The Grandmasters of Tamil Nadu

Chess and Tamil Nadu are inseparable with 26 of the country’s 74 Grandmasters coming from the State

July 28, 2022 10:21 pm | Updated July 29, 2022 02:05 pm IST

Manuel Aaron, the first Indian player to receive the title of International Master, attributes the State’s success to the “visionary presidents” of the State Associations.

Manuel Aaron, the first Indian player to receive the title of International Master, attributes the State’s success to the “visionary presidents” of the State Associations. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Chess and Tamil Nadu are inseparable. The evolution of organised chess in the State can be traced to April 26, 1947, when the Madras Chess Club was formed. The sport has since grown by leaps and bounds, keeping pace with the country’s advancement in other spheres of life.

While the first game of Chess Olympiad gets under way in Mamallapuram today (July 29), it is significant to note Tamil Nadu has produced 26 Grandmasters (GMs) out of a total of 74 in India. No other State has as many GMs.

| Video Credit: The Hindu

How is it that Tamil Nadu has been able to produce GMs almost every other year since 2006?

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India’s first International Master Manuel Aaron (87 years) puts it down to the “visionary presidents” of the State Associations since inception, who have run the sport with energy and enthusiasm.

“From the first president, T.A. Krishnamachari, to R.M. Seshadri to Kasturi Srinivasan (The Hindu, 1957-59) and to G. Narasimhan (The Hindu, 1959-66), chess has never been short of efficient administrators at the top,” he said.

According to Mr. Aaron, the growth of GMs is due to self-belief of the players and the good infrastructure the State always enjoyed. “There used to be a lot of tournaments, especially at the Chennapuri Andhra Maha Sabha (CAMS) [where the Madras Chess Club, now the Tamil Nadu State Chess Association, was formed],” he recollected.

But it was the rise of five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand that awakened the public consciousness of chess. “Even before Anand became a GM (in 1987), he was winning tournaments that aroused the interest in the sport. He was the Asian junior champion twice and won a lot of tournaments at the Tal Chess Club where he learnt the sport in his formative years,” explained Mr. Aaron, who is a former secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Chess Association.

V. Kameswaran, 79, India’s first International Arbiter, said the chess culture that prevailed in his playing days and after were the key reasons for the growth of the game. “There were regular tournaments at the Children’s Club, events conducted by AGORC, L&T and TVS Group. And there was the Ratnam Memorial Tournament. Chennai always had lots of tournaments, and there was the age-wise tournament at the IIT Madras in the 1970s. Once Anand became a GM, we were witness to more events,” he said. The support from State Association former presidents N. Mahalingam (Sakthi Group) and Venketrama Raja (Ramco Group) helped the sport in a big way.

The introduction of bicycles, mixer grinders and other attractive prizes for the winners in children’s tournaments gave a fillip. “In the 1990s, these events became more popular and it encouraged parents to put their son/daughter into chess. Now there are so many playing chess online,” he said.

Coach and India’s first International Arbiter V. Kameswaran with
Viswanathan Anand.

Coach and India’s first International Arbiter V. Kameswaran with Viswanathan Anand. | Photo Credit: S.S. KUMAR

GM B. Adhiban, the current member of the Indian team for the 44th Olympiad, predicts a brighter future for chess. “I am sure the Chennai Olympiad will be a huge thing. Lots of kids will watch it and there will be a renewed interest. The recent cash awards given by the Velammal Group to the Indian team for the 44th Olympiad will definitely be an added incentive,” he said.

The 29-year-old said there is not only good quality of players but an equal number of coaches available. “There is coach R.B. Ramesh who is producing a lot of quality players and my coach Visweswaran. Definitely coaching as a ‘profession’ is becoming viable,” he said.

Aarthie Ramesh, Woman Grandmaster, said that during her playing days in the 1990s “a tournament atmosphere always prevailed where we used to play sometimes with senior players.”

Al. Kasi, founder and coach of T. Nagar Chess Academy, who has been into coaching since the late 1980s, cited Anand’s genius as the reason for the current popularity of chess and the general support of schools across the State for the sport.

“Anand is the ‘God of Chess’. He’s been a huge inspiration. And many schools have encouraged or rather never discouraged children from taking up chess. Add to that lots of tournaments, and it was because of this that player such as Adhiban and Sethuraman came up,” said the 55-year-old.

Mr. Kasi suggests that a rating tournament for different categories of players with different Elo points will help players avoid going to Europe. “For example, there can be a tournament for players whose Elo rating is above 1800 and another one for those above 2400. That way, it will help Indians gain Elo points while playing at home,” he said.

At present, the cream of the Indian chess talent has been travelling abroad to play in tournaments. Chess continues to fascinate the younger generation as GMs 16-year-olds R. Praggnanandhaa and D. Gukesh keep the Tamil Nadu flag flying high.

Moreover, the presence of eight (men & women) players (excluding two coaches) from Tamil Nadu in the current Indian Olympiad squad shows the State is the undisputed leader in the country in producing top-class chess talent.

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