Why Tamil Nadu is producing high quality Chess players

  • Tamil Nadu is producing high quality chess players because an ecosystem for chess has been created, inspired by performances of Master M Aaron and Grandmaster V Anand plus a temple that has a historical association with chess. 

Today, Indian chess is at its strongest point ever, with as many as 85 Grand Masters hailing from India. What's more, if we look at the elite list of players having a FIDE rating of 2,700 +, there are a total of 36 such players across the world, and 5 of them are Indians! Dropping down the ranking list a little further, we find that the list of Top 100 players in the world - as per the May 2024 FIDE list - has as many as 9 Indians! 


Less than four decades ago, India didn't have a single Grand Master. Vishwanathan Anand was the first Grand Master from India, and he got the title in 1988. That was the start of India's chess revolution! India’s first International Master Manuel Aaron too was from Chennai. Aaron founded the Tal Chess Club (named after former world champion Mikhail Tal) in 1972 which paved the way for others. Source The Club operated out of the Russian Cultural Centre till about 1991.

Doing a further deep dive, we find that of the 85 Indian Grandmasters today, as many as 29 are from the state of Tamil Nadu.


In addition to Vishwanathan Anand, who is currently World no.11 despite being 54 years old, the list of top players from Tamil Nadu includes World no 6 D Gukesh, World no 8 Arjun Erigaisi and World no 14 R Praggnandhaa. Gukesh and Praggnandhaa are still only teenagers, and Erigaisi is just a little over 20. The future certainly looks very bright for Indian chess, and in particular, for chess players from Tamil Nadu!


It was for this reason that the 44th Chess Olympiad was held in Chennai. 


What makes Tamil Nadu the epicenter of chess in India?


The fact that 5-time world champion Vishwanathan Anand is from there certainly plays a huge role, because youngsters had a role model to look up to. 


Tamil Nadu has an old association with chess, some say 1500 years. Sathuranga Vallabhanathar Temple, located in Thirupoovanur, represents Tamil Nadu's historical connection to chess and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. 2


The state has very competent district and state chess federations. Schools have played a significant role too.


As was famously mentioned by the father of the Grandmaster sibling pair of R Praggnandhaa and R Vaishali, their school gave them the necessary study material, and they were exempted from homework so that they could focus on chess. 


Delving deeper into the role of schools, a mindboggling fact is that one single school in Chennai, Velammal Vidyalaya in Mogappair, has been nothing short of a chess factory and has produced no fewer than 15 Grandmasters!! The school has a strong chess tradition, and it encourages students to take part in tournaments regularly. It is a learning ground for chess, and parents are eager to enroll their children into the school so that they can consider making a career out of chess! Both Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa are from this school!


It is not only Velammal Vidyalaya that's taking chess to levels never seen before in Chennai. India's Chess Capital has over 60 chess academies, and that provides kids with opportunities that can't be found elsewhere. 


Chennai also boasts of coaches like GM R B Ramesh, who started the academy, Chess Gurukul. Praggnandhaa is one of several prominent students who studied under R B Ramesh.


Pravin Thipsay, Grandmaster from Maharashtra has been quoted as saying there were multiple tournaments across the state even in smaller cities like Coimbatore, Erode, and Salem. The first International Chess tournament in India was held in Trichy, Tamil Nadu in 1978. Source


As a chess coach myself (based out of Gurgaon) I teach the game to beginners, advanced beginners and intermediate level players. The online world has made it possible for me to have students all over India and even outside India.


Here is a real life experience on why Tamil Nadu kids excel in chess?


One of my Haryana based students is a very talented youngster. Before the age of seven he was a force to be reckoned with. He qualified for the National Under 7 tournament in 2023. I thought he would do very well in the tournament because he is sharp beyond belief. He did relatively well, but he didn't finish anywhere among the top few. When I discussed performance with his father, he told me that during the tournament he came across several players from Tamil Nadu who were not going to regular school - they were doing about 6 hours of chess coaching a day and were doing home-schooling for their regular subjects! 


I haven't come across something like this anywhere else in the country, and it goes a long way in explaining the meteoric rise of the game in the state!


Author    Akshay Hiremath - has been a chess enthusiast for years. He lived abroad during his childhood days and was chess champion in his middle school at the International School of Belgrade. He was a member of his college chess team that won the Delhi University Inter College Championship in 1993-94. He didn't play competitive chess for well over two decades during his corporate career, but after turning entrepreneur, he got back to his childhood passion. 


During Covid, he became a chess coach. It was planned as a short-term thing for him, but he started enjoying it so much that he is doing it full time now. He coaches beginners, advanced beginners and intermediate level students, and has taught well over 100 students - both in India and abroad - through one on one sessions.


Also read

1. Origin of Chess aka chaturanga

2. Tamil Nadu – The Chess Grandmaster factory of India

3. Gukesh D and the Rise of Indian Chess

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