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Manuel Aaron

Manuel Aaron in 1962
Country India
Born 30 December 1935
Toungoo, Myanmar
Title International Master (1961)
Peak ranking 2415 (January 1981)

Manuel Aaron (born 30 December 1935) is the first Indian chess master in the second half of the 20th century. He dominated chess in India in the 1960s to the 1980s, was the national champion of India nine times between 1959 and 1981. He is India's first player to be awarded the International Master title, and is one of the key figures in introducing international chess practices to India; until the 1960s, Indian chess (known as chaturanga) was often played using many local traditional variants (e.g. in lieu of castling, the king could execute a knights move once, if it had not been checked). Aaron helped popularize the international variety, forming many chess groups and urging players to study openings and other formal chess literature.


Born in Toungoo (colonial Burma) of Indian parents, Aaron grew up in Tamil Nadu, India, where he did his schooling, finishing his B.Sc. from Allahabad University. Aaron was Indian National Champion nine times (out of 14 championships between 1959-1981), including a run of five consecutive titles between 1969 and 1973. He also won the Tamil Nadu Chess Championship eleven times (1957-1982); after him, Tamil Nadu emerged as the chess powerhouse of India.

He won the West Asian Zonal against Mongolia's Sukien Momo 3-1 (earning his International Master's rating), and the Asian-Australian Zonal final against Cecil Purdy of Australia 3-0 in 1961. In 1962, he won the Arjuna Award for Indian sportsmen, the first-ever chess player to be so honoured.

These wins at the Asian level qualified him for the Interzonals, and in 1962, he played in the Stockholm interzonal and although finishing last (23rd place), his game was notable for the defeats he inflicted on grandmasters Lajos Portisch and Wolfgang Uhlmann, and his general aversion to draws.

Aaron also played thrice with the Indian team at the Chess Olympiads. He captained the Indian team at Leipzig 1960 (+2 -10 =8), and at Varna 1962 (+7 -6 =4). In 1964, he played at second board in Tel Aviv (+4 -7 =6). He also led India to the 2nd Asian Team Championship at Auckland in 1977 and to the 4th Asian Team championship at Hangchow in China in 1981. He finished fourth in the Commonwealth Championship at Hong Kong 1984. The event was won by Kevin Spraggett and Murray Chandler.

He is the author of Dubai Olympiad 1986 and a journalist for The Hindu newspaper. His son, Arvin, is also a well known journalist.

Contributions to Indian chess culture

Having emerged in an environment with a minimal chess culture, Aaron was very sensitive to the growth of chess awareness in India. He did much to further chess as the Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Chess Association (1977 and 1997) and also as chairman of the All India Chess Federation. It was 17 years before India had its second International Master, V. Ravi (1978), and it had its first grandmaster (Viswanathan Anand) only in 1988.

Manuel Aaron remains active in Indian chess circles even today, and has a FIDE rating of 2300+.

Notable games