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Five-time World Chess Champion and Deputy President, FIDE, Viswanathan Anand, at the Global Chess League launch in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Chess is one of the oldest sport in history, but now the Rooks, Knights and Bishops are moving in a different direction to meet the growing demands of the sport and reach higher places. FIDE, the sport’s governing body, has come up with a new game plan with franchise-based Global Chess League in Dubai to spur the growth of the game worldwide.

“The franchise-based six-team Global Chess League will give a fresh impetus with its innovative format. The teams are interesting. The best men’s player, best women’s player and the best juniors will be playing in the same team. We are hoping to present the best and most innovative chess,” five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand, Deputy President, FIDE, told Gulf News.

“The whole event is designed to make it attractive for the viewers and engage them. It will allow the viewers to immerse in the game with the use of technology while they are watching. If this succeeds, the made-for-television format offers road to a new audience, that can be a big boost to the game.”

Pandemic boost

The game’s popularity exploded during the Covid pandemic and in order to capitalise on the growth, FIDE and Tech Mahindra have come up with the unique team-based model with monetary benefits that will encourage more youth take up the sport at a professional level, which in turn will increase the player-base across the world.

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The first three editions of Global Chess League, which will be held from June 21 to July 2, will feature six teams with six players each, including a minimum of two female players and one icon player per team. The six teams will compete in a round-robin format where each team will play 10 matches. The richest team chess event will have a total prize fund of $1 million.

“Any sport that expands, the monetary remuneration opportunity improves as well. Any attempt to grow the game and have more fans, will automatically feed into that. The new Global Chess League will be able to connect with the new audience, and I am very optimistic that it can have huge contributions,” Anand said.

Anand's juggle with daily schedule
Viswanathan Anand dons various hats on any given day — chess player, FIDE administrator, commentator and coach. How does he manages his time, seems to be the biggest question.

“It is difficult. When I play, I have to focus on that alone. When I take time off from playing, I have to focus on something else, working with youngsters, doing commentary and FIDE meetings. It’s a question of doing one or two things a day, takes some juggling. Most of my career I had the luxury to do just one thing, but now I do many,” Anand said with a smile, just the way he handles pressure situations playing several boards at the same time.

Still, he manages to have some spare time, quality time for himself with his family.

“I have spare time. It’s a question of making spare time. During my free time, I watch movies, I watch serials. Like most people recently, I also enjoy the flexibility of what I want to watch, where I want to watch, when I want to watch. I like music and enjoy time with my family and go out on holidays,” he said.

Any specific music? “A bit of everything. I like my old favourites and if there is something interesting I will give it an ear. The same with movies; nowadays what happens is that when you have a young son, you tend to watch movies that he is watching. So that’s fun as well. Quite often my wife and I watch some series as well, comedies, documentaries, whatever that is keeping us entertained.”

Online coaches

The Global Chess League also addresses FIDE’s two key focus areas of development, women and youth chess. And the development of technology has also helped the game spread to even the remotest island as an avid learner could take chess coaching online, where there is no coach available.

“What FIDE tries to do is to have school competitions and we try to get players younger and younger and the other big focus is on women’s chess. These are the two growth areas that we are currently focusing and have put in a lot of effort towards that,” he said, adding that the governing body will also focus on emerging powerhouses like China and India. Anand feels that countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have shown remarkable growth as well.

Anand new
Anand has been a regular visitor to UAE from his childhood days. The Indian Grandmaster making a move in the FIDE World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championship in Dubai in 2014. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

India’s first Grandmaster has a special affinity for the UAE after playing in the Dubai Olympiad in 1986 and also playing in the world junior meet in Sharjah in 1985.

Perfect location

“My association with tournaments organised here goes back a long way. In that sense, Dubai has always seen itself as the meeting point and that’s why the city is the perfect location for the Global Chess League,” he said.

So what is the final goal of Anand? To find a world champion, he says.

“There are a couple of approaches. Organising new events and trying to engage the fans is one and the second thing is to support the youngsters. In the future, if our young boys and girls succeed and if one of them becomes a world championship challenger or a world champion, then it will attract of lot of people. But we need to keep working in that direction,” Anand concluded.