Inside Events: Chess Olympiad | Sports Destination Management

Inside Events: Chess Olympiad

Aug 26, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with David Llada, FIDE’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

The Chess Olympiad is a biennial chess tournament in which teams of four players representing nations of the world compete.

The first Chess Olympiads, known as "unofficial" tournaments, started during the 1924 Summer Olympic in Paris, when an attempt was made to include chess as part of the games. This failed because of problem in making a distinguishment between amateur and professional players; while some players were seasoned professionals, others were purely amateur.


Logo for Chess OlympiadThe International Chess Federation (FIDE, by its French acronym) was founded on Sunday, July 20, 1924, the closing day of the 1st unofficial Chess Olympiad. FIDE organized the first Official Olympiad in 1927; this event took place in London. The Olympiads were occasionally held annually and at irregular intervals until World War II; since 1950 they have been held regularly every two years.

The first  Women's Chess Olympiad were played in 1957 in Emmen, Netherlands. Like the "open" competition, it consists of teams of four players.

Sports Destination Management: You just wrapped up the 2022 Chess Olympiad in Chennai, India. When is the event typically held?


FIDE Chess Olympiad
Image courtesy of Stev Bonhage/FIDE

David Llada: It takes place every two years, usually in August.


SDM: Is this an online event, a live event or a hybrid of both?


Llada: It is a live event, or as we call it, "over the board". However, during the pandemic, FIDE held two editions of this competition online (2020 and 2021). Those were highly successful, despite the difficulties of arranging games for teams located in different time zones.


SDM: Have you observed any trends in participation over the years? In other words, has the popularity of chess caused any higher or lower numbers?


Llada: In the Olympiads, countries are represented by their four best players (plus the four best women in the women's competition), so the popularity of chess doesn't really make an impact in the number of players.


Chess Olympiad
Image courtesy of Stev Bonhage/FIDE

However, in recent years, some small countries have created new national chess federations. As a result, the Olympiad in Chennai is the largest one by the number of participating countries, with 188 teams, despite the absence of Russia, Belarus (sanctioned), and China (logistic problems related to the pandemic).


SDM: Do you attribute participation trends to any one thing? (The U.S. Chess Federation once remarked that they thought the NetFlix show, The Queen’s Gambit, was contributing to more people taking up chess or becoming interested in chess).


Llada: We are experiencing a global chess boom. Its popularity  already experienced a huge increase starting in 2019 thanks to platforms like Twitch, to which chess adapts perfectly. At times, chess was as popular as Fortnite!


SDM: How did the pandemic affect the sport?


Chess Olympiad
Image courtesy of Lennart/FIDE

Llada: Many people found in chess a good way to stay active and sharp. Literally, millions of new people learned how to play, retook chess as a pastime, or they took the chance to teach their kids how to play. When the Queen's Gambit came out, in November 2022, chess was already a global trend, and obviously, the series made it even more massive. It created the perfect storm!


SDM: What are the demographics of those who participate (more men, more women, equal mix, do youth participate, etc.)?


Llada: In the Olympiad, the number of teams in the two competitions is comparable: 188 teams in the open competition, 162 in the women's. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, have sent a women's team to participate in the Olympiads for the very first time, which is very positive news.


Chess doesn't have "men" and "women" categories: there is an "open" competition, where both men and women can compete, and then there is also a competition exclusively for women. Some women are part of their national team in the open competition. There is a total of 13 women competing in the open.


Chess Olympiad
Image courtesy of Stev Bonhage/FIDE

SDM: How does FIDE choose locations for the Chess Olympiad? What factors go into the decision-making?


Llada: There is a bidding procedure. The Olympiad is a global event with a budget of more than $15 million, so bidders for such an ambitious project are not numerous, but for every edition, there are usually three to four competing bidders willing to host it. The next one will take place in Budapest in 1924.


SDM:  How interested locations can submit a bid for an event or get involved?


Llada: A bidding procedure is announced by FIDE four years in advance. Uzbekistan will host the Chess Olympiad 2026. The bidding process was announced in March 2022.


Chess Olympiad
Image courtesy of Lennart/FIDE

SDM: What do you think makes the Chess Olympiad so unique?


Llada: The Chess Olympiad is the third largest sports competition in the world by the number of participants. You can consider it a massive chess and cultural festival. Not every day one has the chance to be under the same roof with intelligent people from virtually every country in the world! That is an amazing experience for everyone involved. People of all ages, cultures, and languages gather for two weeks, and it is really colorful and interesting. 

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