at short notice.

Screengrab from Chess Olympiad animation video
Didn't think of changing my mind on not playing Olympiad: Anand

The five-time world champion felt the Olympiad would have a huge impact on the popularity of the sport in the State and said it was nice to see the wonderful response to the tournament.

Meanwhile, in Mamallapuram itself, which is coming to terms with things after the COVID-19 pandemic played spoilsport in the town which relies a lot on tourism, there is a lot of enthusiasm about chess' marquee event.

While the handicrafts industry is expecting to bounce back after the lows of the last nearly two years, the hospitality sector too is betting big on the Olympiad.

As many as 1,800 rooms in nearby five-star hotels and another 650 in four-star properties have been blocked for the event, sources said.

That apart, the sculpting industry is hoping for good business from the international and domestic chess fraternity.

Those involved with the conduct of the Olympiad swung into action as soon as the event was allotted to the city and have ensured that no stone is left unturned to ensure everything is in place before the players get started at 3 PM on July 29.

According to veteran arbiter R Anantharaman, the venue in-charge, "It takes a long time to prepare for such a huge event, but we have managed it in some four months. With 99.5 per cent of the work completed, we hope to make it a grand success."

Around 250 arbiters will be involved in the conduct of the tournament apart from the number of officials involved in technical and administrative work, he added.

Prime Minister Modi will inaugurate the Olympiad at the Nehru Indoor stadium in Chennai on Thursday in the presence of Chief Minister M K Stalin and others.

Matches at the Olympiad will begin on July 29 and go on till August 9.

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