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BW Businessworld

Innovating For A Bright Future

Viswanathan Anand and Jagdish Mitra discuss the start of an endeavor bringing in leadership and strategy to launch phygital Global Chess League

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Viswanathan Anand, 5-Time World Chess Champion and Jagdish Mitra, Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Growth, Tech Mahindra in conversation with Dr. Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief BW Businessworld.

How have been the last 11 months been for you? Both personally and professionally
Viswanathan Anand – It started off normally enough as I traveled to Germany to play an event and since I was supposed to play another event a month later I chose to stay there, combine the 2 events and then come back. By the time I was ready to play my second event, the continent started to shut down, the world in fact had started to shut down and at the end of it my flight was canceled and I was in Germany for 3 months. I was fortunate as things go in the sense that I was in a good place, just that I couldn’t travel back. I got back in the end of May 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 much more time with my family than ever before. I have not had much chance to play over the chess board but I have done a lot of interesting things around chess. Chess is doing great online and opened up a lot of interesting opportunities.

Jagdish Mitra – From a perspective of the last 11 months, it has been a very interesting journey because the day I was going to take a flight to Germany as well and I think it was, if I am not wrong, it was 16th of February or the week after and I was going to meet a few clients and they said you can be in your Hamburg office but we will do a virtual meeting. I thought that would be very interesting as I fly all the way from here to Germany to do a virtual meeting so I would rather do it from here, Noida. Luckily enough I canceled that, I canceled the trip of going to USA as well, and I realized if I had gone to the US after Europe I would be stuck there for months.

As far personally is concerned, I think it was a great opportunity to be able to use all sorts of digital tools and for me, something that I have wanted to do but didn’t get the chance to do was cooking which I managed to do for a bit. I think business wise I am super proud as part of Tech Mahindra. I think the digital world, our associates – 1,30,000 of them have really shown that we live with the credo of our brand which is the connected world, connected experience, and in 15 days 99% of our businesses were up and running. I salute the resilience of what the colleagues have got together. There is a huge learning that you can’t plan for everything but if you have the right attitude, then you can deliver.

How did this idea of a Global Chess League come to both of you or either of you? Please give us the backstory of this.
Viswanathan Anand – 
There have been very exciting things happening in the world of chess. In fact, last year was one of the most interesting years in the chess world. First of all, 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 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 and it happened like wave after wave and by August the Queen’s Gambit had hit and that was a second boom. It was a very interesting year and threw up a lot of interesting possibilities, streaming became very big and chess audiences were doing very well. During the chess Olympiad where there was a very dramatic finish and India won the chess Olympiad and Tech Mahindra noticed it. They watched the Olympiad and found that chess had become quite interesting. A couple of months later they approached me and in the mean time I had been trying to find about how one could do something. When we got together, we conceptualized the Global Chess League trying to do a lot of using the online thing global. I mean you don’t have to fly from India to the US, and we can organize a Global League. At the same time to make it at physical locations and for all sorts of technical reasons as well and I think this combination is very interesting. We decided to build upon something solid like a League.

Jagdish Mitra – From our perspective obviously what Anand said was important but the game changed. It is probably a game that multiplied multi-fold in the pandemic. It has got a lot more popular and people started to engage with it. There was a tweet from Anand and this connection happened with Viswanathan Anand, I am talking about Anand Mahindra and Viswanathan Anand, it triggered a bulb in our heads. Apart from that, the team actually allowed it to get together and see if we could do something about it. We can always be a sponsor for sporting tournaments but here was an opportunity of something that was simmering, in the sense with Queen’s Gambit, with the online players and so forth. We had almost everyone in the family involved. A colleague of mine who was involved from New Jersey, his kids got involved with the whole process of their views, 15 years old and 17 years old and even my son got involved. He is 19 years old. We suddenly got the sense that this is a millennial sport and people are participating in it online and so we connected both the dots and decided if this is the talent base we want to go after then that is where the brand needs to be, then there is no other sport after all like chess which defines strategy, which defines moves, thinking about things 2 steps ahead, which one wants every business to do and that is when we said that this is a great sport to be associated with and a great time to be associated with. Chess had an Indian kind of origin and has gone global and we as a company of Indian origin have gone global as 90 to 95% of our businesses are abroad. Our brand statement is about connected experience and from our perspective no other sport can deliver exactly the same experience as you can’t kick a football on a laptop screen and get the same experience but the chess move is going to be the same move whether you are going to be doing it on a chess board or a digital screen. We have some exciting models and ideas that Anand and I will discuss about how this can completely be a success using technology in the future.

Viswanathan Anand please give us a sense of how this will be impactful and interesting and really build on this 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. At the same time, we don’t really want things to happen like last year with internet disconnections and things like that. The idea naturally came as let us have a League where the participants assemble in a specific location but each team might assemble at its own location. You get the professionalism. The second thing is we want to take the essence of chess but let us see how we can arrange everything looking at all the elements. Chess has dramatic moments and these are the peaks of times when it becomes very interesting. We will be on all the online channels and all that. For me it is perfect to have a tech partner like Tech Mahindra as it is a perfect company 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. Each one is slightly different so how to use technology to attract all of them is necessary.

Jagdish Mitra when is the League going to be launched?
Our plan is to launch it this year itself. We should be able to get this out soon and we do want to make sure that it does not clash with any other large chess event or tournament. We are in discussion to make sure that the timeline is right and the format talked about is we will have franchisees all over the world. We want to create the passion and fervor that is created when a country plays against another country like the good old days when there was a lot of chess rivalry. We want to bring in the team rivalry, a little bit of excitement and people are not being able to predict so the team compositions are going to be interesting, and we will keep the sanctity of the game absolutely without tampering with it. We want to make sure that the scoring, the format is ready. There is already quite a lot interest of people wanting to own teams or wanting to start this discussion which is great. There is interest from UK, USA and other countries to do this.

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