When India played its first Chess Olympiad - a slice of history from 1956

Team tournaments are better than UNO meetings, where heated arguments may arise, but here in these congresses there is nothing but "intimate conversation without a word spoken and thrilling activity in quiescence"

The Indian team for the #ChessOlympiad at Moscow in August 1956. Members: Ramdas (U.P.), B.P. Mhalskar (Sangli), S. Venkataraman (Madras) and R.B. Sapre (Bombay). (Published in Sport And Pastime on September 01, 1956)

The Indian team for the #ChessOlympiad at Moscow in August 1956. Members: Ramdas (U.P.), B.P. Mhalskar (Sangli), S. Venkataraman (Madras) and R.B. Sapre (Bombay). (Published in Sport And Pastime on September 01, 1956) | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Team tournaments are better than UNO meetings, where heated arguments may arise, but here in these congresses there is nothing but "intimate conversation without a word spoken and thrilling activity in quiescence"

Of all the chess congregations, the International team tournament or the "Chess Olympiad" is the most unique. Unlike invitation tournaments which are generally confined only to about 20 players at the most, the team tournaments organised by the International Chess Federation ( Federation Internationale des Echecs—FIDE for short) is open to all member countries of whatever chess strength and are held every alternate year. Each member country is entitled to send 6 players (4 players and 2 reserves) and one manager or a non-playing Captain and, as over 20 countries take part, there will be about 120 players sitting before the chess boards.

In view of the special nature of this year's Olympiad at Moscow this month owing to the participation of India for the first time, a resume of the past Olympiads cannot but be appropriate. The first team tournament was held in London in 1927 under the auspices of the British Chess Federation and inspired by Hon. Hamilton Russell, M.P., who donated a big trophy for the purpose. It had a small origin with about a dozen countries only participating and even then, not with the beet talents available. However, as a beginning it was quite a success and as years advanced and with the growing strength of the FIDE as a representative world chess organisation, the competition began to attract more and more countries. In the last Olympiad at Amsterdam in 1954 no less than 26 countries took part; for this year's tournament at least two more are expected to join making the total number 28. The following is a brief summary of the events after the first Congress of 1927, giving the year, venue, name of the winning country and, within brackets, the number of countries that took part:

1928: Hague: Hungary (17) 1930: Hamburg: Poland (18). 1931: Prague: U.S.A. (18) 1933: Folkestone: U.S.A (15) 1935: Warsaw: U.S.A. (20). 1937: Stockholm: U.S.A. (19). 1939: Buenos Aires: Germany (16). (Then followed a long interval owing to World War II). 1950: Dubrovnik: Jugoslavia (16). 1952: Helsinki: U.SS.R. (25) and 1954: Amsterdam: U.S.S.R. (26).

It may be seen that U.S.A. had captured the trophy on four consecutive occasions. Till 1952, however, the U.S.S.R. did not take part although it was well known that this country had many front rank Masters. Had they taken part between the years 1935-39, they,(with Botwinnik, Alatorzeff, Ragozin, Levenfish, Kan Kotov and others to choose from) would have proved a strong candidate for chief honours.

As a method of fostering international goodwill and friendship these team tournaments are unrivalled. Unlike other sporting events which are played mainly on the knock-out system, chess tournaments are played on the league system where every player meets every other player for 3 to 5 hours or more. As the duration of the tournament is also long—nearly 3 to 4 weeks—there are many good opportunities for players to come into contact with one another, exchange ideas, renew old friendships or make new ones and return home with a better understanding of other countries.

In these respects it is better than UNO meetings, where heated arguments may arise, but here in these congresses there is nothing but "intimate conversation without a word spoken and thrilling activity in quiescence". No wonder, therefore, that no chess event stimulates the imagination of chess players and is looked forward to with pleasure and hope as much as these International team tournaments.

Apart from the above advantages these tournaments serve the purpose of bringing into the limelight many promising players until then more or less unknown, for example, Hamburg and Prague showed Kashdan (USA) and Sultan Khan (India), Warsaw revealed Paul Keres (Ejthonia). Stockholm saw Najdorf (Poland) and Zabo (Hungary) and Dubrovink gave W. Unzicker (West Germany). It may be noted that complete boarding and lodging and other expenses of the teams are borne by the country playing the host.

In addition, the host country pays the travelling expenses of the teams coming from outside Europe or from a great distance. In 1939, for instance, when the tournament was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina chartered a special steamer for taking the European teams; also small countries (from the point of view of size) like Holland and Finland vie with one another in playing the host—such is the popularity of the game in the West- It is to be hoped that the Indian participation in the event this year will stimulate the development of the game in our country, which gave this Queen of games to the world, and, where alas, the game is in a neglected state at present.

This piece was first published in Sport And Pastime on September 01, 1956, written by team member S. Venkataraman.

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