From just 16 countries in 1927 to an expectancy of 160 countries at the 44th Chess Olympiad scheduled at Chennai come July, speaks volumes about the rising popularity of chess worldwide. The numbers also indicate the monumental effort required in hosting an event of this magnitude. The official Olympiad held in London in 1927 at Westminister Central Hall was then known as the ‘Tournament of Nations’ and cost the British Chess Federation 2000 pounds while for the Chennai Olympiad the financial guarantee was $10 million. Hungary had emerged Champion followed by Denmark and England while entries from USA and Poland were rejected for overstepping the deadline.
However, it was way back in 1851 that Howard Staunton had organized the first international tournament in London and had also come up with the idea of bringing together chess players from around the world into a united organization, holding organized events. The idea however could not gain momentum as traveling in those days by ship was a huge constraint, consuming more time than the event itself.
World Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded in Paris on July 20, 1924, where incidentally the 8th Sports Olympics was being played and the first attempt by FIDE to hold an organized event failed. The organizers did define Chess as a sport but demanded that only amateurs be allowed entry. To cut a long story short, the serious problem here was to draw a demarcation line between amateurs and professionals.
A second attempt followed at Budapest in 1926, during the 3rd FIDE Congress but delay in issuing invitations resulted in participation by only four countries, dubbing the event the ‘Little Olympiad’.
From 1927, the Olympiads were occasionally held annually and then at irregular intervals till the second World War. Since 1950, the Olympiads have been regular biennial events. The Women’s Olympiad made a late entry in 1957 at Emmen, the Netherlands as till then the number of women playing chess was very small. There were 21 teams in the fray and the erstwhile Soviet Union pipped Romania for the top place.
The format however remains the same as the London Olympics with four players allowed to participate in each round to represent their country. At stake are the three Team Medals, Individual medals, not to mention the pride and honor to represent your country. In 2018, the Olympiad at Batumi boasted 185 teams and for those statistically inclined, it remains to see whether Chennai would cross that figure.