By Hugo Barcia
New Delhi, Aug 9 (EFE).- The biennial international Chess Olympiad, which drew 1,700 players from more than 190 countries, concluded on Tuesday after two weeks of thrilling battles in the chess capital of India.
Home to 27 of the world’s 75 grand masters including former world champion Viswanathan Anand, India hosted its first Olympiad this year.
The competition kicked off in Chennai on June 28.
One has to go back to 2013 to trace a similar fervor for the game of kings in the country when the south Indian city of Chennai had hosted the world championship expecting Anand to defend his title.
However, it marked the rise of Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who dethroned the Indian master and began a dominance that is set to end in 2023 as he has ruled out defending his title for the fifth time.
Nine years later, Chennai again became a hub for world chess, as the 64 checkered squares became a common sight across the city.
Its signature Napier bridge was colored black and white to mark the arrival of the world’s best chess players.
The chessboard pattern even adorned tables at the airport, walls of local cafes, and other corners for aficionados to enjoy a quick game.
However, the actual venue for the event was situated around 50 km south of Chennai in Mahabalipuram, in a quieter atmosphere.
“We are breathing-in the level, love and tradition of chess,” Spanish player Sabrina Vega, participating in her eighth Olympiad, told EFE.
Although the tournament witnessed great duels, some of the most surprising ones took place during the first week of the competition, when a group of divers played their games around 20 meters underwater in the sea.
The event was not originally planned to be held in India.
It was shifted after the original host, Russia, was subjected to a series of economic sanctions due to its invasion of Ukraine.
The All India Chess Federation decided to bid to become the new host despite running against time, with barely four months to organize an event that usually takes two years of preparation.
“There were a lot of challenges. We worked hard and combined everything with support from the Tamil Nadu government and the central government,” Bharat Singh, the tournament director and honorary secretary of the All India Chess Federation, told EFE.
It was easy for the organizers to choose Chennai as the venue due to the city’s thriving chess culture, said Singh.
“We expect that the number of chess players will double,” the official said, with several activities being held to popularize the sport on the sidelines of the main event, such as official tournaments, tutorials, and complimentary entry into stands for hundreds of schoolchildren.
It was the first tournament held with the physical participation of players since the 2018 Olympiad, organized in Georgia.
The Olympiads were held virtually in 2020 and 2021 by the International Chess Federation due to the pandemic.