Chess: Olympiad, Torch Relay and Canada

Amazing, is not it!

Are you wondering at what links “Olympiad”, “Torch Relay” and “Canada” to each other.

If your answer is “Chess”, you got it right.

India will hold the 44th Chess Olympiad at Chennai. Going by the past history, there was no Torch Relay  in any of the previous editions of the Chess Olympiad.

Since Chess is a sport of Indian origin, the 44th Chess Olympiad  has been chosen to commemorate this link by introducing something new and unique.  For the very first time, the International Chess Body, FIDE, has chosen the home of chess to make  this Olympic tradition  a part of its mega event. India will be thus the first-ever country to have the Chess Olympiad Torch Relay. Notably, taking the Indian roots of Chess to a greater height, this tradition of Torch Relay for the Chess Olympiad will henceforth always begin in India and travel across all continents before reaching the host country. 

The FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich will on June 19 (Sunday) hand over the torch to Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, who in turn will hand it over to Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. This torch will then be taken to 75 cities in a span of 40 days before the final culmination at Mahabalipuram near Chennai. At every location, chess grandmasters of the state will receive the torch. 

The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held in Chennai from July 28 to August 10. The prestigious competition, which has been organised since 1927, is being hosted in India for the first time and in Asia after 30 years. With 189 countries participating, this will be the largest participation in any Chess Olympiad.

As India gets ready for the Chess Olympiad, the sport has been travelling with the Indian diaspora to various parts of the world. Canada, for example, is witnessing a phenomenal growth and popularity.

Chess is seeing a boom in popularity and success at the highest level in India thanks, in part, to a new generation of young players inspiring kids to take up the game.

That’s having a ripple effect across the globe, including Canada.

Canadian media has picked up threads and highlighted the sport going viral in the Indo-Canadian community. CBC, for example, has played up a story on how Indian community in Calgary has taken to chess.

The report says that many Indo-Canadian parents in Calgary believe that learning chess can play a part in ensuring their kids’ academic success and providing a connection to their culture and history.

Chess has its origin in India and  was first played around the 8th century and spread around the world, changing and being adapted as it was embraced by other countries and cultures.

India now has more than 70 grandmasters. A 16-year-old boy, Rameshbabu (Pragg) Praggnanandhaa, became the youngest international master in the game’s history at just 10 years old before becoming a grandmaster himself. He recently defeated the highest ranked player in the world, Magnus Carlsen. It was big news in India and in the chess world.

Those who follow Chess may still remember the interest the world title match Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky generated some  five decades ago. On July 11,1972, On July 11th, the “Match of the Century” had begun. Whether it was a blunder, or a passion to win at all costs, the first game saw Fischer uncharacteristically lose a simple drawn endgame. Game 2 was awarded to Spassky by forfeit when Fischer failed to appear in a dispute over the presence of cameras in the playing hall.

After Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky had taken 2-0 lead, Fischer refused to play unless TV cameras were removed from the playing hall. Only a last minute agreement by Spassky to play away from the cameras permitted the third game to be held. This turned out to be a huge psychological mistake by Spassky. In game 3 Fischer beat Spassky for the first time in his life. The games then returned to the main stage, but without cameras. Winning again in games 5, 6, 8, and 10 the Fischer tactics had become unstoppable.

On September 3, 1972, Robert James Fischer became the 11th World Chess Champion. And that titanic battle made Chess a household name. Since then it has come a long way.

The CBC report  refers some young Indo=Canadians who have taken to Chess. Sshanaya Luthra is one of them. She is  only nine and keeps  her chess board at home. She took up the game six months ago. She says it has already started helping her with problem solving and math. 

The sport got a big boost in India again  after grandmaster Viswanathan Anand won the world champion title. Getting popular with overseas Indians, now cities India  have chess prodigies, CBC report quoting Swapna Bhagat Luthra, mother of Sshanaya, said.

She said that her daughter plays with her father at home and at a chess club in the city’s northeast. Calgary Chess Club has thus become a destination for many Indo Canadian kids who have taken to playing chess religiously.

The CBC report also mentioned another  Indian kid, Aaqil Alpuri, 12,  who spends hours practising chess on his laptop in his bedroom in Sunalta. He also plays at the Calgary Chess Club and in local and regional tournaments.

Alpuri says he wants to improve his ranking with the Canadian Chess Federation, maybe becoming a grandmaster himself one day.

According to the Calgary Chess Club around 20 per cent of its 200 members are from the South Asian community followed by a big Filipino contingent and other members from all sorts of different backgrounds.

Lars Lowther, President of Calgary Chess Club, says “We have a diverse crowd. And it’s not just about being a super genius. It’s more about controlling your emotions so you can process all the information in front of you when you’re playing, and I think there are real benefits in all problem-solving skills.

“There are all sorts of benefits that the South Asian community recognizes in the game,” concludes Lars Lowther.