A record budget and a nation’s grandiose sporting ambition are the driving forces behind the 180-nation Olympiad in Chennai, which approaches its closing rounds this weekend.

The state of Tamil Nadu and its chief minister, MK Stalin, originally approved a $10mn budget, which has since overrun by more than a third. That is much more than any other chess event in history has ever dreamt of. MK Stalin’s name is not a coincidence. He was born in 1953, and when Joseph Stalin died four days later the baby’s father decided on the name for his son.

When it became clear in February that Moscow could not continue as the Olympiad site, an Indian grandmaster found a way to bypass the state bureaucracy and make the proposal, which was approved in just a day, direct to the minister. The Olympiad is labour and tech intensive, with 1,500 players, large teams of arbiters and support staff, and special boards to relay live coverage of every game to chess websites. Play begins 10.30am BST daily, and is free to watch on chess24.com, with commentary by GMs Peter Leko and Peter Svidler.

India is seeded second to the US in the open event, and top seeded among the women. The team to watch is India 2, led by the 16-year-olds Dommaraju Gukesh and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, both a year or two away from the world top. Norway v India 2, when Gukesh plays Magnus Carlsen for the first time, would be the iconic matchup of the entire Olympiad, but Norway’s third round loss to Italy makes the pairing less likely.

Hundreds of children from all over India are being provided with free food, travel and accommodation every day to visit the Olympiad and to talk to the legendary former world champion Vishy Anand.

Chess is already a major Indian sport, and with the stimulus from Chennai it could take off further as it did in Russia in the 1930s.

The early rounds gave a hint that a still more spectacular success might be possible for the host nation. The United States team of elite GMs, and even its leader the former world No2 Fabiano Caruana, have looked unusually tentative in the opening rounds, dropping several half points to the relative minnows of Paraguay and Georgia.

Worse followed for the Americans in Monday’s fourth round, when the US were lucky to escape with a 2-2 draw against Uzbekistan, whose rising star Nodirbek Abdusattorov, 17, defeated Caruana in a dramatic endgame.

India v US and India 2 v US could be game changer matches to elevate India to the level of the three existing chess superpowers, of whom Russia and China are absent from Chennai.

England were one of 20 teams with three match wins out of three, but from round five onwards they can expect to be paired with the medal contenders. Whether the England players can improve on their No10 seeding and reach their target of the top six will only be decided in the final rounds next Monday and Tuesday.

As a sad postscript, the Pakistan teams, having travelled to Chennai, were then withdrawn by their sports organisation as a protest because, a month earlier, the Olympiad torch relay had visited Kashmir.


Sam Shankland (US) v Domingos Junior (Angola), Chennai Olympiad 2022. White to play and win.

After White’s next turn, Black resigned. What was the move, and why did Black give up?

Click here for solution

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article