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Anand, Hou Show Class Is Permanent As Global Chess League Begins
Vishy Anand was back on Day 1 of the Global Chess League. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Anand, Hou Show Class Is Permanent As Global Chess League Begins

Colin_McGourty
| 40 | Chess Event Coverage

Former World Champions Vishy Anand and Hou Yifan both scored big wins as their team, the Ganges Grandmasters, cruised to victory on day one of the Tech Mahindra Global Chess League 2023 in Dubai.  

GM Alexander Grischuk was the day's other hero, winning with Black to give the UpGrad Mumba Masters an unlikely win. Day two, when GM Magnus Carlsen joins the fray, begins on June 23 at 7 a.m. ET / 13:00 CEST.

How to watch?
You can watch the Tech Mahindra Global Chess League 2023 on our events page here.


What Is The Global Chess League?

The Global Chess League is a team rapid tournament organized by the Indian company Tech Mahindra and FIDE that runs June 22-July 2 in Dubai, UAE.

The dream is to enjoy some fraction of the success of the $10 billion Indian Premier League that revolutionized cricket. As with cricket, hefty sponsorship has attracted some of the world’s very best players to play in new “franchise” teams, though a huge complicating factor is that chess remains a largely individual sport.

Cricket fan GM Peter Svidler, commentating from the venue, got to meet Steve Waugh, one of the greatest cricketers of all time.

The format is both familiar and unusual. Six teams of six players play each other twice over 10 rounds, before the top two compete in a final match. The time control is a rapid 15 minutes per player per game, with 10 seconds added per move, and the goal is to win a match and earn 3 match points (1 for a draw, none for a loss).

A twist is that individual games are scored 3 points for a win with White, but 4 for a win with Black, so matches that end in “score draws” will be won by the team that had the black pieces.

The most interesting detail is how the teams were drafted, with each team of six featuring one “icon” player. That includes the world number-one.

We were originally also going to get the reigning World Champion Ding Liren, but as in the recent Warsaw Rapid and Blitz, Ding has dropped out and been replaced by GM Levon Aronian. The other icons are five-time World Champion Anand as well as GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Each team also features two female players, and while GM Ju Wenjun is busy preparing to defend her women’s world championship title, women’s number-one Hou has been tempted back into action.

Pre-event publicity has stressed the mix of men and women, with FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich quoted as saying: "GCL is the only league in pro sports with a joint team format, featuring both men and women players in the same team, competing for the ultimate prize."

GMs Nana Dzagnidze and Harika Dronavalli at the start of Round 1. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In chess terms, the Pro Chess League is a glaring refutation of that statement, as are, for instance, the French, Polish, and United Kingdom chess leagues, which all require female stars on each team. You could try to argue about what constitutes a pro sport, but then we have, for instance, mixed doubles in tennis.

The other curiosity is that players only compete against the same category of player; for example, Carlsen will only play his fellow icons, while the female players will only compete against each other. No IM-elect Alice Lee beating a 2700-rated-grandmaster-style upsets, as we had seen in the PCL, are possible.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any young stars, since the sixth board in each match will feature two prodigies, or players who were under 21 years of age earlier this year: GMs Javokhir Sindarov, Jonas Bjerre, Andrey Esipenko, Nihal Sarin, Raunak Sadhwani, and Praggnanandhaa.

Again, the prodigies will only play each other, and in some cases, it was arbitrary who was chosen. On Carlsen’s SG Alpine Warriors, we have 17-year-old Praggnanandhaa as the prodigy, but his fellow 17-year-old Gukesh and 19-year-old Arjun Erigaisi are in the remaining category of “superstars”—i.e. top players who don’t quite fit into the other slots!

Just one match will be played at a time, and the first day saw two clashes.


Triveni Continental Kings 7-8 UpGrad Mumba Masters

Triveni Continental Kings Pts Pts UpGrad Mumba Masters
7 8
Aronian 1 1 Vachier-Lagrave
Yu 0 4 Grischuk
Wei 3 0 Vidit
Lagno 1 1 Humpy
Dzagnidze 1 1 Harika
Bjerre 1 1 Sindarov

This match, and the event as a whole, got off to a slow start, with "icons" Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave playing out a careful draw in a top-board game that finished, in stalemate, on move 66.

Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian get ready to rumble. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

The other players seemed to be taking their cue from the leaders, but then, as time ran down, all hell broke loose. Chinese star GM Wei Yi, still just 24 years old, burst onto the chess scene as a teenager playing brilliant attacking chess, and we got a glimpse of that as he took down Indian GM Vidit Gujrathi. 28...Bf5? proved to be a fatal mistake. 

Vidit came up against an inspired Wei Yi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

That win gave the Triveni Continental Kings 3 points and that, it seemed, was just the start. All three of UpGrad Mumba Masters' Indian stars got into trouble, but they kept resisting. Georgian GM Nana Dzagnidze missed a tricky win against Harika Dronavalli, while GM Kateryna Lagno also missed a clever way to convert her huge advantage against GM Humpy Koneru.

That wouldn't have mattered if 18-year-old Danish number-one Bjerre had converted a winning position against 17-year-old Uzbek talent Sindarov on bottom board, but, in a game where the moves at the end defeated the transmission, Sindarov managed to escape with a draw by perpetual check.

Grischuk scored what turned out to be a priceless win with the black pieces. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

That unlikely series of escapes meant that three-time World Blitz Champion Grischuk got a chance to be a hero by winning with the black pieces against Chinese GM Yu Yangyi to clinch the match. He said afterward:

"The game was very complicated! I think he had some pressure from the beginning, but then for some reason he retreated with his knight, and I think it became really complicated, and then I took over and finally managed to win.”

Grischuk joked that there was no one to celebrate with as his team didn't believe in him and left, but he got congratulations as he left the playing hall.

He couldn't have been more thrilled.

The second match couldn't match that nail-biting finish, but chess fans got to witness two legends not only back in action but starring for their team. 

Chingari Gulf Titans 4-10 Ganges Grandmasters

Ganges Grandmasters Pts Pts Chingari Gulf Titans
10 4
Anand 3 0 Duda
Rapport 1 1 Mamedyarov
Dominguez 1 1 Dubov
Khotenashvili 1 1 Shuvalova
Hou 3 0 Kosteniuk
Esipenko 1 1 NIhal

In this match, it was as though the other players didn't want to distract from the former world champions on display. Rapport-Mamedyarov and Dominguez-Dubov were 25 and 28-move draws by repetition, while Esipenko's pressure came to nothing against Nihal. 

Dubov demonstrates the proper grandmaster technique for offering a draw. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

IM Polina Shuvalova spent 52 moves—in vain—trying to convert an extra pawn against GM Bela Khotenashvili, but by that point no outcome of the game could alter the outcome of the match. The legends had spoken.

It was Anand, still the number-one player from India, who faced Duda. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Vishy Anand is now 53 years old, and he hadn't played an official game since the European Club Cup in October 2022, but the game he won against 25-year-old Polish number-one Duda was a vintage attacking display.

Check out the Game of the Day, with analysis by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Anand said afterward: "I’m really happy to be here and even the start was very auspicious, so I hope that’s a very good sign."

Hou is just 29 years old, but her long career includes winning the women's world chess championship at the age of 16. In her mid-20s she went back to study, at Oxford University, and three years ago she became a professor at Shenzhen University. Her competitive appearances have understandably been limited, but she remains the women's number one by a large margin—and, with a win over another former women's world champion, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, she showcased why.

Hou capped a perfect day for the Ganges Grandmasters. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Kosteniuk missed a chance to eliminate the bishop on b3 when she played 18...exd4!?, and she wouldn't get a second one. Hou went in for the pawn grab and came out on top.

The tournament has a very leisurely schedule compared to other top-level events, but Carlsen will be playing two matches for his team Alpine Warriors on day two. First, he'll take on his world championship challenger GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, before he then comes up against none other than Anand. 

"It’s the big match... old friends!" said Vishy of the clash with Carlsen. 

Tech Mahindra Global Chess League 2023 consists of a preliminary group stage and a final contested by the top two teams. In each match, players of the same team play with the same color. All games are in the 15+10 time control.


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Colin_McGourty
Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with Chess.com a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

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