Explained | Chess Olympiad: Origins of the event, rules & India’s rise to top seed and host


As India puts up a stellar performance at this year’s Chess Olympiad, a look at its journey through the years.

As India puts up a stellar performance at this year’s Chess Olympiad, a look at its journey through the years.

The story so far: India continues to shine on the ninth day of the 44th Chess Olympiad, despite the India 1 women’s team suffering a setback, losing to Poland. In the open category, India B has surpassed India—both are currently at rank 2 and rank 4 respectively. The top-seeded women’s team has now slipped to second place.

After Round 9, Uzbekistan leads the score table with 16 points, followed by India 2 (15), Armenia (also 15), India (14), and the Netherlands (also 14), as per FIDE’s official standings.

The 44th edition of the FIDE Chess Olympiad 2022 is currently being hosted by India for the first time. Kicking off on July 29, the event is being held at the Four Points by Sheraton Mamallapuram Resort and Convention Center in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and will end on August 10. With Russia and China not participating in the event, India with its large contingent of thirty players aim to back the event.

History of the Chess Olympiad

Founded in 1924 in Paris, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) organizes the biennial Chess Olympiad along with the host nation and several other sponsors. The first official event was hosted in 1927 by the United Kingdom in London, with Hungary taking the gold medal, followed by Denmark and England.

Since then, the event was mainly hosted by European countries until 1986 when the United Arab Emirates hosted the 27th edition in Dubai. Other Asian countries to host the event are the Philippines (1992) and China (2021 – virtual), apart from Eurasian countries like Turkey/Turkiye (2000), Azerbaijan (2016) and Russia (1956, 1994, 1998, 2010). While Russia was scheduled to host the 2022 edition, FIDE shifted the event to Chennai after Moscow invaded its neighbor Ukraine.

A view of the various country chess players participating on day one of the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad held at Mamallapuram near Chennai on July 29, 2022 | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

The Olympiad follows the 11-round Swiss format with two nations’ teams (four players and one reserve) competing against each other on four corresponding boards. With ninety minutes per game, players are allowed thirty minutes after move 40. Each team gets one game point per win, 0.5 game points per draw and zero points for a loss. At the end of the game, the team with the most game points is awarded two match points for winning, one for a draw and zero for a loss. The standings of playing nations are calculated as per match points and the top spot is crowned champion.

Comeback: Vishwanathan Anand, right, admitted to being

Comeback: Vishwanathan Anand, right, admitted to being “outplayed by R. Praggnanandhaa out of the opening,” before recovering and winning. | Photo Credit: Lennart Ootes

India’s performance in Chess Olympiads

The modern game of chess has evolved from the ancient Indian war game called ‘Chaturanga’ played in the 7 th century. Similar to the current game, different pieces in the ‘Chaturanga’ have different powers, and victory was based on the king. This game transformed into the ‘Shatranj’ which is popularly played in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and South-Central Asia since 600 AD.

A screen shot from Chaturangam - A Dance Depiction, released by the Pudukottai District Administration authorities for the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad.

A screen shot from Chaturangam – A Dance Depiction, released by the Pudukottai District Administration authorities for the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL EVENT

After gaining Independence from the British Raj, India first participated in the FIDE Chess Olympiad held at Moscow in 1956 and finished 27th. Since then, India has improved its game, winning bronze in 2014, gold in 2020, and bronze in 2021. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held virtually in 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, India and Russia were jointly crowned champions because the result of two games in the second finals match was affected by a net outage in Cloudflare servers. Both Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh lodged a complaint with FIDE regarding connectivity issues. In 2021, India lost to US – who went on to win the event – ​​settling for a bronze medal. Currently, India has 74 Grandmasters — the highest title awarded to a player by FIDE — of which many are under 20 years — and 125 international masters.

GM Harika Dronavalli from the India A team playing on day 5 of the 44th Chess Olympiad held at Mamallapuram on August 2, 2022.

GM Harika Dronavalli from the India A team playing on day 5 of the 44th Chess Olympiad held at Mamallapuram on August 2, 2022. | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

This year, India — which is hosting the event — is seeded second after the United States in the Open category. Led by Srinath Narayanan, the Open team A comprises Harikrishna Pentala, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, Erigaisi Arjun, SL Narayanan and Sasikiran Krishnan. Open team B comprises Nihal Sarin, Gukesh D, Adhiban B, Praggnanandhaa R and Sadwani R. The women’s team A – which is top-seeded— comprises of Koneru Humpy, Harika Dronavalli, Vaishali R, Tania Sachdev and Bhakti Kulkarni. Team B comprises Vantika A, Soumya S, Mary Ann Gomes, Padmini Rout and Divya Deshmukh. Abhijit Kunte is the captain of the India A team.

Being the hosts, India is allowed to field three teams in each category. The Open team C comprises Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Karthikeyan Murali, SP Sethuraman, Abhijeet Gupta and Abhimanyu Puranik and the women’s team C comprises Eesha Karavade, M Varshini Sahiti, Pratyusha Bodda, PV Nandhidhaa and Varsha Vasnawala. The teams are being mentored by five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand, who has decided against playing the event.

Indian chess grandmaster Praggnanandhaa plays on day 2 of the 44th Chess Olympiad held at Mamallapuram on Saturday.

Indian chess grandmaster Praggnanandhaa plays on day 2 of the 44th Chess Olympiad held at Mamallapuram on Saturday. | Photo Credit: Ravindran R

India’s elevation to host

FIDE was put in a quandary when the 2022 Chess Olympiad host – Russia – invaded Ukraine in February, putting the event in jeopardy. As FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich began searching for a new host, the All India Chess Federation (AICF) secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan told him that India was ‘open to organizing any chess event’. Within twenty-four hours, Mr. Chauhan confirmed that India would host the 44th th Chess Olympiad – bringing the event to Asia after thirty years.

File photo of digital Chess board on the player's tables at the 44th Chess Olympiad being held at Mamallapuram near Chennai

File photo of digital Chess board on the player’s tables at the 44th Chess Olympiad being held at Mamallapuram near Chennai | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Deploying 37 IAS officers, Tamil Nadu sanctioned Rs 92 crores for conducting the Olympiad and chose Mamallapuram – the coastal town with historical and archaeological value. Hall 2, which houses the highest number of boards, was erected in just forty days. The Olympiad mascot ‘Thambi’ was unveiled soon and days before the event, music director AR Rahman released the ‘Chess Anthem’ featuring Chennai’s Napier Bridge, decorated to resemble a chess board.

Game-ready Chennai's Napier Bridge painted like a chessboard ahead of the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad to be held in Mamallapuram near the city from July 28.

Game-ready Chennai’s Napier Bridge painted like a chessboard ahead of the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad to be held in Mamallapuram near the city from July 28. | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

Throwing open the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had praised the speed with which the DMK government worked to organize the event and reiterated Tamil Nadu’s historic connection to chess by invoking Lord Sathuranga Vallabhanathar – an incarnation of Lord Shiva who is thought to be an expert in chess. Mr. Stalin too highlighted that 36 per cent of Indian Grandmasters are from Tamil Nadu and hence Chennai was dubbed the ‘Chess capital of India’.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad seen holding the Chess Olympiad Torch along with Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin, and former Grand Master Vishwanathan Anand.  Also in the frame are R. Praggnanandhaa, S. Vijayalakshmi, D Gukesh - all Grand Masters at the opening ceremony of the Chess Olympiad held in Nehru Indoor Stadium, Chennai on July 28, 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad seen holding the Chess Olympiad Torch along with Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin, and former Grand Master Vishwanathan Anand. Also in the frame are R. Praggnanandhaa, S. Vijayalakshmi, D Gukesh – all Grand Masters at the opening ceremony of the Chess Olympiad held in Nehru Indoor Stadium, Chennai on July 28, 2022. | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam/ The Hindu

In all, 1400 players from across the globe representing 187 countries are competing on 700 boards at the Four Points by Sheraton Mamallapuram Resort and Convention Center in the temple town.

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