Bhubaneswar: Nine Grand Masters and 22 International Masters from across the world are participating in the 1st SOA International Grand Masters Chess Festival which kicked off at the Siksha ‘O’ Anusandhan Deemed to be University here on Sunday.

            The tournament, with a total prize money of Rs. 35 lakh, was inaugurated by Mr. Ranendra Pratap Swain, Odisha’s Minister for Agriculture, Farmers’ Empowerment, Fisheries and Animal Resources in the presence of Mr. Tusharkanti Behera, Minister of State for Sports, Youth Services, Home, Electronics and IT.

It has been organised by the All Odisha Chess Association (AOCA) with SOA’s support. The International Chess Federation (ICF), All India Chess Federation (AICF), Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Odisha government are backing the event.

            Mr. Swain said Odisha had registered spectacular progress in recent years  in the field of sports with the government creating excellent infrastructure with greater investment of funds. “The state government’s budgetary allocation for sports had gone up from a mere Rs. 4 crore in 2000-01 to a mind boggling Rs. 1217 crore in the last budget which is the highest for any state in the country,” he said.

            This is huge considering the fact that the budgetary allocation for sports of the union government stood at Rs. 3397 crore, Mr. Swain said adding “it says a lot about the commitment of Odisha chief minister Mr. Naveen Patnaik for development of sports.”

            Mr. Patnaik had stepped in to help Indian hockey when it had no sponsors and Odisha government is the official sponsor of the Indian hockey team at all levels today, he said.

            Stating that the exploits of Chess superstar Viswanathan Anand had caught the imagination of the entire country and brought the game to limelight, Mr. Swain said India had 84 Grand Masters and the highest number of rated players in the world today.

            Mr. Behera said Odisha was doing well in different sporting events and hosting international and national level competitions in hockey and football. He congratulated SOA and OACA for organizing the international meet.

SOA Vice-Chancellor Prof. Pradipta Kumar Nanda, who presided over the inaugural program, said the mandate of the university– which was ranked 15th in the country by NIRF– was for the holistic development of the students and faculty members. “Our aim is to be visible as a sports hub,” he said.

            The participants in the tournament have been split into three categories—A, B and C with category ‘A’ having a total prize money of Rs. 20 lakh. Category ‘B’ and ‘C’ will have prize money of Rs. 7.5 lakh each.

            Dr. R. Anantharaman, Chief Arbiter for the tournament, congratulated the organizers for making it mandatory for players with an ELO Rating of 1900 or more for participation. This has made it a strong tournament, he said.

            The tournament is being conducted as per the latest FIDE rules of Chess and FIDE Swiss system with 10 rounds in Category ‘A’ and ‘B’ and 9 rounds in Category ‘C’.  The tournament will end on February 4 with the prize distribution ceremony.

            The inaugural ceremony was also addressed by Mr. Gobinda Chandra Mohapatra, President of OACA, Mr. Debabrata Bhatta, Secretary of OACA, Mr. Shankar Prasad Mishra, Treasurer of OACA, Prof. Jyoti Ranjan Das, SOA’s Dean (Students’ Welfare) and Ms. Sunita Barma, SOA’s Sports Officer.

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