It's back: the Maharashtra Chess League 2014

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
6/2/2014 – It is a unique chess tournament that starts with an exciting bidding process by private sponsors to determined the line-ups of the teams. Some of the top Indian players are up for sale to the highest bidders: GMs Abhijit Kunte and Vidit Gujrathi netting Rs. 120,000 each. Present at the auction was former World Champion Viswanathan Anand. Big illustrated report by V. Saravanan.

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The Maharashtra Chess League is scheduled to be held from June 11 -15 at the PYC Hindu Gymkhana, Pune (Western India) for the second year in succession. It will be a six team, six players a side rapid tournament, where the teams play a round-robin with each other in the first three days. The top four proceed to the semi-finals on the penultimate day and the winners go to the finals on the last day.

This is the first and only professional chess league of the country, and the event sponsorship comes from Johnson Tiles and Amanora Knowledge Foundation and UFO Digital Cinema. The hospitality partner is Hyatt Pune and venue partner is PYC Hindu Gymkhana, Pune.

Cricket being the most dominant sport of India, the teams have been named synonymous with the well known Cricket Indian Premier League (IPL). The six teams have been thus colourfully named after the cities of Maharashtra from which the sponsoring corporates hail from: Pune Attackers (Owned by Goel Ganga Group), Jalgaon Battlers (Jain Irrigation Systems Pvt. Ltd.), Thane Combatants (MEP Infrastructures), Ahmednagar Checkers (RBS Sportethics), Mumbai Movers (South Mumbai Chess Association) and new-entrants Pune Tru Masters (Tru Space). For example, the top two teams who have reached the finals of the IPL are Kings’ XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders.

Novelty and grandiose being the norm of the event, the organisers managed to invite the former World Champion Vishy Anand (above) for the Players’ Auction on 30th May, just like last year. True to his usual self, Vishy charmed the city of Pune…

Enjoying a Q&A session, with the President of the MCL Aniruddha Deshpande (left)

The main forces behind the event: GM Abhijit Kunte, Ravindra Dongre and Dilip Pagay.
The strange and unusual fact is that all these administrators happen to be present and
past chess players – not what you would expect in a group of administrators.

A group photo for the record – with all the team owners...

... and one with the youngsters

Even the for the obligatory selfie…

The MCL follows a set of rules for team compositions and auction, which are influenced by the tournament regulations. In a gist:

  • The category of players who constitute a team: men players to include GMs, IMs and rated players; women players to include WGMs and women rated players. (As logical, rated players also denote to GMs, WGMs and IMs).
  • Each team has to field at least three players from Maharashtra in every round, apart from fielding two women players compulsorily.
  • There are no general board orders for teams during the event! This means that, players with equal strengths will rarely play each other in every round.
  • Each team has a total maximum kitty of Rs. 350,000 (approx. €4340) from which it is mandatory to bid for a minimum of six players with two women players. This should include at minimum one GM, one IM, one WGM, one woman player and one rated male player. If managed well, the franchise may bid and acquire as many players as possible with as high a rating/title as desired.
  • There is a policy of retaining players from the previous year:
    • Players decide if they wish to be retained to their previous teams from last year. When they do, it is up to the teams to decide which players to retain, subject to a maximum of two per team.
    • Retained players get an extra 10% from their previous year’s fees, which is deducted from the total kitty of each franchise.

Lalith Babu was the only GM to be retained by his previous
team, Pune Attackers, the winners of in 2013

  • Each player who has registered to play in the league quotes a base price for himself, which will be the lowest amount of his bid. Whatever the player gets as his finally bid, the bidding amount is paid to the player by the franchise, apart from his covering costs to participate in the event.

All such rules lead to lots of thinking and strategies behind the bidding process. Just a few examples:

  1. Since there were bound to be a lower number of titled players from Maharashtra (compared to all the other states), during the auction, teams bid aggressively for GMs, WGMs, and IMs from Maharashtra. The logic is that, if they get any of these three, they can pick up another GM or WGM from another state for a cheaper price later on, and can thus pick a strong team.
  2. If you are lucky enough to ‘catch’ a GM or WGM from Maharashtra first, then you can pick another GM or WGM from another state for a cheaper price, thus loading your team with strong titled players.
  3. At the same time, while bidding for stronger players, you will also have to keep in mind that he can bring maximum of only one point every round, which can also be brought by a strong non-titled player. So, instead of spending too much of your kitty on a strong GM, you can go for modest rated players in the GM category, and aggressively bid for untitled players among men and women from Maharashtra later on.
  4. Because of the ‘no board order’ rule, non-titled players who can play solidly with the black pieces are more in demand, which means that the team owners and coaches had to do their homework before coming to the auction…

Thus, the chaotic auction took place in a tense atmosphere on the 30th May, with team owners sitting with the team coaches to help them with the biddings. There were totally 63 players who went under the hammer…

IM DV Prasad, who was the winning team captain last year, with clever distribution
of colours to his players, helping out the team owners

IWM Mrunalini Kunte – GM Abhijit sister – for Ahmednagar Checkers

Brothers Chandrasekhar (second from left) and Jayant Gokhale (extreme right) for the Thane Combatants

Finally, the teams selected were:

Scroll down to see all teams

Highest paid players of the MCL 2014 category-wise

Grandmasters - Abhijit Kunte (Ahmednagar Checkers) and Vidit Gujrathi (Jalgaon Battlers) Rs. 120,000 each – they jointly broke the record Rs. 115,000 paid out to GM Surya Ganguly as the highest priced player from last year.

Baskaran Adhiban and Vidit Gujrath:– two 2600+ for Jalgaon Battlers

WGM Eesha Karavade (Mumbai Movers): Rs. 85,000.

Woman player - Rucha Pujari (Jalgaon Battlers): Rs.27,000.

The venue of last year’s Maharashtra Chess League


The games will bebroadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.


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