“As much as the event is about chess, it is also about Chennai," a young mother Anushri says gleefully when asked about her native city hosting the 44th Chess Olympiad.
"The people who live in this city are not just the ones who were born and brought up here. We have people from across the country, and in fact, the world who have found home in Chennai. And together, we have created our own identities as Chennaiites – and we love to flaunt it," she goes on.
This sense of pride for Chennai among locals – and those who've made the city their home – is currently thriving.
An Asian country is hosting the 44th Chess Olympiad nearly after three decades, and India for the very first time. But the mood in Chennai has been nothing short of a festival.
"It gives me an unexplainable sense of joy and pride that Chennai is hosting the Chess Olympiad for the first time in India. I used to play chess during my school days, but I never got to pursue it professionally. Now, I am hopeful that the sport will get more recognition in the coming years."Vishnu, a software engineer
And Why Not, Ask the Locals
The publicity campaign for the Chess Olympiad has been unprecedented.
The official mascot for the event has been named 'Thambi' (meaning 'little brother' in Tamil), a horse clad in the traditional veshti and sattai (dhoti and shirt).
AR Rahman has composed the official anthem of the Olympiad titled 'Vanakkam Chennai,' the teaser of which was released by superstar Rajinikanth himself.
Chennai's public transport buses with the message 'Namma Chess, Namma Pride' (Our Chess, Our Pride) have been doing rounds on the streets of the city.
A holiday for schools and colleges was announced on 28 July on the day of the inauguration.
SpiceJet in association with the government of Tamil Nadu unveiled a special livery on its aircraft to mark the opening ceremony of the 44th Chess Olympiad. Around 150 government schools students from across the State were taken on a special joy ride on B737 aircraft.
And the 150-year-old iconic Napier Bridge has got a chess-themed makeover as it has been painted entirely in black-and-white squares.
"This new look to our Napier Bridge is the cherry on the top. I took my toddlers – and I could see the excitement in their eyes,” says Anushri.
The widespread promotions have helped creating an unprecedented awareness, too.
“Chennai is the undisputed chess capital in India. We have our genius Viswanathan Anand and soon after his arrival, so many young grandmasters emerged. This initiative not only creates awareness but also gives more reasons to come together as a community to celebrate and appreciate the sport.”35-year-old Joel
The chess fever is so high that shopkeepers are unable to keep up with the demand for chess boards. A class 11 student Amal says,” I love to play chess. We had a tournament in our school earlier this week, but I couldn't participate. But now I can't wait to participate the next time.”
The craze for Chess in Chennai went up to a whole new level, to be precise, 60 feet under the sea. A team of six players who are trained scuba divers played the game of chess under water just a few km away from the competition in Mamallapuram to show their love for the city and the sport.
SB Aravind Tharunsri, the founder of Temple Adventures diving centres in Neelankarai and Puducherry dressed as the 44th Chess Olympiad mascot Thambi and organized this one a kind initiative on 31 July. The team used specially designed heavy coins as chess pieces to stay under the water. The chess boards weigh 10 kilograms each and have iron attached to the base. As per the latest reports, Director Vignesh Shivan had congratulated the team and promised to publish their behind the scenes video during the finale.
Praggnanandhaa, who made history in 2016 by becoming the youngest international grandmaster, told the Hindu, “The kind of promotions and effort to make it a grand event is special. It feels like a festival."
Around 2,000 players from 188 countries are participating in the Chess Olympiad in Chennai. World-class players, including Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Mariya Muzychuk are staying at Poonjeri village in Mamallapuram, also known as Mahabalipuram – a UNESCO heritage site, located about 50 kilometres from Chennai.
The Chess Olympiad 2022 is being held at the Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort and Convention Centre in Mahabalipuram.