Tech Mahindra gets go-ahead for global chess league gambit

09 July 2021 3 min. read
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At the forefront of the digital revolution, Indian ICT consultancy Tech Mahindra is aiming to disrupt yet another age-old segment, through the creation of an advanced global chess league.

While the headline-grabbing 2020 European Cup is into its knockout stages – with record numbers of Indian football fans expected to tune in – one of India’s largest homegrown ICT consulting and service providers Tech Mahindra has quietly signed its own landmark sporting deal, entering into a strategic partnership with The International Chess Federation (FIDE) to establish a digitally-advanced Global Chess League.

The brain-child of Tech Mahindra itself, the proposed FIDE sanctioned and exclusive global chess league will see professional and amateur players of all ages and skill-levels compete against each other from across the world in what is being described as an exciting new format, with the concept intending to draw several privately-owned franchises much like the IPL. Moreover, Tech Mahindra is aiming to bring its full technological prowess to the spectacle.

Tech Mahindra gets go-ahead for global chess league gambit

One of the oldest known and still existing pursuits in the world (its roots thought to date back to 7th century India), chess’s latest incarnation will be established as a first-of-its-kind ‘phygital’ tournament, that is; a combination of the physical and digital. In an effort to promote uptake and engagement, Tech Mahindra will leverage a range of cutting-edge technologies, including AI and 5G (not, in this instance, chessboard coordinates) as well as virtual reality.

“Chess and the business ecosystem are reflections of the same ‘game’, which hold people, strategy and adaptations at their core,” commented Tech Mahindra CEO CP Gurnani, unable to resist the enticing metaphor. “The partnership with FIDE marks the coming together of two organisations to promote, revolutionise and drive fan engagement of a historical game. We see great potential to enhance the base across the globe and take it to new commercial heights.”

That potential was hinted at last year, with several converging forces propelling the game to its highest level of popularity since perhaps the early 70s, when the chessboard became a Cold War proxy. Following a steady decline in engagement, chess was then seemingly killed off for good at the end of the century when, ironically, the reigning world champion Garry Kasparov was put to the sword by a level of artificial intelligence that we all carry around in our pockets today.

Abetted by the global pandemic and sports-starved boredom of widespread shutdowns, together with a growing number of amateur players looking to fill their spare time, the online-viewing market for chess got a surprise boost last year when long-time world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway staged the richest ever online tournament against seven leading competitors, with $250,000 up for grabs. The event garnered widespread media attention. Then Netflix dropped The Queen’s Gambit.

Along with bringing the game into the 21st century from a technological perspective (little has been revealed in this respect to date, but some reports have suggested attendant fantasy leagues and online polling to determine match formats), Tech Mahindra and FIDE are still keen to lean on that sort of celebrity, gaining the backing of five-time world champion and local hero Viswanathan Anand, who in partnership will provide advisory and help shape the league.

“From tweeting about the game to forming a league under Viswanathan Anand’s mentorship, and now on-boarding FIDE – the entire journey has been very gratifying,” said the Mahindra Group’s billionaire chairman and born again chess enthusiast Anand Mahindra.

“With the coming together of all the forces in the field of chess and technology, we hope the ‘Global Chess League’ will take the game to new heights and create vibrant opportunities for the entire chess community across the world.”