Having covered multiple Olympiads, college chess Final Fours and U.S. Amateur Team East blowouts over the years, I can personally attest that chess as a team sport is hardly a novel concept.
But the new Global Chess League, a joint venture between the international chess federation FIDE and India-based Tech Mahindra, says it is kicking the team concept up a few notches to boost its visibility and popular appeal. The inaugural “season,” consisting of six “franchises” and featuring such heavy hitters as former world champ Magnus Carlsen, Russian No. 1 GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and American GMs Levon Aronian and Irina Krush, started June 21. The six squads have at least two female players and will play a double round-robin of matches, with an inaugural champion to be crowned July 2.
The rapid time controls give each player 15 minutes for the game with a 10-second increment, a format organizers hope will be more viewer-friendly than the long slog of classical time controls. A good number of the games so far have delivered on the entertainment quotient scale, including Indian chess legend Vishy Anand’s nice attacking victory over Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the very first round.
The Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense’s tough-to-crack reputation is getting a workout in Dubai — Carlsen lost his rapid game to French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Dubai from the Black side of a Berlin as well — but Duda manages to get a reasonable game despite the annoying doubling of his c-pawns. After 17. f3 c5, Black gets a nice initiative on the queenside and, given the arrangement of the two armies, it’s hard to foresee that he will fall to a withering White assault on the other flank.
The first warning signs come on 21. h4 c4!? (logical and consistent — the lost pawn is no great matter in this position, but 21. Red8 was playable and more flexible) 22. dxc4 bxc4 23. bxc4 Qc5 24. Rff1 Red8 25. Bc3 Qa3!? 26. Rb3! Qa6 (Qxa2??? 27. Ra1 traps her majesty) 27. h5 — a little reminder that Duda has no pieces guarding the kingside.
Black ignores White’s modest h-pawn push to seize control of the central d-file, but Anand cleverly makes what is usually a major position trump into an irrelevancy: 29. Re1 Nd4 30. Bxd4 Rxd4 31. hxg7 Rd2?! (again logical, but 31…Bxc4 23. Nxc4 Qxc4 33. f4 Qe6 holds the position and gets the queen back to help defend) 32. Qf1! Kxg7 33. g4!, and suddenly the White queen and major pieces have a clear path to the kingside while Black’s pieces are marking time.
At the accelerated time controls, Black is not up to the delicate defensive chore: 33…Qa5! (even at classical time controls, a human GM would be reluctant to play the computer-recommended 33…h5!, exploiting the fact that both sides must be careful should the h-file open up; e.g. 34. Nf5+ Kf8 35. Qh3 Bxf5 36. exf5 h4!, and if, 37. Qxh4??, it’s Black who is better after 37…Kg7 38. Kg1 Rh8 39. Qg3 Qxc4) 34. Qg1! Kg6 (tougher was 34…h6 35. Rb5 Qa6 36. Qg3 R2d7, with hopes of organizing a defense) 35. Qg3 Qxa2?, allowing a killing shot though Black’s position was already precarious.
Anand may no longer be the world’s No. 1, but he hasn’t forgotten how to attack: 36. g5! (shredding the Black’s king’s thin layer of defense) fxg5 37. Qxe5 Qa6 (too late!) 38. f4! and the end comes quickly — 38…gxf4 (Qd6 39. Qxg5+ Kf7 40. Nd5 Bxd5 41. exd5 Qf6 42. Qh5+ Qg6 43. Qh3, with deadly threats like 44. Rg3 Qxc2 45. Re7+ Kf8 46. Qh6+ Kxe7 47. Qe6+ Kf8 48. Rg8 mate) 39. Nd5 Bxd5 (Bg4 40. Qxf4 hits both g4 and the rook on d2) Rg1+, and Black resigned, not needing to play out 40…Kf7 (Kh6 41. Qg5 mate) 41. Rg7+ Kf8 42. Qe7 mate.
Having been a playing captain for many years in the D.C. Chess League (shout-out to my old Center Counter teammates!), I can personally attest to the stress of the position. In addition to struggling to figure out your own game, you have to keep half an eye on all the other boards — who’s up, who’s down, who can settle for a draw, who has to hold that ugly pawn-down ending.
Today’s second game, taken from a recent Chinese top-level team event no doubt caused some shpilkes in both camps, as Shandong’s GM Zhao Jun appeared well on the way to taking a crucial point from higher-rated Xu Xiangyu of rival Chengdu.
Things seem to be going swimmingly for White in this Rossolimo Sicilian, as a well-judged exchange sacrifice with 14. Rxc5! Bxc5 15. Nxc5 Bc6 eventually leaves Xu’s king stranded in the center, his queenside collapsing and White’s bishop pair ready to crash the party.
Zhao’s teammates were likely already pocketing the point after 23. dxe4 Rh4 (Rxe4 24. axb5 Qxb4 [Nxf4 25. Qf6+ Ke8 26. Qh8+ Qf8 27. Qc3 wins] 25. Ba3 pins the queen) 24. e5! Qd5 25. Qc7+!? (good enough to win, but cleaner was 25. axb5 axb5 26. Rxa8 Qxa8 27. Qc5+ Kd7 28. Bxb5+, with mate not far over the horizon) Kf8 26. axb5 Kg7 (see diagram; Black has one trick left in the position and White proceeds to fall for it) 27. c4?! (both 27. bxa6 Qd2 28. Qc3 and 27. Qc6 preserve White’s winning edge) Qd2 28. Bc1 (missing the real threat, but White was already losing a piece after 28. Qe7 Rf4 29. Qc5 Qxb2) Ng3!, forcing instant resignation as 29. fxg3 Qd4+ 30. Be3 Qxe3 is mate.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Anand-Duda, Ganges Grandmasters vs. Chigari Gulf Titans, Global Chess League, Dubai, June 2023
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. Nbd2 Nd7 7. Nc4 O-O 8. O-O Re8 9. Kh1 f6 10. Nh4 Nf8 11. Ne3 Ng6 12. Nhf5 Bxe3 13. Nxe3 Be6 14. b3 Qd4 15. Rb1 Rad8 16. Bb2 Qd6 17. f3 c5 18. g3 b5 19. Qe2 Rd7 20. Rf2 Qc6 21. h4 c4 22. dxc4 bxc4 23. bxc4 Qc5 24. Rff1 Red8 25. Bc3 Qa3 26. Rb3 Qa6 27. h5 Ne7 28. h6 Nc6 29. Re1 Nd4 30. Bxd4 Rxd4 31. hxg7 Rd2 32. Qf1 Kxg7 33. g4 Qa5 34. Qg1 Kg6 35. Qg3 Qxa2 36. g5 fxg5 37. Qxe5 Qa6 38. f4 gxf4 39. Nd5 Bxd5 40. Rg1+ Black resigns.
Zhao-Xu, Shandong vs. Chengdu, Chinese Team Chess, Division A, Fuling, China, June 2023
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 d6 4. O-O Bd7 5. Re1 Nf6 6. h3 a6 7. Bf1 Rg8 8. d3 h6 9. e5 dxe5 10. Nbd2 b5 11. Nxe5 Nxe5 12. Rxe5 e6 13. Nb3 Bd6 14. Rxc5 Bxc5 15. Nxc5 Bc6 16. a4 g5 17. Qe1 Qd6 18. Qc3 Ke7 19. b4 g4 20. Bb2 Nh5 21. hxg4 Rxg4 22. Ne4 Bxe4 23. dxe4 Rh4 24. e5 Qd5 25. Qc7+ Kf8 26. axb5 Kg7 27. c4 Qd2 28. Bc1 Ng3 White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.