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Magnus Carlsen headlines new chess tournament ‘to scale the game to a billion fans’


By Coy Wire and Ben Church, CNN

(CNN) — With chess riding a wave of popularity in recent years, the game is seizing on the opportunity to revolutionize the way it’s played and consumed.

The inaugural Global Chess League (GCL), which got underway in Dubai on June 22, is the latest event to offer a new format for the game.

The format sees six teams, consisting of six players each, battle it out in a group stage before the top two teams play each other in the final.

The franchise-style format allows fans to follow teams, as well as players, and some of the game’s biggest stars are getting involved.

“I think this is definitely something quite special,” grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, who is participating in the tournament, told CNN.

“Both the format and the general idea of the league is new and quite unique.

“In chess, there have been team competitions, but they have been mainly based on nationality and so this system of building a professional league is very, very exciting for me and I think for other chess players and fans as well.”

Each team must consist of two female competitors, a player born in 2002 or later and an “icon” player – of which Carlsen, the world’s top ranked chess player, is one.

Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand and Russian grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi are just two of a number of other big names taking part.

The concept is the brainchild of FIDE, the governing body of chess, and digital transformation company Tech Mahindra. The partnership says it hopes to include state of the art technology, such as virtual reality and AI, to take the game to another level.

“I think just everything around it is professionalised in a way that hasn’t quite been seen before,” Carlsen added.

“But I think this is just the beginning. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this will develop in the future as players, teams, and supporters start to feel a sense of belonging to their respective teams.”

According to, every member of the winning team in Dubai will receive $7,500, with another $5,000 going to the team’s manager.

Carlsen hopes the new league format will succeed in opening the game up to a new audience, an ambition matched by the GCL chairperson Jagdish Mitra.

“I think it’s an opportunity for the sport of chess and its 600 million fans,” Mitra told CNN Sport.

“This is historic, this is the first of many weeks every year and an opportunity to scale the game beyond the 600 million to a billion fans soon around the world and to probably make it one of the most viewed sports in the world.”

“Our intent is to make sure more and more people who play chess at home become a fan of the sport and engage in it. It’s not just following someone, but following these franchises.”

While acknowledging the desire from some to protect traditional chess tournaments, Mitra wants the GCL to expand the game’s horizons.

The goal, he said, is for the GCL to enrich the environment, not replace long-standing practices.

Perhaps the biggest aim, though, is to make the GCL suitable and exciting for a television audience.

“We want to be able to make sure people are able to see this,” Mitra said.

“The most important part is what goes along with it. So the whole production, the color, the glitz, the lights, the sound, the commentary, which is really, really critical for people to be able to connect and understand – it’s critical to make this a success.”

If the GCL is successful in its aim, then it might not be long before the biggest stars in chess become household names across the world.

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