We Will Be On All the Online Channels

Like many other things, chess too went digital with a new zest during the pandemic. Leading the charge was five-time World Chess Champion, Viswanathan Anand. In a conversation with BW Businessworld Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Annurag Batra, Anand talks about life during the pandemic, his new endeavour and the digital transition of chess 

How have the last 11 months been for you? I mean, both personally and professionally?
It started off  normally enough as I travelled to Germany to play an event and since I was supposed to play another event a month later, I chose to stay there and then come back.
By the time I was ready to play my second event, the continent and the world started to shut down and at the end of it my flight was cancelled and I had to stay in Germany for three months.
I was fortunate, as I was in a good place. I got back in May end and I have been in Madras ever since. It has been my longest stint at home.

Personally, things are going well as I obviously had the chance to spend more time with my family than ever before. I have not had much chance to play over the chessboard but I have done a lot of interesting things around chess. Chess is doing great online and has opened up a lot of interesting opportunities.

How did the idea of a Global Chess League come about? Please give us the story behind it. 
There have been very exciting things happening in the world of chess. Last year was one of the most interesting years in the world of chess.

A lot of technology that had been present – and people had been using for many years before – suddenly exploded in usage. It wasn’t new, it had been constructed and had been lying around for years.

Suddenly, chess noticed this kind of boom where people were sitting at home and playing millions of chess games online and membership in chess got to a skyrocketing level. People started watching chess related programming. By August, with the Queen’s Gambit release, the game saw the second boom.

Streaming became very big and chess audiences were doing really well. During the Chess Olympiad there was a dramatic finish  India won.

Tech Mahindra watched this Olympiad and found that chess had become quite interesting. A couple of months later they approached me.

When we got together, we conceptualised the Global Chess League. We are trying to do a lot, using the online thing globally.

Please give us a sense of how it will be impactful and interesting and build on the hybrid life we are all part of now. 
The first thing is that chess works perfectly online. In fact, chess spectators have been online for a while now.

The idea naturally came and led us to have a league where the participants assemble in a specific location but each team might assemble at its own place. Chess has dramatic moments and these are the peaks of times when it becomes very interesting.

We will be on all the online channels. For me, it is perfect to have a tech partner like Tech Mahindra to take this forward. I hope we find all sorts of ways to delight the fans. One of the things we have discovered in chess is that there are many different audiences and how using technology to attract all of them is necessary.