When the Global Chess League was announced to be held in 2023 at Le Meridien hotel, Dubai, there were skeptical looks. Understandably, like with all things new and especially with something like this which took a little longer to come to fruition since the idea germinated during Covid-19 days.
However, in true fashion of a classic chess game, the opening moves have been put in place and at the end of nearly two weeks, the picture on the board is now clear. Irrespective of who lifts the title, we have a winner! The Global Chess League, owned by Tech Mahindra with the support of the world body FIDE, has ushered in a new era for the ancient game.
Not only is it being touted as the best thing to happen to the sport in years, it has managed to sync in modern elements such as Artificial Intelligence and Web 3.0/ metaverse, even as the game is still played with wooden pieces on a board of 64 squares. The inaugural edition of GCL marks a major turning point for the sport, as the game becomes more dynamic, captivating, and accessible to a wider audience.
Created by India’s global corporation Mahindra Group on a five-year basis, for the first time ever, chess has seen a long-term planned investment by major international companies. From the presence of famous names such as Magnus Carlsen, Vishwanathan Anand and other world champions across various game formats to the innovative gameplay and enhanced fan experience, the League has left a major impression.
“In chess, there have been team competitions,” Carlsen said, “but they have been mainly based on nationality and so this system of building a professional league is very, very exciting for me and I think for other chess players and fans as well. I think just everything around it is professionalised in a way that hasn’t quite been seen before.”
And if there was any more need for some dramatic results to spice it up, spare a thought for SG Alpine Warriors and Ganges Grandmasters. Carlsen and Anand’s teams jostled for the top spot and were favourites to enter the final for the first eight out of 10 days. Until the other teams came with all guns blazing and knocked the pair out. Triveni Continental Kings and upGrad Mumba Masters proved the men standing.
All change in chess
At the heart of the GCL is the introduction of fresh elements that parallel those seen in large international team sports such as football or cricket to showcase the sport’s appeal to a worldwide audience.
For the first time ever in chess, the colours of the pieces which the teams will play with were determined by a coin toss, with the winner deciding whether they will be White or Black. Unlike in any other chess event so far, the entire team had to play with pieces of the same colour.
The League introduced a new scoring system where a game victory with white pieces brought three points, while a victory with black brought four. The team with the most game points won the match and was awarded three match points, while a draw saw each team get one match point, like in football.
يوم واحد يفصلنا عن نهاية الدوري العالمي للشطرنج الذي تقام منافساته في دبي
من تتوقع أن يكون بطل هذه البطولة الاولى من نوعها في عالم الشطرنج ؟
تابعوا لمعرفة الفائز النهائي! pic.twitter.com/0lgxijvoqF
— Dubai Sports Council (@DubaiSC) July 1, 2023
While chess is largely an individual sport, the GCL has transformed it into a team event. With six teams taking part in the inaugural edition, every squad had its own manager, team organisation and branding, and activities around building team spirit among players as well as making it a social experience in full display.
Each team had to mandatorily take two women players and one prodigy onboard, another first in chess. This made it one of the rare team sports to have a mixed format and also promoted the participation of women on an equal footing. India’s Women’s Grandmaster Koneru Humpy stressed the role of financial support: “I believe in any sport if the financial support is high, more people will get attracted to it. Even when IPL started, we see the amounts going higher every year and I believe it is the same for every sport.”
Future is bright
The League’s clear orientation towards the future got the best advertisement in the inaugural edition with the promising Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and the most seasoned Carlsen in the same team – SG Alpine Warriors. The shy ‘Pragg’ racked up an impressive undefeated run of seven victories with only three draws to be the Most Valuable Player of the tournament even before it reached the grand finale.
The Global Chess League also introduced a new way of presenting chess in the media and broadcasting it to the public. A live show that featured both serious and light chess analysis, by expert Grandmasters but also commentators who are not top professionals, made chess coverage more accessible and appealing to a broad audience. Then there were celebrities – cricket and tennis players – who brought an extra layer of glamour and publicity.
In another first, the world had an unprecedented level of access to the inner workings of the elite community. There were 27 cameras in the playing area to capture every move and gesture, along with glimpses of action behind-the-scenes, live and recorded interviews, social media bites, and a podcast on Amazon Music. The broadcast arrangements covered all continents where reputed networks such as JioCinema in India relayed the event live.
“From team identity and branding to getting chess on sports channels across the world and doing commentary which is more adapted to the non-chess audience is a great concept introduced by the Global Chess League and they have done a good job in executing it”, said Arkady Dvorkovich, the president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE).
The Indian element
The fact that a company of Indian origin – Tech Mahindra – has taken the lead in transforming the world of chess is certainly remarkable. It all started when Anand Mahindra clued in to an online chess interaction between two influencers and tweeted his admiration about it. One thing led to another, including some early prompts by the world body FIDE, and the six-team league has been born.
“Never have we had a tournament in chess conceptualised in a way that it resembles team sports in established events such as the Champions League in football or the Indian Premier League in cricket”, said Arkady Dvorkovich, the president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE).
Mr Anand Mahindra expressed similar feelings about the league and said, “I believe the Global Chess League has given many moments to the world of Chess to cherish, starting from the epic match between Magnus and Vishy to seeing some of the young and dynamic talents from across the world on display. We have received a lot of positive feedback especially for the quality of commentary and the fact that the GCL is the only stage in the chess world which is levelling the playing field for both men and women. Further, our own metaverse platform, GCLverse, has seen over 200K visitors within this short span of the tournament.”
He added: “The Global Chess League is a long-term commitment and we are going to make it bigger and better as we proceed. We are already looking forward to season two.”
The experience of the first inaugural event in Dubai has set the anchors in the right place, and those interested in chess will look with anticipation towards the next editions.
DP World ILT20 Season 2: UAE’s top five performers
The recently concluded DP World ILT20 Season 2 captured the attention of fans worldwide with its enthralling displays of athleticism and competitive cricket. However, beyond the fierce battles between international giants, this tournament provided a mega platform to unearth the burgeoning talent of UAE’s own cricketers.
Here are the top five performers from UAE for the season:
The opening batter from the United Arab Emirates was the fourth highest run-getter this edition, with 321 runs in 12 matches at an impressive strike rate of 148. Providing an impetus at the top with his aggressive stroke play, Waseem’s exploits were crucial to the MI Emirates stellar campaign. The MI Emirates were the first team to secure their place in the play offs and subsequently went on to win the championship.
Waseem’s stand out knock of the season came against the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, where he struck an unbeaten 89 to ensure the MI Emirates would coast home with eight wickets in hand.
Waseem’s tournament exploits earned him the Blue Belt which came with a cash purse of $15,000 for being the most outstanding UAE player, second time in a row.
The top order batter for Abu Dhabi Knight Riders had a good season compiling 220 runs in the 11 innings he batted in, at a strike rate of 120. While his contributions played a significant role in his team’s qualification to the play-offs, his match winning knock of 82 not out from 47 deliveries against the Desert Vipers while chasing 155 was the fourth highest individual score in the tournament and also his best performance.
Returning to his second season with the Sharjah Warriors, the left arm pacer was one of the leading wicket takers for the Sharjah Warriors this season with 10 wickets in 8 matches. Although the team had a forgettable season finishing in last place, the 24-year-old was consistent with his lines and lengths. His best performance of the tournament was against the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders where he picked up 3 wickets for only 5 runs with an economy rate of 2.5 runs per over.
The Gulf Giants’ Zuhaib Zubair was one of the best bowlers from the UAE this season. In eight matches, the leg-spinner picked up 11 wickets with his leg breaks at an average of 16. He also logged some of the best figures of the tournament when he finished with 4/22 to power the Giants to a mammoth 79 run victory against the Sharjah Warriors.
The 21-year-old left arm quick from the MI Emirates impressed one and all with his bowling, picking up nine wickets in the 16 overs he’s bowled in the tournament. While he may not have been among the top wicket takers of the tournament, his bowling showed a lot of promise. His best performance came against the Desert Vipers where he picked three for 21 in three overs, accounting for the wickets of Alex Hales, Adam Hose and Azam Khan.
Though UAE’s U19 captain Aayan Afzal Khan does not figure in the top 5 list, thanks to Muhammad Rohid pipping Aayan for the fifth spot, the 18-year-old left-arm spinner from the Gulf Giants is worthy of a mention for his fantastic bowling spells. He picked up six wickets in the seven innings he bowled including a spell of two wickets for eight runs in his three overs against the Dubai Capitals that helped his team defend a score of 126, winning the game by 19 runs.
US working with India in new I2U2 approach to Middle East
This is a syndicated column piece from Al Monitor
United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan flew to Saudi Arabia on May 7 to meet with Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and National Security Advisor of India Ajit Doval.
Their goal was to further connect the Middle East region with India and the world, building on strong Saudi-India ties as well as on the I2U2 format.
Working with Delhi is a new US approach to the Middle East, with the goal of creating strategic synergies around the Eurasian rim, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indo-Pacific.
The current reality supports a framework for the ongoing, unprecedented alignment between India, Israel, and the Sunni Arab states (UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt) to balance the rising Eurasian powers of the region and prepare a US shift towards the Indo-Pacific.
Two major obstacles were the Arab-Israeli conflict and the India-Pakistan conflict. As the world is drifting towards a multipolar system, pragmatism is prevailing and legacy relationships with no strategic purpose are running out of time — paving the way for the Abraham Accords in 2020 and more interest-based relations between India and Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt.
The I2U2 (Israel, India, the US, and the UAE) is the first format to bring together the Middle East and South Asia.
Saudi Arabia’s MBS wins as Biden fails to deliver on Israel, oil for US
Joe Biden has had to return empty handed from his first visit to the middle east as U.S. president. The hyperbole surrounding his visit to Israel failed to provide any tangible results as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Sultan emerged as the man in control of the political landscape in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid had called Joe Biden’s visit ‘historic’, with President Isaac
Herzog painting Biden as a ‘Biblical messiah ofpeace’. As Biden headed to Riyadh, news came of Saudi Arabia opening its airspace to ‘all nations’. The announcement didn’t mention Israel, and Saudi was quick to play down any talk of normalisation ofrelations between the two states, saying the move had nothing to do with the diplomatic ties with Israel.
Joe Biden came to Riyadh armed with criticism of Saudi’s MbS over the war in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Reports say Biden did in fact raise the assassination with MbS, who
termed it a ‘mistake’. The Saudi crown prince however, was in no mood to go on the backfoot raising the killing of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli operation in West Bank. Reports say Shireen was shot to death by Israeli forces.
With oil prices at an all-time high due to the disruptions in supply chain caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine, Saudi flexed its muscles by hosting a big inter-Arab summit.
The summit put to rest any plans of building a regional security alliance which would see Arab states partnering with Israel to counter Iran. The second goal was to get the Arab nations to agree to increasing oil production which would ease the prices of crude oil, but once again the gulf countries declined to commit on any such agreement, keeping all discussions over oil production to the meeting of the OPEC group on August 3.
Biden who had declared he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” after the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, professed a long standing alliance with the gulf states declaring, “the United States is invested in building a positive future of the region, in partnership with all of you—and the United States is not going anywhere.
Written by Raghav Chopra ,Senior Journalist
Special to Headline.ae