Everything you need to know about the 44th Chess Olympiad

It's like the Olympics—with a torch and everything.

Photo by Mark Livshitz via FIDE

Though chess is not an Olympic game, the biennial Chess Olympiad is one of the most important team events in the professional community.

The 2022 edition of the Chess Olympiad will take place in Chennai, India between July 29 and Aug. 9. Over 1,700 players participate in this team-based event across a record-high 188 national teams, featuring some of the strongest grandmasters in the world like Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Anish Giri, and many more.

With Russia and China absent from the tournament (the former nation banned for their role in the international atrocities in Ukraine and the latter withdrawing without citing a specific reason), the United States stands as the runaway favorites of the event, with nations like Norway and Poland now having an outside chance for a medal should everything go their way.

When and where is the Chess Olympiad, and how can you watch it?

The Chess Olympiad takes place in Chennai’s Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort and Convention Centre, starting on July 29 and ending on Aug. 9. The tournament features a Swiss system format and a classical time control of 90 minutes for the first 40 moves plus 30 more minutes after the first 40 moves, with a 30-second increment per move throughout. Draw offers are allowed at this tournament. The only rest day of the Olympiad is Aug. 4, which is a Tuesday.

Each matchup is a four-game match between the national teams, with one reserve player nominated alongside the four participants, who are ranked by their rating at the various boards. Players assigned to the same board number compete for individual medals, which are then awarded according to their performance rating. There is a women-only event and an open tournament—this one is traditionally referred to as the male event, but it is available for everyone.

Notable omissions scramble the field in Chennai

The absence of the Russian and Chinese national teams has inevitably weakened the field here, especially in light of how the Chinese team won both events back in 2018. It was the first time since 1986 that a nation managed to pull of such a feat, the last being the Soviet Union. It also marked a successful title defense in the women’s event for them.

This means players like Ding Liren, Wei Yi, Wang Hao and Yu Yangyi will be missing in action, much like how we also won’t get to see Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Andreikin, Sergey Karjakin, and more—in other words, both of the contenders in the upcoming world chess championship match after Carlsen’s abdication will miss out on the Olympiad. This makes India and Ukraine the runaway favorites for this year’s outing, while the open section’s main medal candidates are the U.S., Norway and India’s first team.

Beyond the teams, notable individual players are also missing in action in Chennai for a variety of reasons ranging from COVID to disagreements and flat-out war. Ukraine’s men’s team won’t be able to rely on the smarts of Vasyl Ivanchuk; the French team is decimated by the absence of Alireza Firouzja, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Étienne Bacrot, much like how the Hungarian squad lacks all of its past heavy hitters: no Lékó, no Polgár, no Almási either. The Azerbaijani team will also miss their star after Teimour Radjabov had to withdraw on account of COVID. The lack of a Vietnamese team at the tournament means Lê Quang Liêm also won’t be seen at the chessboards in Chennai.

This isn’t to say the event lacks star power, with a majority of the world’s top 10 playing part in the tournament and such a wide variety of nations represented in this colorful field.

United States dominates the discussion despite Nakamura’s absence

The U.S. team comes with a whopping 75-point rating gap over the second-placed India-1 team, making them the runaway favorites in the open section. There also seems to be better team chemistry from the 2018 winners than what’s sometimes been seen before, and a team of five players that are all above 2700 rating is not to be underestimated. Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez Perez, and Sam Shankland make for quite the lineup.

The impact of the international chess player wheeling-and-dealing will be greatly felt in Chennai as Aronian sits down to the board as a member of the U.S. team, depriving the Armenian team of their greatest asset, much like how Caruana left behind the Italian flag a couple of years ago.

Hikaru Nakamura, streamer extraordinaire declined to participate since he didn’t want to be a reserve player. In light of his performances at the Candidates Tournament, he would have definitely been a worthwhile member of this stream, but the financial incentives are obvious for the American.

Norway and India can dream big this year

Based on the rating charts, Norway and India are the biggest potential beneficiaries of the absence of the Russian and Chinese national teams. Ultimately, the hosts will have three separate teams participating in the open event to even out the number of entries, providing an opportunity for 25 different Indians to play in the event. Some would even consider the second Indian team stronger than the first one in the main event, even if the ELO numbers would suggest otherwise. Though former world champion Viswanathan Anand won’t participate in the event, he took on a mentorship role, which should also prove to be quite a substantial boost for the team.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian squad has a certain Magnus Carlsen on board one, who just happens to be the best chess player in the world—even if he will no longer be the world champion after giving up his title. Though this inevitably makes the team top-heavy, the rest of the Norwegian roster also consists of excellent players. With an average ELO rating of 2692, they are actually the third-highest-rated team at this year’s Olympiad behind the U.S. and India-1. Aryan Tari (2654), Jon Ludvig Hammer (2627), Johan-Sebastian Christiansen (2592), and Frode Olav Olsen Urkedal (2558) round out the list of players for them.