The Olympiad in Chennai

There is a first for everything and Chennai was a first for me in more than one way.

It was my first Olympiad where I wasn’t involved in the actual playing – in the past I was always either a player or a coach while this time I had a role that required completely different set of skills.

It was also my first Olympiad when I was “on the other side,” the side of the organisation, trying to make the event as smooth and problem-free for the participants.

These aspects mean that this post won’t have chess content, but it will offer a different view of a chess olympiad as seen from “inside,” plus a small glimpse of the India I saw.

My official role was Fair Play Officer and that meant that my main task was to prevent cheating. It quickly transpired that this will mean control of the entrance gates and players’ behaviour while the games were in progress.

I had a team of 10 (at the beginning – as the event progressed I was left with 7 as the others had to join the smaller, but busier hall 1) Fair Play Experts and a varying number of volunteers who I had to organise in order to handle the flood of approximately 1500 people entering hall 2 every single day.

Hall 2, with quite a few rows of boards behind the camera as well

After a few days the team got into a good routine and the work started to flow, as we were able to finish with the pre-game scanning before the start of the round, always a major success in any Olympiad!

During the rounds I was constantly summoned to solve various problems and situations, requiring me to exhibit quick thinking, common sense and the good will to make decisions that made the event memorable and enjoyable for the participants.

It was an extremely hard work, every day from 1.45pm until 9pm of continuous problem-solving, but I cannot say I didn’t like it. It was something new for me and, judging by the results, it seems I did quite a good job.

From the aspect of Fair Play the Olympiad went smoothly and here I will have to congratulate the whole Fair Play Team (hall 1 was a nightmare for a very long time and my colleagues Yuri and Klaus did a great job of handling the mess!). It is the nature of Fair Play that it works best when it is spoken of the least, but the old cliche of “without you, none of this would have been possible” is 100% applicable to the team’s efforts and accomplishments. So, well done ladies and gentlemen and thank you!

The Fair Play Team

Chennai was also my first visit to India. I wasn’t sure what to expect and often things work out for the best when there are no expectations.

Due to the demanding work I regret that I couldn’t see more of India outside the hotel, but what I saw was enough to mesmerise me. I made two trips, one to Chennai (the venue hotel where I was staying and where the Olympiad took place was some 50km away from the city) and one to the nearby Shore Temple and its surrounding.

I have been to many big cities in the world, but Chennai was something completely different. The contrast of lush vegetation, luxury hotels, delapidated houses and unattended litter was an attack on the senses.

So was the food, but this time in a very pleasing manner. The restaurant owner where we had lunch (the Maharaja Thali was excellent!) in Chennai turned out to be a classmate of Vishy Anand. And as classmates usually do, he rang him up and we had a video call with Anand himself during our lunch. I wonder what were the odds of that.

One of my “to do” tasks in India was to dip into the Indian Ocean. I managed to do just that at the Marina Beach.

I am smiling here, but in the next moment or two I was washed away by a big wave, the ocean making sure I got the full taste of it.

The visit to the Vishnu temple in Chennai made the deepest impression. I have always liked eastern philosophies and as it turned out we entered it while there was a procession in progress. No photos were allowed inside, so I can only share one from the entrance.

There were monks chanting mantras and a lot of people doing their rites.

What made the impression on me was the atmosphere inside. It was the feeling of peace and calm that overcame me, exactly the same one I have experienced in the churches I have visited elsewhere in the world. Some things in this world are universal and this is one of them.

India did a lot to promote the Olympiad and one of the starkest sights was the chess bridge.

An excellent spot to take a photo!

The visit to the Shore Temple and its surrounding was another type of visit.

The Shore Temple

An area where a lot of temples have been constructed (or cut in stone!) along the centuries gave the aura of the spiritual side of India.

For me, the most amazing feature was nature’s wonder called Krishna’s Butterball.

How could a 250-tonne boulder balance on a steep surface for centuries without rolling downwards was beyond me. There were people trying to push it, probably a common tradition that I didn’t dare follow. I had the strange sensation that I may be successful, thus bringing unnecessary reincarnations and devastation to everything that lay in its path.

Here’s the boulder from the other side:

The area around was full of temples carved in stones. Here’re a few:

I spent some time at the temple on top as it gave a stunning view of the surrounding.

With my back against it and looking towards the ocean one could sense the infinity of space.

I also saw the Five Rathas, one of the most popular tourist sites in India. I was already finishing the visit by that time as my time was running out – I had to be back for the game.

The organisers showered us with courtesy gifts and among them was a book on Tamil Nadu, the state where the Olympiad took place. There were more amazing temples in that book and at first I hoped I could visit some, but upon realising the distances from where I was I quickly abandoned the idea – India is huge!

Time flew fast and the Olympiad finished sooner than I realised. My flight was scheduled a day later than most of the participants, so I could walk around the venue the day after. The abandoned buildings could not yet take away the buzzing energy that was flowing around in the past weeks.

In the evening I left the hotel and soon enough I was on my way home.

Thank you India, it was a pleasure.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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