Third year of the Maharashtra Chess League

by ChessBase
6/8/2015 – It is just one state in India – but: Maharashtra is population wise far larger than any country in Europe, and: it has a thriving chess community. The state chess league is unique bidding system, definitely worthy of imitation, whereby top players are auctioned to the sponsors of the league. The inauguration is also graced by the likes of Vishy Anand and Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan.

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Third year of the Maharashtra Chess League

By Venkatachalam Saravanan

The Maharashtra Chess League (MCL), the only professional league of India, is scheduled to be held from June 11–14 at the PYC Hindu Gymkhana, Pune (Western India) for the third year in succession. As before, it is a six-team, six players per team rapid round robin tournament in the initial phase. After that comes the knockout stage between the top four, leading upto the final. MCL is a pan-Indian event, attracting some of the biggest Indian names, but with better opportunities for the players of Maharashtra state.

The event sponsorship comes from a group of leading corporates, with Amanora being the title sponsor, joined by the associate sponsors Persistent Systems, Kelzai Volcanic Water, H&R Johnson, and CISCO systems India.

Vishy Anand has been roped in by the Maharashtra chess association for all their big ticket events of the past – the previous editions of MCL and the World Juniors 2014. But the organisers scored heavily in finding a partner to play chess with Vishy when they got in the Bollywood superstar and one of the best "thinking man's actors" of contemporary popular Hindi cinema, Aamir Khan!

Aamir (left in the image above) is a self-confessed chess enthusiast, to the extent of enjoying a game of chess even during film shootings. He has been spotted in odd chess events in Mumbai in the past, and is also in personal contact with Anand. Turning up for an exhibition game against the former World Champion, Aamir brought glamour to the "players auction" and launch of the event at Mumbai on 22nd May 2015.

The exhibition game between Aamir Khan and Anand was inaugurated by Aniruddha Deshpande, Chairman of the organizing committee. Watching on the left are grandmaster Abhijit Kunte and Ashok Jain, President of Maharashtra Chess Association.

Aamir has been spotted in a simultaneous display given by Indian GM Abhijit Kunte in the past. No, the image on the right is no movie shot – it was taken during the actual simultaneous game, which ended in a draw.

Aamir Khan, 50, is an actor, director, producer and television presenter. Through his successful career in Hindi films he established himself as one of the most popular and influential actors of Indian cinema. He is the recipient of four National Film Awards and seven Filmfare Awards. In 2001 he appeared in Lagaan, which received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 74th Academy Awards. In 2008, Khan appeared in the movie Ghajini, which was the highest grossing Bollywood movie of that year.

Of course, inviting Aamir Khan generated great buzz among media, the public and chess players alike, as can be gauged by the tweet from Scottish Grandmaster with an Indian connection, Jonathan Rowson. Referred in the tweet is Lagaan, the blockbuster Hindi movie, in which Aamir plays the imaginary protagonist Indian villager who challenges and defeats a team of British in a cricket match during pre-independence days.

Joining the fun himself, Anand too had a teaser tweet for Aamir, and got a warning from his former second Surya Ganguly:

In a grand setting, Anand and Aamir played out a serious game of chess, which turned out to be a surprisingly decent effort by Aamir from the white side of a game resembling an 1.e4 e5 opening structure, lasting for about 25 moves.

Yes, they were indeed this serious during the game

Having a personal contact with each other already, Aamir and Anand enthralled the press conference, coming up with memorable quips entertaining the assembled press:

  • Anand's young son Akhil often fiddles with the phone and calls up Aamir Khan, as the number features early in the alphabetical contacts. Aamir hurriedly picks up the phone, excited that the former world champion would be calling him!
  • On being asked if he would consider acting, Anand remarked, "I am a good actor when it comes to hiding my expressions from my opponent after a mistake or a blunder – so I may not give out any expression when the director of the film calls for it!
  • When he got engaged to Aruna, Anand stepped into her room at home and found it full of heartthrob Aamir Khan's posters.

Aruna Anand, getting to meet her favourite of youth

  • But of course, the quote of Aamir which went viral was that among his fellow actors, it was that the "beauty with oodles of attitude" Katrina Kaif, one of the most googled names of India, too could play chess. The info was picked up immediately on Twitter and by the tabloid press of not only India, but even from our "friendly" neighbour Pakistan! (He mentioned a few other Indian actors' names too, but they were not surprisingly left out).  

Aamir Khan with Katrina Kaif

Well, we never mind publicity for chess, even of the subcontinental tabloid variety!

Ever the jovial, Aamir recalled playing an eight-year-old on the sidelines of a chess tournament at Mumbai years before and getting beaten. He played the same guy a few months later and the boy beat him again. "But you have improved from last time," , he remarked cheekily, "and are playing better chess now!" 

Aamir meets the chess columnist of the newspaper Deccan Herald Manisha Mohite (who also hosted the MCL auction). He confessed to reading her columns regularly, leaving the popular chess journalist beaming.

This whole exhibition match and press conference happened after a hectic and well fought Auction, where the registered players were aggressively bid for and picked up by the six team owners along with their coaches. As in the previous edition, the six teams from various cities of Maharashtra who are participating in the league are:

  1. Pune Attackers (Owned by Goel Ganga Group),
  2. Jalgaon Battlers (Jain Irrigation Systems Pvt. Ltd.),
  3. Thane Combatants (MEP Infrastructures),
  4. Ahmednagar Checkers (RBS Sportethics),
  5. Mumbai Movers (Shri Hari Extrusion Limited),
  6. Pune Tru Masters (Tru Space).

The setting of the auction at Novotel, Mumbai

The bidding process, with Manisha Mohite running the auction

Prior to the auctions, the owners and the players were given the option of retaining or be retained by the previous players and owners on mutual consent, with an increase of 10% from the previous year's purse. Some of the owners and the players decided to go for the safe option, the prominent pair among them being young and strong grandmasters Vidit Gujrathi and Baskaran Adhiban, who were retained by the previous year's winner Jalgaon Battlers.

Vidit Gujrathi and Baskaran Adhiban, the "yellowmen" sticking to the winning team Jalgaon

The auction of the event was held at the Hotel Novotel Juhu Beach, Mumbai in presence of Anand, with a total 70 registered players going under the hammer, with 13 GMs, 14 IMs and 5 WGMs among them. The open auction process was hosted in a classy atmosphere, with an enhanced kitty of Rs.400,000 for each team to pick their players.

The new superstar who entered the fray for this year’s edition of MCL is, without any doubt, Koneru Humpy. And expectantly, there was a bidding war over her, with the Mumbai Movers picking her up for a record high price of Rs.152,000 (approximately 2100 Euro), while the best woman player awardee of both the previous editions, WGM Padmini Rout, was picked up by Pune Attackers for Rs.152,000. Since each team has to field a minimum of 3 players from Maharashtra in each round, titled players of the state were in high demand, as former world junior girls champion WGM Soumya Swaminathan (Rs.75,000) and WGM Eesha Karavade (Rs.112,000) were picked up for decent prices too.

Women power! (clockwise from top left) Humpy Koneru,
Padmini Rout, Soumya Swaminathan and Eesha Karavade

As the entire auction process was accompanied by live text commentary on the official website, all the WGMs picking up high tabs generated lot of interest on the cyberspace...

... and former World Junior champion GM Abhijeet Gupta came up with a cheeky quote!

Before you jump to Nigel Shortesque conclusions on women's chess, be informed that Abhijeet is a man who has dry humour and was just having fun hanging out. At the end of the auction, as the dust settled, the final composition of teams came to

Maharashtra Chess League 2015 - Teamwise Players List

Pune TruMasters
1 Abhijit Kunte GM Maharashtra   100,000 Auction
2 S.P. Sethuraman GM Tamil Nadu     99,000 Retained
3 Swati Ghate WGM Maharashtra     62,000 Retained
4 Maru Ann Gomes WGM West Bengal     48,000 Auction
5 Swayams Mishra IM Odisha     48,000 Auction
6 Abhishek Kelkar Rated Maharashtra     20,000 Auction
7 Shashikant Kutwal Rated Maharashtra     20,000 Auction
Jalgaon Battlers
1 Vidit Gujarathi GM Maharashtra   132,000 Retained
2 B. Adhiban GM Tamil Nadu   104,000 Retained
3 Srinath Narayanan IM Tamil Nadu     61,000 Auction
4 Kiran M. Mohanty WGM Odisha     30,000 Auction
5 Nubairshah Shaikh Rated Maharashtra     43,000 Auction
6 Rutuja Bakshi Women Maharashtra     10,000 Auction
Ahmednagar Checkers
1 Abhijeet Gupta GM Rajasthan   120,000 Auction
2 Rucha Pujari Women Maharashtra     63,000 Auction
3 M. Shyamsundar GM Tamil Nadu     60,000 Auction
4 SL Narayanan IM Kerala     50,000 Auction
5 Shardul Gagare IM Maharashtra     36,000 Retained
6 Aakanksha Hagawane Women Maharashtra     31,000 Auction
7 Pratik Patil Rated Maharashtra     17,000 Auction
8 Vignesh NR Rated Tamil Nadu     11,000 Retained
Thane Combatants
1 Eesha Karavade WGM Maharashtra   114,000 Auction
2 Aravindh Chitambaram GM Tamil Nadu     75,000 Auction
3 Lalith Babu MR GM Andhra Pradesh     75,000 Auction
4 Soumya Swaminathan WGM Maharashtra     75,000 Auction
5 Ratnakaran K. IM Kerala     30,000 Auction
6 Abhimanyu Puranik Rated Maharashtra     12,000 Retained
7 Chinmay Kulkarni Rated Maharashtra     10,000 Auction
Mumbai Movers
1 Koneru Humpy GM Andhra Pradesh   152,000 Auction
2 Vaibhav Suri GM New Delhi     60,000 Auction
3 Diptayan Ghosh IM West Bengal     51,000 Auction
4 Vikramaditya Kulkarni IM Maharashtra     30,000 Auction
5 Rakesh Kulkarni Rated Maharashtra     12,000 Retained
6 Shalmali Gagare Women Maharashtra     10,000 Auction
Pune Attackers
1 Padmini Rout IM Odisha   150,000 Auction
2 Venkatesh MR GM Tamil Nadu     90,000 Auction
3 Swapnil Dhopade IM Maharashtra     79,000 Retained
4 Thejkumar M.S. IM Karnataka     33,000 Retained
5 Parnali Dharia Women Maharashtra     31,000 Auction
6 Aniruddha Deshpande Rated Maharashtra     10,000 Auction

To recap some of the important regulations of the event: every team must field at least three players from Mahrashtra in each round, and including two women players is compulsory. 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.


The event will feature extensive coverage and live game telecast at the official website, Twitter and Facebook.

IM Venkatachalam Saravanan is not only strong chess player but also an excellent writer as well as a photographer. When not in action on the chessboard, you can spot him with non-chess book. A voracious reader, he has a great vocabulary. ChessBase thanks him for bringing us some wonderful background reports on chess in India.

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