|Born||30 December 1935
Manuel Aaron (born 30 December 1935, Toungoo, Burma) was the first Indian chess master in the modern tradition. He dominated chess in India in the 1960s to the 1980s, was the national champion of India nine times between 1959 and 1981. He was India's first International Master, and is one of the key figures in introducing international chess practices to India; until the 1960s, chess in India (known as chaturang or shatranj), 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 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 11 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 1961, 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 took 4th in the Commonwealth Championship at Hong Kong 1984. The event was won by Kevin Spraggett and Murray Chandler.
Having emerged in an environment without 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 could have a second International Master in V. Ravi (1978), and its first grandmaster (Vishwanathan Anand), only in 1988.