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WGMs pin hopes on Global Chess League for women’s game

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Hou Yifan, the world’s top-rated chess player, plays Koneru Humpy at the ongoing Global Chess League. Supplied

The ongoing Global Chess League is at a crucial juncture in Dubai, with the SG Alpine Warriors leading the lot at 15 points, closely followed by the Ganges Grandmasters at 12 points and upGrad Mumba Masters giving a close chase at the third spot in third.

With just 10 matches to go before the all-important final, the excitement rises in the league about who will be competing for the crown of the inaugural edition. While the league’s unique mixed-team format has drawn many praises from various sections of the chess world, leading women players like Grandmaster (GM) Koneru Humpy from the upGrad Mumba Masters and Grandmaster (GM) Hou Yifan from Ganges Grandmasters feel that it is just the first step towards a more equitable chess ecosystem.

Speaking about the overall state of women’s chess, GM Yifan said, “The general situation of women’s chess has evolved dramatically in the past few decades. I remember when I was young, most of the events for women will only be FIDE official events and very few invitational events. Even for some open events, the chances for women players to win it weren’t as good as today.”

She further added, “In the past few years, there are more organisers and sponsors paying attention to women’s chess. There are stronger women players in the open chess tournaments. I hope that there will be a more promising attitude towards women’s chess and I also hope that because of our performance and experience, it will encourage more young girls to get involved with chess.”

Koneru Humpy is all focus as a team player for upGrad Mumba Masters. Courtesy GCL

On the other hand, GM Humpy discussed India’s case in point and said, “If I take India’s case, I still feel that compared to the boys, the number of women players is quite less. Probably we need to work in the direction to increase the number of women players. Once that happens, probably the talent will come up slowly.”

While suggesting, what needs to be done to improve the scenario, she added, “There needs to be more tournaments for women in India especially for young girls. Once they find the talent, they should pick them up and train them. Training plays an important role in growing the pool of talented players in any sport.”

Chess has seen many changes over the years and increasing financial support from corporates has been a key factor in encouraging more players to take up chess as a full-time profession.

Humpy believes that financial support still stays a key caveat for chess players to compete on the big stage. She said, “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.”

 

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Humbert dominates Bublik to seal ATP 500 glory – ARN News Centre

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Ugo Humbert produced a ruthless masterclass to defeat Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik in straight sets and seal ATP 500 victory in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night.

The French No5 seed, who rises to a career-high World No14 after his heroics in Dubai, made it a clean sweep of six titles in six ATP finals with a clinical 6-4, 6-3 dismantling of No7 seed Bublik, the World No19, at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

Humbert, who defeated compatriot Gael Monfils, Britain’s Andy Murray, World No8 Hubert Hurkacz, and World No4 Daniil Medvedev to reach the final, unleashed his full repertoire of booming forehands and laser-like double-handed backhands to eclipse Bublik, who progressed past 2022 Dubai champion Andrey Rublev in a dramatic semi-final, which saw the No2 seed disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct. 

After tight opening exchanges where the pair were evenly matched, the final stayed on-serve until the 10th game when Humbert, who had failed to convert break points in Bublik’s two previous service games, finally broke the Kazakh’s resistance to clinch the first set 6-4. 

With Bublik delighting the Dubai crowd with a combination of whipped forehands and a deft array of dropshots, Humbert, relaxed and controlled, raced into a 3-1 second set lead after breaking Bublik. From there, the 25-year-old left-hander relied on his own dominant serve – unbroken throughout the final – to close out the match on his second Championship point.

“I played a fantastic level all through the week, but it was not easy,” said Humbert, who claims the winner’s prize of $550,140. “I really don’t know how I stayed calm. I have too much respect for [Bublik], he’s such a nice guy on and off the court, and congratulations to him on a great start to the year.”

A beaten but upbeat Bublik reflected: “This week has had almost everything for me, and I can’t wait to come back here again in 2025. Before the final, I thought if I won I would dedicate it to my son, but sorry, maybe next time,” said the 26-year-old, who pockets the runner-up prize of $296,000.

In the men’s doubles final, the Netherlands’ Tallon Griekspoor and Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff narrowly defeated Croatia’s Ivan Dodig and the USA’s Austin Krajicek 6-4, 4-6, 10-6. With a pair of service breaks enough to settle the opening two sets, Griekspoor and Struff came from 1-3 down in the deciding super tiebreak, winning nine of the last 12 points to claim a maiden Dubai title and shared prize pool of $180,700. Beaten finalists Dodig and Krajicek share a runners-up purse of $96,370.
 
“It’s the first time we’ve played together, so maybe we should keep it one week,” Griekspoor joked during the post-match ceremony. “We played really well and had a great time, it was a lot of fun on court. I had such a pleasure on court this week.”

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. 
 



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F1 season opens with Verstappen in ‘a different galaxy’ – ARN News Centre

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AFP

Max Verstappen could not have hoped for a better start to his bid for a fourth-consecutive Formula One title, with even rivals hailing his crushingly dominant display in Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as being in “a different galaxy”.

The Dutch driver took the chequered flag 22.4 seconds clear of his teammate Sergio Perez driving a similar RB20.

He did it having started from pole, led every lap and with the fastest lap to complete a ‘grand slam’.

“Unbelievable, I think today went even better than expected,” said Verstappen.

“It was a lot of fun, I felt really good in the car.

“It’s special to have these kind of days, where it all feels perfect and you feel at one with the car.”

A close-run qualifying on Friday and a constant changing of the guard in practice, with three different teams occupying top spot in the three sessions and none of them Red Bull, had raised the prospect of a closer-run race on Saturday.

The seemingly untroubled ease of Verstappen’s win in the first race of a record 24-round season swiftly dashed those hopes, instead giving way to a sense of resignation and foreboding.

The 26-year-old, barely breaking a sweat as he got out of the car, had similarly won last year’s Bahrain season-opener from pole.

But that wasn’t as commanding as his win on Saturday, with his winning margin then half what it was this year and no fastest lap.

Nevertheless, it set the stage for Verstappen to sign off 2023 with 19 wins from 22 races.

With his Red Bull harder to catch, at least on the evidence of the 2024 season opener, there is every possibility he could go better.

Rivals are not ruling out the prospect.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said when asked if Verstappen could be uncatchable. “(We) just have to acknowledge his performance levels are really strong.

“I think today Max is not in a different league but he’s in a different galaxy — the performance is extraordinary.”



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Ireland claim first ever test victory – ARN News Centre

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@cricketireland/ X

Ireland claimed their first test victory when they beat Afghanistan by six wickets on Friday in a one-off match in Abu Dhabi.

Irish skipper Andy Balbirnie took charge in the run chase with an unbeaten half-century.

Ireland, who acquired test status along with Afghanistan in 2017, had lost seven straight matches before they eventually beat the Asian side in a low-scoring affair that finished inside three days.

“A lot of our guys didn’t get to play test cricket. Hopefully people back home want to be test cricketers. We knew it would be attritional stuff,” Balbirnie said.

“There’s a lot of cricket in the world… We’ve created results, and created history. The monkey is off our back, very special to do that.”

After dismissing Afghanistan for 155 in the first innings where seamer Mark Adair picked up five wickets (5-39), Paul Stirling (52) helped guide Ireland to a total of 263 to give them a 108-run lead.

Adair picked up three more wickets to clean up the top order in the second innings but Afghan skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi (55) helped them post 218 to give Ireland a modest target of 111 runs to win.

Ireland found themselves in deep trouble at 13-3 when Naveed Zadran dismissed Peter Moor and Curtis Campher for ducks in the second over, but Balbirnie led from the front with an unbeaten knock of 58.

Lorcan Tucker also came in and steadied the ship (27 not out) as they patiently stitched together a 72-run partnership before Tucker hit the winning runs for a famous victory.

“I’m buzzing. Obviously very nice to get a win. Absolutely chuffed,” said Adair, who was named player of the match.

“Test cricket is pretty difficult. I think we’ve got a really good bowling group. In the last year, we’ve played a lot of cricket.”

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