New Delhi: An Indian information technology company will bankroll in the desert city of Dubai a global league for chess, considered by many as the ultimate game of cold, logical calculations.
The inaugural game of the six-team league will take place on June 21, 2023. The day has a great sporting significance. Brazil and Pele became the first team and player to win the World Cup football three times, beating Italy 4-1 in front of 107,412 in a stadium in Mexico City.
The organisers, Tech Mahindra, a $6.5 billion company, say the inaugural date of the tournament and its historical significance is just a coincidence.
But the promoters said they are confident the Global Chess League (GCL), a joint venture with the Lausanne-based International Chess Federation (FIDE), will change the face of the game across the world.
Chess is currently followed by over 600 million across 180 nations.
“This will be a unique league of passion and, at the highest level of nerves. The world (of chess) will sit up and take notice,” Jagadish Mitra, GCL chairperson, told this reporter about the world’s largest and first franchise-based chess league.
“This will be chess’s answer to T20 cricket,” says Mitra with an apparent reference to cricket’s shorter, 20-over version that is in vogue among cricket-playing nations.
India is home to the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s most popular cricket league that is worth $11billion.
Former five-time world champion Vishwanathan Anand, who is also the vice president of FIDE, the game’s controlling body, has thrown his weight behind the tournament as a mentor.
He said he is confident that the league will gain popularity across Europe, Canada, Asia and the United States.
“Chess is an individual sport. The franchise-based format will encourage team owners and franchises to invest in the game. Interest in chess is very high, so this is a good opportunity to try innovative approaches,” Anand said in an interview.
Anand said the pandemic helped chess – a game of passion and, at the highest level, of nerves – become popular across the world.
Anand should know.
Sports cognoscenti say chess has fluctuated in popularity throughout its existence, but recently, it’s become more popular than ever. Since January 2020, more than 102 million users have signed up through Chess.com, an online virtual platform. It is a 238 percent increase. Chess.com has also purchased the Play Magnus Group, a company started by chess world champion Magnus Carlsen that includes a mobile chess app.
Many attribute the trend to pandemic lockdown and boredom, or perhaps to the popularity of the 2020 Netflix mini-series, The Queen’s Gambit. The biggest growth has come from players who are 13 to 17 years old. The second-fastest age group in the same period was 18- to 24-year-olds. The New York Times said people even play at parties.
GCL will broaden the appeal of the game and turn millennials and Gen Z into chess-playing pawns, hopes Mitra, also the chief strategy officer of Tech Mahindra.
Each match will feature six boards that will be played simultaneously. Two top teams will play for the finals and a cash prize of $1 million, a little less than the world champion prize of $1.3 million. There is a significant interest from franchise owners to invest and own teams, to leverage the sponsorship.
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich said he was excited about the GCL taking place in Dubai that had hosted the FIDE World Championship Match in 2021. “That was a great success. Thanks to this experience, we couldn’t think of a better partner to deliver a memorable first edition of the GCL,” Dvorkovich said in a statement issued by the organisers.
Some of the world’s top players will participate in the tournament, including some superstars under 21 years of age. The organisers did not share names immediately.
Experts told this reporter that there are chances that the tournament could be layered with some geopolitical stakes, especially at the time when Russia is at war with Ukraine.
The organisers hope to promote the game through interactive technology-enable platforms by leveraging next-generation technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.