Kings and Queens on Sale

India’s first chess league starts a trend in Pune.

Written by Kruttika Nadig | Published: April 19, 2013 3:50 am

India’s first chess league starts a trend in Pune.

A few years ago,the concept of buying sportspersons was alien to India. Sport,in the rare event that it was recognised as a real career,was firmly in the realm of noble and non-materialistic pursuits. Then the IPL happened and clean-bowled that image by making cricketers an offer they couldn’t refuse. Everybody agreed that only shutter-happy spectator sports could generate the money and initiative for such a thing — until now,when Pune mooted the idea for the first Maharashtra Chess League.

Naturally,the two leagues are utterly incomparable,right from the contentious definition of chess as a “sport” to the gigantically dissimilar budgets involved. And yet not only is the MCL drawing inspiration from the IPL in substance but also in visage,if the attention to PR and team logos is anything to go by.

The MCL will be played between six teams named after Maharashtrian cities and comprising the country’s top male and female talent. Six sponsors — including four prominent industry names — bid for eligible Indian chess players to fill up their teams last week. The highest price,fetched by Grandmaster Surya Ganguly,was Rs 1.15 lakh,around 0.2 per cent of the $1 million that the Mumbai Indians spent on Glenn Maxwell this IPL season. But you’ll forgive us modest mindbenders for shouting from the rooftops,for it’s still a darn sight better than any chessie in this country could ask for today.

It’s no secret that games like chess receive a fraction of the sponsorship and glamour that attends more flamboyant and relatable sports. Yet,its popularity has been climbing steadily in the city — augmented,no doubt,by world champion Vishwanathan Anand’s now-frequent appearances in our middle. Gone are the days when the city’s top brass played each other in marriage halls and decidedly unromantic wadas with car horns blaring into their thoughts.

Ostensibly also gone are the days when nobody wanted to invest their money in this black hole of a low-visibility game. Considering that the MCL bidding went off so well in its debut year,I can say with startled pleasure that people are now seeing value in attaching their brands to mind sports.

Besides,the whole phenomenon of people ushering their kids towards mentally oriented hobbies is being increasingly noticeable. Just the other day,I stumbled upon a website with a long listing for abacus classes in Pune. In an era full of jaded imitations of ideas,jobs and products,in a world where every adolescent owns a dumb gadget,the urgent need to keep the brain supple is making itself felt.

A proactive and original mind is becoming a scarce and therefore desirable commodity. This is where the myth of chess players being intelligent helps our game by attracting vital financial support.

Pune’s being the chosen venue for this tournament is hardly a surprise. Although the city pales before Chennai and Kolkata’s fecund chess scenes,it does have a knack for innovation. Or as we say in the game,for novelties.

The Johnson Tiles Maharashtra Chess League will be played at PYC Hindu Gymkhana from April 24 to 28 in a round-robin rapid game format.

The author is a chess grandmaster and former national champion.

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