Pawn stars in the making

In what seemed to have come as bittersweet news for sports enthusiasts, the legendary chess grandmaster Viswanathan ‘Vishy’ Anand, who truly put India on the global chess map, has decided to stay away from the competitive action at 44th Chess Olympiad 2022 that is scheduled to be held at Mahabalipuram between July 28 – August 10. He will instead mentor the Indian team at the upcoming Olympiad. Vishy will also contest for the post of the deputy president at the FIDE (world chess body) elections. While the five-time world champion will be missed at the global event in the competitive arena, his thambi (or younger sibling) who has followed closely in Vishy’s footsteps and is a spitting image of the grandmaster’s on-board prowess, R Praggnanandhaa is bringing cheers with his stupendous performances in the lead-up to the Olympiad.

Although an integral part of the ‘B’ team in the Open section of the Olympiad, Pragg, as he is fondly referred to, has been consistently bringing his ‘A’ game to the table. The cynosure of all eyes, Praggnanandhaa would be keen to write his own success story at the Olympiad, the biggest-ever standalone sporting spectacle to be hosted in Tamil Nadu, which will see participation of top players from around 150 nations.

India, which has won three medals at the Olympiad, will host the event for the first time in history. The tournament which was originally slated to be held in Russia, was moved out of there, after the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The shifting of the venue was not only a boost for India, but for the host State Tamil Nadu as well. Interestingly, the official mascot of the Olympiad – which was recently unveiled by Chief Minister MK Stalin and officials from the All India Chess Federation (AICF) – is called ‘Thambi’. The State government greenlit the event at short notice which enabled the biennial tournament to make its way into these shores. At a press meet held in Chennai in March, it was revealed that CM Stalin had agreed to host the showpiece event after just a few minutes of discussion with AICF officials. The Tamil Nadu government has agreed to shell out close to Rs 100 crore for making the event a grand success.

These developments could herald a tectonic shift in the manner in which chess is accorded importance in the scheme of national sports, in the months and years to come. Earlier this month, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur had remarked that the Centre has spent close to Rs 2,600 crore on the Khelo India project for infrastructure development and other facilities. The Khelo Chess programme that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had intended to start, which was announced during the torch relay of the Olympiad in New Delhi, is being looked upon as one of the flagship initiatives to promote the game of intellect among the masses, through the creation of more sports academies and nurturing local talent.

Apart from the aforementioned activities, many stakeholders have also drawn attention to the sport’s low investment advantages. Thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence that has digitally incorporated the techniques of thousands of players across the world, the notion of developing a certain level of proficiency in the game is now possible even via a smartphone or a laptop. It goes without saying that the Chess Olympiad might just be the beginning of a board game blitzkrieg as far as India is concerned. The governments and sporting bodies in India might as well buckle up and prepare their champs to play on.

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