64 Squares: Chess Turns Lucrative, Excites Young Players From Across India

The prospects of making money in chess has considerably improved due to an overwhelming inflow of willing sponsors.

64 Squares: Chess Turns Lucrative, Excites Young Players From Across India
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Chess in India has become lucrative, thanks to an overwhelming inflow of willing sponsors. For instance, a 19-year-old Arjun Erigaisi bagged a Rs 12.4 crore sponsorship deal from a Singapore firm.

E Jyothi, mother of Erigaisi, said, “Since the age of eight, my son has been glued to chess. Now with this sponsorship, he can participate in several tournaments without any worry.”

India now has 77 grandmasters – the latest one being 16-year-old Aditya Mittal. Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (16), Nihal Sarin (18), Dommaraju Gukesh (15) and Erigaisi have been dubbed India's "best hopes," by five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand.

Veteran chess players and commentators told The Quint that the last two years have witnessed India’s chess profile improve and become commercially viable, so much so that it has led to a monumental rise in its popularity.

India has 5 of the top 15 juniors in the world.

(Image: Twitter/ @SusanPolgar)


Big Bucks Offered to Young Chess Players

Erigaisi's coach Narayanan, who is also a grandmaster, added that he and his peers had not received financial help. "We are stumped to see the amount of money flowing in. It is definitely a game changer." 

Bharat Singh Chauhan, secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) and former player said, "Unlike before, today, every star player has a big firm backing him or her."

He recalled his gaming days when he was hardly paid even when he won, because "there was no money in the sport."

"In 2019, Nihal Sarin signed the biggest sponsorship deal, to the tune of Rs 80 lakh, since the great Viswanathan Anand."
Rakesh Rao, Senior Journalist

Nihal Sarin, Praggnanandhaa, Raunak Sadhwani, Gukesh, and Vaishali have received fellowships and are being personally mentored by Vishwanathan Anand. In 2018, Pragganandhaa, who defeated world champion Magnus Carlsen twice, was sponsored by Ramco and Indian Oil. He bagged a scholarship from the Susan Polgar Institute of Chess Excellence in Webster University worth $108,000 (approximately Rs 70 lakhs).

Microsense Networks, that has been sponsoring chess players and tournaments, including the Chess Olympiad offered Gukesh, the youngest player to ever beat world number one Magnus Carslen, Rs 1,00,000.


An Approach To Make Chess Spectator-Friendly

The Quint spoke to several authorities at All India Chess Federation (AICF) and seasonal players who said there has been a systematic effort to convert chess into a spectator-friendly game.

In the past four years, AICF had launched several initiatives, such as 'chess in schools' – with 33 affiliated units in different states. At these centres, students are rewarded a Grade 1 and 2 certification based on their performance.

Sixteen-year-old Grandmaster D Gukesh (Elo rating 2,684), the Indian chess `Rajinikanth,' handed out a royal defeat to America's super Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana (Elo rating 2,783).

(Image: FIDE) 

S Kailasanathan of Microsense Networks, who is also a former chess player, explained that this growth spurt in chess started about four years ago.
"When we began, this felt like a dream. We picked up several talented players and took complete care of their stay, travel, coaching and all that's needed for higher-level tournaments. Today, we are not just looking at a handful of winners but at least 35 brilliant players, who have created a chess revolution."
S Kailasanathan, Microsense

A seminar was organised at Learning Paths School, Mohali from 4 to 6 March 2018.

(Image: All India Chess Federation of India)

The chess federation's programmes which aim to improve the visibility of the game did help. The federation's project 'Smart Girl' supports states which organises tournaments with at least 50 girl participants. Another programme, 'Chess for Everyone,' attracts participants by waiving the entry fee. The programme 'Chess in Resident Welfare Associations' train the elderly who are interested in the game.

"When you have more number of players participating and more stars in your kitty, sponsors will pour in. Our plan has worked well and today chess has become very lucrative, and is attracting a lot of sponsors." 
Bharat Singh Chauhan, Secretary of the All India Federation of Chess (AICF)

Pandemic, Quarantine Chess Tournaments Changed the Game

The COVID-19 pandemic too drastically increased the number of spectators for the sport.

Remote coaching, computer-driven analysis, multimillion game databases, real-time analysis, supercomputer support, and affordable internet packages turned into a force-multiplier for online chess play.

The 44th Chess Olympiad saw India's 'B' team winning a bronze medal in the open section.

(Image: FIDE)

It was Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen's idea to pit eight of the top chess players in the world against one another to determine a winner who will then challenge him. This online tournament changed the way chess was viewed across the globe, experts said.

He also announced the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, with a prize pool of $250,000 – by far the highest prize money announced for an online chess tournament.

The tournament was broadcast on with commentary in nine languages.

(Image: Chess24)

Chauhan stated that India bagging the opportunity to host the Chess Olympiad in 2022 boosted the country's image worldwide.

"Players from 186 countries participated in the tournament and gave us glowing appreciation. The Olympiad didn't just just make chess a household conversation, but also created a new image for India on the world map," he said.

Suddenly, the Indian public discovered an army of  desi youngsters who played brilliant chess and 'Pragga,' Gukesh, and Arjun became household names, he added.

Chauhan said that AICF pulled all stops to get wildcard entries for Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh, and Nihal Sarin at the FIDE World Cup.

(Image: Twitter/ @Bharatchess64)

Even popular chess streamers – Hikaru Nakamura, Vassily Ivanchuk, Botez sisters, Anna Cramling, Agadmator and GothamChess – have contributed to the popularity of the sport.

India has its own set of popular streamers such as Sagar Shah of ChessBase India, and the comic, Samay Raina.


Chess Leagues Ahead

S Kailasanathan pointed out that there are at least 50,000 officially registered chess players in India. Over 33,000 Indians regularly play formal, rated events and at least a million people play local tournaments all over the country and the number is rising exponentially.

The AICF, mainly run by former players, runs 20 national championships, beginning with Under-7, every year with a prize money of Rs 2 million (£197,000; $264,000). This year, India hosted 12 international tournaments.

In 2023, India plans to launch a chess league – on the lines of the massively popular Indian Premier League – with six to eight franchises owned by business houses.

The Mahindra Group has announced a first-of-its-kind Global Chess League.

"These two years have seen an entire generation get inspired to turn their focus on the 64 squares. It is high time players are rewarded for dedicating their lives for the sport. India is a superpower when it comes to chess and our time has come," said the coach of a grandmaster.

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Edited By :Nikhila Henry
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