Chennai, Chess, and India

Chennai, Chess, and India

Chess enthusiasts in the city of Chennai were in for a surprise as the geopolitical situations in Europe were untenable for any sporting events and this led the International Chess Federation to move the 44th Chess Olympiad from Moscow to Chennai.

Chennai is widely known as India’s hub of chess, and the state of Tamil Nadu rejoiced at the chance to host this prestigious event. With a promise of 1 billion rupees (€11.9 million, $13.1 million) budget, the Tamil Nadu state government announced that the event will be held in the historical town of Mahabalipuram located on the outskirts of Chennai, the state capital. Over 2,000 players from about 150 countries, including the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, will participate in the event that began on the 28th of July and will conclude on August 10th, 2022.

The entire nation has been abuzz with chess fever as the Olympic-style torch relay was conducted for the very first time. As the heavyweights land in Chennai and flex their muscles on the chessboard, the excitement is palpable.

Chess in Ancient India

Chess and India share a very old association. An early form of chess called Chaturanga originated in India in the 6th Century AD. Chaturanga was a four-player ancient strategy game that was very similar to modern chess. Even though there is some uncertainty, the common notion among Historians is that Chaturanga is the common ancestor of board games like chess, xiangqi, janggi, shogi, sittuyin and makruk.

Chaturanga was first played in the Gupta Empire in India around the 6th Century CE. Chaturanga then traveled to Persia, where it was adapted as Chatranj or Shatranj. There have been archaeological remains that have been found from the 2000-3000 BC from the Indus Valley Civilisation of pieces that resemble pieces on a modern-day chess board. According to Stewart Culin, Chaturanga was first described in the Hindu text Bhavishya Purana.

Chess in India Today

The popularity of chess in Chennai traces back to the 1950s, according to the well- known grandmaster and five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand. He stated in an interview – “The culture of playing international chess existed in Chennai even before I became a grandmaster. This is because Chennai always had a wonderful group of volunteers who used to run chess clubs”.

One of the first popular clubs in Chennai was started in 1972 by Manuel Aaron, who was a pioneer of chess in India from the 1960s to the 1980s. Similar chess clubs were formed in Chennai and throughout the state of Tamil Nadu. Today, the players from these clubs are Grandmasters and tough competition for the Russians.

In the past decade, Chess has picked up vicariously among young Indians. One can say that the pandemic certainly gave a boost to the popularity of chess. India has one of the fastest growing chess communities with a major fan base for some of the finest Indian Chess players such as Vishwanathan Anand, R Praggnanandhaa, Vidit Gujrathi, and Koneru Humpy.

Many Indians also connect the growth of chess in India with Vishwanathan Anand’s five-time World Champion title. Further, multiple online streaming platforms and live channels stream chess tournaments and provide a platform to discuss some famous games as well.

At CHESS KLUB we have monthly online tournaments where chess lovers from India and around the world compete against each other. Our tournaments have somewhat of a cult following as students from CHESS KLUB enjoy the chance to be pitted against some of the most avid players in the community.

As the games commence in Chennai, we wish all the players the best of luck and send the chess community in India a mighty high-five for hosting such a brilliant show for all of us.