It's raining chess in Chennai as the coastal city hosts the 44th International Chess Olympiad. With over 2,000 players from more than 187 countries, the prestigious tournament was inaugurated with pomp and grandeur on Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister MK Stalin put aside their political differences and put on a united front. The government declared a public holiday for Chennai and neighbouring districts. "The most prestigious chess tournament has come to the home of chess," said PM Modi in his inaugural address, dressed in a chess-themed Tamil traditional veshti (dhoti) and shirt.

The city's love for chess is obvious. India has seen 74 grandmasters in the sport so far and incidentally, 26 of them are from Tamil Nadu, while 16 of the 26 belong to Chennai. From India's most popular player and veteran Vishwanathan Anand, to the child prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, Chennai has groomed several legends in the sport and the last few weeks have been all about chess here in the city.

The iconic Napier bridge was painted like chess squares, and school students performed

chess-themed drills dressed as chess pieces. Graffiti artists painting the town with pictures of the tournament's mascot 'Thambi', the city went out of its way in welcoming the players.

Meanwhile, The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led (DMK) government is also viewing the tournament as the perfect opportunity to boost tourism. Tamil Nadu Tourism has trained around 25 auto drivers In Mamallapuram, where the event is happening, to serve as guides for tourists arriving in the city from across the world. They have been trained on how to speak to tourists, information about important destinations and local history. The department has also set up handicraft stalls at the venue and launched several free buses operating along the East Coast Road.

The event which commenced on Friday will see some of the world's top players competing. Magnus Carlsen, the reigning five-time world champion is certainly a favourite. But, experts are of the opinion that India has high chances of winning the tournament with hopes pinned on players like Praggnanandhaa who rose to fame after becoming the youngest player to defeat Carlsen earlier this year.

Vishwanathan Anand has chosen not to participate this time and has taken on a mentorship role for the young Indian squad (seeded No 2), but the team does look promising. On Day 1, both the Indian Open and Indian women's team kicked off their campaign in style with a dominating victory over Zimbabwe and Hong Kong respectively.

While several top players from across the world took to Twitter to laud the preparations and the grand welcome, spirits were not so high among the team from Pakistan. The contingent withdrew from the tournament even before it started citing India's torch relay through Kashmir as the reason. Pakistan's foreign office accused India of politicising the event. India counter-accused them of politicising the event and termed their decision to withdraw 'highly unfortunate'. The team flew back on Thursday evening.

The Indian contingent includes three teams each in the Open and Women's category. The 44th Chess Olympiad that began on Friday at the Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort and Convention Centre will go on until August 8.

Next, Mamallapuram will be playing host to the International Kite Festival scheduled for August 13-15. On Friday, Chief Minister Stalin also requested PM Modi to help expedite the process to allow Chennai to host the Asian Beach Games 2024.