Five-time men’s world champion Viswanathan Anand and four-time women’s world champion Hou Yifan led the Ganges Grandmasters to a 10-4 victory over the Chingari Gulf Titans on the first day of the first edition of the Global Chess League.
What made the win special for the Indian was the fact that it was his first competitive game in nearly eight months.
“It was a nice game and there were bits of it which I was very proud of. But I did notice one or two inexact moves slip in, especially after I made them. You make them and then realise and think ‘I wish I had seen the other move earlier,’” the 35-year-old Anand told Tania Sachdev after the game.
Asked if beating a young player like 25-year-old Duda was extra special in the time format, the five-time world champion said: “Of course, you have to say this year Duda has been playing incredibly well. I was very happy to start off on the right foot. I’ll take any win, but winning against Duda was extra nice.”
Yifan, meanwhile, took down Alexandra Kosteniuk in a battle of former women’s world champions. There is a touch of history between the two players. It was the Russian Kosteniuk who had beaten Yifan when the Chinese player first competed in a women’s world championship final. Yifan was 14 years old at that point. She went on to bounce back from that defeat with four world titles, marking her as one of the greatest players the sport has seen.
On Thursday, the Ganges Grandmasters had won the toss and chosen to play all their boards with white. It’s a novelty introduced in the league: a win for a player playing with white earns you three points, while a win with black earns you four. A draw is worth a point for each player.
The scoring system is likely to have an impact on games as witnessed in the first game of the night where the upGrad Mumba Masters pipped the Triveni Continental Kings by a one-point margin. The Kings, playing white, were leading thanks to a win by China’s Wei Yi over Vidit Gujrathi, which accounted for three points. But Alexander Grischuk upset the Kings’ applecart with a win over Yangyi Yu, which was worth four points.
Anand, though, said he did not believe that the decision to pick white or black was a game changer, at least for now.
“You have to pick a colour, and Pravin Thipsay (Ganges Grandmasters team manager) chose white. But it’s 50-50. I don’t think it’s such a big decision yet. Yes, the four points that black gets for winning is quite intriguing, because we saw it decided the first game. Although I have to say that they (upGrad Mumba Masters) needed several Hands of God (slices of luck) to win. They had more Hands of God than Diego (Maradona) himself. They were so busted!” chuckled Anand.
The Ganges Grandmasters will return on Friday for a game against the SG Alpine Warriors, which will see Anand take on recently-dethroned world champion Magnus Carlsen.
“It’s the big match. An old friend,” smiled Anand.
Saturday and Sunday will see four matches each. Before Carlsen meets Anand, he will be slotted to take on another ‘old friend’ in the form of Ian Nepomniachtchi — the man who he beat to seal his last world championship title — as the SG Alpine Warriors face off against the Balan Alaskan Knights.
“Chess and cricket have a lot of similarities. In cricket, you have to be strategic and proactive, just like you have to be in Chess.”
— Tech Mahindra Global Chess League (@GCLlive) June 22, 2023
When Waugh was left intimidated by cameras
Even as the Australian cricket team are battling against England in the Ashes, legendary ex-captain Steve Waugh is in Dubai as a guest of the GCL organisers.
He watched the first set of games on Thursday and admitted he was just a casual chess player, who used to play a bit in school before other sports like cricket and football caught his fancy.
“I’m more of an outdoor-sports type of person,” he admitted.
What did catch his eye was the production set-up in place for the league.
“When I walked into the playing arena, I was nervous. There were 27 cameras there. It’ll be a different perspective for the players to confront and take on,” Waugh told the organisers in a stream.