Magnus Carlsen's legendary ability to spot openings on the chess board has transferred itself to his business dealings. And the reigning world champion has now turned his sights to India's rapidly growing digital chess community by setting up the Indian Open, to be held in the middle of 2021 with $200,000 in prize money.
If things work to plan, it will be the biggest-ever online chess event focused around the country. Top Indian players are expected to be invited along with Indian commentators.
ESPN believes that, while the Indian Open is yet to sign up a primary sponsor, Carlsen has ambitions to turn the event - hosted by chess24, the online platform acquired by his company Play Magnus AS in 2019 - into an annual feature. Chess24 will partner with Chessbase India and the tournament will, in addition to the host platform, be available on the latter's YouTube channel in both English and Hindi, apart from Eurosport and Discovery plus OTT app.
The tournament will look to tap in to India's growing army of chess streamers - players, trainers, stand-up comedians and a large generation of viewers, YouTube-coached and blitz-seeking. They all logged in to follow the Online Olympiad, which India won jointly with Russia in August, and it has placed the country among the most important geos for leading chess platforms.
The Indian Open will be a "major" on the $1.5 million Champions Chess tour 2021 launched by Play Magnus group, which has 10 events over 10 months - six regular events, three Majors, followed by the finals. The winner of a regular event qualifies for the Major and the winner of a Major finds a place in the finals in September 2021. The 16-player Skilling Open, which is the first event of the tour, starts on Sunday. Vidit Gujrathi is the only Indian player to figure in its line-up.
Earlier this month, Discover Inc's European sports network Eurosport signed a broadcast deal with Play Magnus group for the Pan-European and Asian rights to the Champions Chess Tour 2021, making it available across 60 markets in both continents. According to the agreement, live and localized coverage of the knockout rounds will be screened in English, German, French and Spanish via digital platforms - Eurosport app (Europe), DPay (Finland) and Discovery Plus (India).
Carlsen's business empire has been keeping up with his rising stature. In October, the Play Magnus Group went public, and was listed in the Oslo stock exchange.
The assembly line of online rapid and blitz events the world no. 1 player continues to roll out in the absence of top-flight over-the-board tournaments builds belief of all of this possibly being a prototype of grander future aspirations. Carlsen has, after all, been open about his reservations over the manner in which World Championship titles are currently decided.
With world body Fide pushing the year-end world rapid and blitz championship to 2021, the Carlsen-promoted Champions Chess tour with its promise of picking the best faster control players in the world, only assumes added heft.