In 2020 chess was affected by the pandemic like any other sport, with tournaments postponed or cancelled and clubs temporarily closed. Yet the nature of chess helped players, fans, and enthusiasts of the game to stay active and involved during this crisis, whereas online chess got an unprecedented boost.
In May 2020, FIDE launched a massive online project, Checkmate Coronavirus, a marathon of 720 non-stop hours and 2,762 tournaments played by 120,000 unique participants from at least 140 countries. The aftermath of the project is no less exciting than the chess battles in its tournaments. Winners of the event received mini-matches and master classes with top GMs, 800 souvenir prizes with FIDE Checkmate Coronavirus memorabilia. The main prize winners were invited to the Chess Olympiad 2022. 6-nights trip to Chennai with paid air tickets, full board and a chance to meet the greatest chess players of our times were awarded to the chess amateurs representing Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Greece, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden and Thailand. Very soon, they will go to Chennai to enjoy the mecca of Indian chess, and to attend the FIDE flagship event with 187 open and 162 women teams participating.
We have received many stories from the main prize winners, some of them are heart-warming.
44-year-old Nicolas Noel is from France but lives in Thailand. He started playing chess for fun in the 2000s in France with friends, never in a club, and played his first classical FIDE-rated tournament in Bangkok in 2012. During the pandemic, he played online a lot on many platforms. He played in hundreds of Checkmate Coronavirus tournaments! Still, he was very surprised to realize he had won a trip to the Chess Olympiad. "I checked your Facebook page and could not believe my eyes. I nearly dropped my coffee mug!" he says.
"I mainly want to enjoy the Chess Olympiad and play as many side events as possible. If there's some free time between chess games, I will be glad to enjoy a walk in the city. I'm a very basic tourist and like to enjoy cities by myself. Not much a big fan of touristic attractions."
Elshad Abdullayev is 30; he lives in Baku, Azerbaijan. He started to learn chess when he was ten years old. Now he is a chess coach and an International Arbiter. Elshad has profiles on Chess.com, Lichess, Chess24. He played around 15 tournaments and got two tickets without even knowing about it. He never could imagine that he could win the first prize. "I saw publication on FB profile of Emil Sutovsky, he said, that we have winners from Algeria, Azerbaijan and..... and I got curious. Who was the winner from Azerbaijan? I found the Checkmate Coronavirus page and saw my name there. First I didn't believe that it could be me! I am very happy. And I am already waiting for this Olympiad!"
Alan Borda is 35 and from the city of El Alto, Bolivia. Alan has played chess since he was 14 and participated in several international tournaments representing Bolivia. In 2010 Alan took part with the Bolivian team in the World Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansysk, Russia. "I usually played online every once in a while, but since I saw the news of the FIDE Checkmate Coronavirus program, I played a lot more", - he says. Alan was watching the broadcast of the draw in the living room of his house. "I was absent for a moment, and when I returned to the room, they were just saying my nick YODITA, and I was very happy because I thought I had won the mini-match with a top GM, but a few minutes later, I went to the FIDE Checkmate Coronavirus Facebook page and there I could see that I had won the invitation to the Chess Olympiad. I couldn't believe it! An amazing feeling of happiness! I celebrated by raising my hands in victory."
Víctor Pérez Díez is 28, he lives in Madrid, Spain. His father taught him how to play chess when he was 6, but he started with chess classes and playing tournaments when he was 11." I usually play online chess. During this lockdown, I've been alone and with few things to do, so I have been playing online chess more often. I think I have played more than 100 tournaments during this lockdown. Checkmate Coronavirus has been great news for me," - says Victor, - "I was watching the draw with Anish Giri on Youtube, and he took my number. I couldn't believe it. I started to jump and shout, I sent a capture with my name and the prize to my family and my friends. It was an amazing moment. I still can't believe it. After almost three months alone, it was something wonderful for me. It was a great surprise and a lot of joy". Victor has never been to a top chess tournament. "I want to see how an elite tournament works, and to meet some of these players, who are my idols, would be incredible," he adds.
Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, will be the host city for the 44th Chess Olympiad, which will take place from July 28 to August 10. Situated in the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, this city of 7 million inhabitants is home to the legendary World Champion Viswanathan Anand, the first-ever Grandmaster from India.