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MCL 2016: Where chess meets fun!

by V. Saravanan - 23/05/2016

It is one of the most colourful events of our country. The Maharashtra Chess League, India's only chess league, is into its fourth year and is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. The most unique feature of the MCL is the auction! Six team owners bid their amount in order to get the best players in their team. There were some brilliant moves, some blunders but all in all it was an exciting evening that was capped with an hour long speech by Vishy Anand. Saravanan, who is an inseparable part of the MCL team, takes us through this fun filled day. 

The fourth edition of the Maharashtra Chess League (MCL), the only professional league of India, is being held from June 11 -15, 2016 at the PYC Hindu Gymkhana, Pune. The six-team event with six players a side will be a rapid tournament (25mins + 10 sec increment) where the teams initially play a round-robin followed by a knockout between four teams to decide the winners.

The title sponsor of the event is the Persistent Systems, a technology services company with a revenue of US $ 308 Million in 2014-15, and supported by de Asra Foundation, an entrepreneurship consultancy company, with the support of Amanora Knowledge Foundation, Pune. The Tournament has been a brainchild of Grandmaster Abhijit Kunte and Aniruddha Deshpande, President of the Pune District Chess Circle.

As the first stage of the event, the auctions to select the players for each team was held at Amanora Park Town, Pune on the 21st of May 2016.

Vishy Anand has been the Brand Ambassador of the event since its inception, and the auction of the event was held at the Amanora parktown, Pune in his presence.

Six teams from various cities of Maharashtra participating in the league are: Jalgaon Battlers (owned by Jain Irrigation Systems Pvt. Ltd.), Thane Combatants (MEP Infrastructures), RBS Ahmednagar Checkers (RBS SportsEthix), Mumbai Movers (Shri Hari Extrusion Limited) and Pune Tru Masters (Tru Space), and the new team of Pune Sangli Nok 99 Navigators (Co-owned by Sujanil Chemo Industries, Chitale Dairy and iLEAD Chess Academy).

The colourful and creative logos of all six teams

The Auctions of the MCL have always been a grand affair, and the setting lived upto the reputation this year too

Prior to the auctions, the owners and the players were given the option of opting to retain / be retained with the previous players / owners on mutual consent, with an increase of 10% from the previous year’s purse, and 20% in case the player had ‘jumped’ categories, e.g IM to GM, become a WGM etc. 

GM S.P. Sethuraman was retained by Pune TruMasters and...

...recently minted GM Shardul Gagare by Ahmednagar Checkers

Being the fourth year, the MCL Auction has become a highly contested affair itself, with all the team owners (assisted by coaches of the teams who are decent chess players themselves!) approaching the event with careful strategies, as the whole team has to be picked within a budget of Rs.450,000, including the retainership fees.

Rules of the event made the bidding of the players tricky. Though it is technically a league for the state of Maharashtra, practically the best players of the country participate. The registered players for the event literally was a who’s who of Indian chess, with 16 GMs, 22 IMs and 8 WGMs among the total 78 to choose from. Every team have to field at least three players from Mahrashtra in each round (which makes the players of Maharashtra very much in demand). It is also necessary to have two women players playing out of the six and each team must have at least a GM, a WGM, an IM, an under-16 player in their ranks.

The second quirk of the bidding process being, the auction being scheduled in two rounds with a break in between. The logic being, the teams could skip any player who was offered in the first round (in case they had any other ‘target’ in mind), but bid for him again in the 2nd round. Thus, the teams approached the event with clear strategies which showed as the auction progressed, which was covered with Live text commentary at the official website.

The bidding started with the grandmasters, and teams pointedly ignored all the offers to fight it out except for the 2600+ GMs – Sasikiran, Adhiban and Abhijeet Gupta. ‘Sasi’ was expectedly fought very hard for between RBS Ahmednagar Checkers and Thane Combatants, and Checkers finally pocketed him for a whopping Rs.170,000 (US$ 2225 Appr.), thus becoming the priciest player ever in MCL, beating Koneru Humpy’s record from the previous year of Rs.150,000.

Contacted for a quote on becoming the costliest ever of the MCL, Sasi decided to keep it low-key with a simple, “Hoping to play some good quality chess”, unlike his predecessors Abhijit Kunte (“It is a very heady realisation that you are the costliest in this hall!” in 2014) and Koneru Humpy (“A really nice feeling!”)

Sasikiran Krishnan is the highest paid player in the 2016 MCL auction


RBS Ahmednagar Checkers picking up Krishnan Sasikiran, with a little assistance from an insider: L-R: Siddharth Mayur, WIM Mrunalini Kunte (Coach of the Checkers), Vishy, Dhaval Shah and Narendra Firodia.

But as all strategies go, there were many surprises and disappointments too. GM Lalithbabu was picked up for a relatively low price of Rs.65,000 in the very first round by Thane Combatants, as the other teams skipped the sub-2600 GMs in the first round.

Lalithbabu embraced by his team owner Sachin Awasthee of Thane Combatants from a memorable moment last year when the grandmaster beat S.P. Sethuraman in an armageddon game

Since only twelve men Grandmasters were eventually picked, with each team having two of them, two of the strangest omissions were the young National Champion Murali Karthikeyan, and M.R.Venkatesh - a strong rapid player who won the best player award of the first year of MCL with a score of 7.0/7.

GM M.R.Venkatesh – unlucky to miss out

But the biggest surprises happened in the distaff side. Humpy Koneru was expected to better her previous year’s demand but was picked up for a price of Rs.138,000 (Rs. 12,000 less than previous year) by Jalgaon Battlers.

Humpy in action during MCL 2015

Jalgaon battlers with two helpers: L-R Faruk Shaikh, Abhijit Kunte, Vishy, Moreshwar Bhagwat (Coach of Battlers), Pravin Thakre and another staff

Since players of Maharashtra and women players being in demand, those who fulfilled both the criteria were paid really well. IM Eesha Karavade thus enjoyed her rarity and was picked up for a whopping Rs.158,000/- by Pune TruMasters.

As Soumya Swaminathan had decided to retain herself, Eesha Karavade (above) along with WGM Swati Ghate were the only strong Maharashtra woman players in the auction

Another surprise came up when WGM Padmini Rout was aggressively pursued and finally bought for Rs.161,000 (more than Humpy!) by Thane Combatants, even though Padmini doesn’t belong to Maharashtra. But probably, her two best woman player awards in the previous MCL editions helped…

Padmini Rout showing more than a face of MCL 2015

One of the most heartening gestures came from Rishi Gupta, owner of Mumbai Movers, as he suddenly requested that the bidding price of young and upcoming R.Vaishali of Tamilnadu be hiked and bought for Rs.103,000, and refused any explanation when contacted for quote, but making obvious his magnanimous gesture with the act.

Rishi Gupta, owner of Mumbai Movers, seen here shaking hands with WGM Soumya Swaminathan, is a colourful personality

And this edition of MCL has brought out palace intrigues to the fore, literally! Rishi Gupta’s wife, Hemangi Gupta runs a chess Academy – ‘iLead Chess Academy’, and has become the co-owner of the new team this year – Pune Sangli Nok99 Navigators. Thus, the husband-wife duo owning different teams, we are set to witness family battles being fought on 64 squares and six boards in a large hall in a posh club of Pune shortly! A prelude of things to come indicated itself when their daughter 12 year old Ananya Rishi Gupta (rated 1842) was briefly bidded between the couple and picked up by the mother’s team!

Pune Sangli Nok99 Navigators in the paint: Hemangi Gupta flanked by Girish Chitale (blue shirt) and IM Akshat Khamparia (Coach – black shirt) feeling the heat, with the background bringing out the tense atmosphere

In the second round, one of the biggest stars of MCL 2015, young GM Aravindh Chithambaram was once again picked up by Thane Combatants, the defending champions, for Rs.85,000.

Aravindh Chithambaram scored a crucial victory over Abhijeet Gupta in the finals in MCL 2015, and his delighted team-mates hoisted him in celebration!

The best feature of the league is to enable young talents of the state to mingle with the best of the stars of the country, thus enabling the aims of the leagues to be fulfilled.

Young Akanksha Hagawane hired for Jalgaon battlers…

…and Abhimanyu Puranik for Thane Combatants

Thus, as the dust settled, this is how the teams have been formed:

1. Ahmednagar Checkers

No Name of the Player Category State Price (Rs) Remarks
1 Krishnan Sasikiran GM TN 170,000 Auction
2 Shardul Gagare GM Maharashtra 72,000 Retained
3 Tania Sachdev IM New Delhi 50000 Auction
4 Bhakti Kulkarni WGM Goa 40000 Auction
5 Sagar Shah IM Maharashtra 30000 Auction
6 Shashikant Kutwal Men Maharashtra 11000 Auction
7 Sankarsha Shelke Men Maharashtra 10000 Auction
8 Pawan Dodeja Men Maharashtra 10000 Auction
Total Amount (₹) 393,000  


2. Thane Combatants

No Name of the Player Category State Price (Rs) Remarks
1 Padmini Rout IM Orissa 161000 Auction
2 Aravindh Chitambaram GM TN 85000 Auction
3 Soumya Swaminathan WGM Maharashtra 82,500 Retained
4 Lalith Babu M R  GM AP 65000 Auction
5 Abhimanyu Puranik IM Maharashtra 36,000 Retained
6 Aniruddha Deshpande Men Maharashtra 14000 Auction
Total Amount (₹) 443,500  


3. Pune TruMasters

No Name of the Player Category State Price (Rs) Remarks
1 Eesha Karavade IM Maharashtra 158,000 Auction
2 S.P. Sethuraman GM Tamil Nadu 108,900 Retained
3 V. Vishnu Prasanna GM TN 50,000 Auction
4 Abhishek Kelkar IM Maharashtra 36,000 Retained
5 Harshit Raja Men Maharashtra 36,000 Auction
6 Swayams Mishra IM Orissa 30,000 Auction
7 Rucha Pujari Women Maharashtra 28,000 Auction
Total Amount (₹) 446,900  


4. Pune Sangli Navigators

No Name of the Player Category State Price (Rs) Remarks
1 B. Adhiban GM TN 150,000 Auction
2 Abhijit Kunte GM Maharashtra 100,000 Auction
3 Mary Ann Gomes WGM WB 46000 Auction
4 Sameer Kathmale IM Maharashtra 30000 Auction
5 Aditya Udeshi IM Maharashtra 30000 Auction
6 V. Varshini Women TN 26000 Auction
7 Ananya Gupta Women Maharashtra 11000 Auction
8 Akash Thakur Men Maharashtra 10000 Auction
Total Amount (₹) 403,000  


5. Mumbai Movers

No Name of the Player Category State Price (Rs) Remarks
1 Abhijeet Gupta GM Rajasthan 140000 Auction
2 R. Vaishali Women TN 103000 Auction
3 Swati Ghate WGM Maharashtra 70000 Auction
4 Diptayan Ghosh GM WB 60000 Auction
5 Vikramaditya Kulkarni IM Maharashtra 33,000 Retained
6 Rakesh Kulkarni Rated Maharashtra 13,200 Retained
7 Raunak Sadhwani Men Maharashtra 10000 Auction
8 Saloni Sapale Women Maharashtra 10000 Auction
Total Amount (₹) 439,200  


6. Jalgaon Battlers

No Name of the Player Category State Price (Rs) Remarks
1 Koneru Humpy GM AP 138,000 Auction
2 Swapnil Dhopade GM  Maharashtra 120,000 Auction
3 Narayanan SL GM Kerala 75,000 Auction
4 Nubairshah Shaikh Rated Maharashtra 47,300 Retained
5 Srinath Narayanan IM TN 30,000 Auction
6 Rutuja Bakshi Women  Maharashtra 11,000 Retained
7 Aakanksha Hagawane Women  Maharashtra 10,000 Auction
8 Pratik Patil Men Maharashtra 10,000 Auction
Total Amount (₹) 441,300  

Of course, MCL is not just about the chess competition. The five day event creates so much energy and frolic that, it has been christened and denoted by the tagline ‘where chess meets fun’. For example, in the previous year, the best dug-out design for the teams was given out a special prize which went to Pune TruMasters, with a unique concept.

The Pune TruMasters team, seated in their dugouts, which was designed with the pensketches of all the team members with modernistic colour strokes. L-R: Shashikant Kutwal, Sethuraman, Swayams Mishra, Ashwin Trimal (Owner), Atharva Godbole, Abhijit Kunte, Abhishek Kelkar, Mary Ann Gomes and Swati Ghate
Backbone of the MCL: L-R- Narendra Firodia, Dhaval Shah & Siddharth Mayur (RBS Ahmednagar Checkers), Sachin Awasthee (Thane Combatants), Vishy, Aniruddha Deshpande, Faruk Shaikh (Jalgaon Battlers), Ashwin Trimal (Pune TruMasters), Ashish Desai, Girish Chitale and Hemangi Gupta (Pune Sangli Nok99 Navigators) and Rishi Gupta (Mumbai Movers)

After the auction, Vishy Anand gave an hour-long lecture on, ‘Checkmate – journey through vagaries of life and career’, espousing strategies for his success. The evening’s event was sponsored by IIFL – Private Wealth Management, and was an excellently organized event.


The lecture kicked with a formal Indian welcome – Namaste - when Vishy was joined by the stars of Maharashtra, Swati Ghate, Pravin Thipsay, Soumya Swaminathan and Abhijit Kunte

Anand’s lecture almost was a down-the-memory lane recollections by the Indian legend:

  • Started his journey at the age of 6 where his mother played the most vital role in his chess as she would make notes on the puzzles that were hosted on television in Philippines, and the encouragement she offered all through
  • He was always attracted towards chess on his own
  • His Chess strength grew along with accumulation of various perspectives. While facing Karpov in the Candidates 1991, Gurevich made a point about his opponent - that Karpov does not make his own ideas but only stops those of his opponents – a valuable insight at that point

  • Pattern recognition is the way one masters any field. Mastery and recollection of positions aides one’s decision making. Most of the strongest players have have photographic memories.
  • Arrival of computers changed mastering various skills for players. As his generation was introduced to chess through books, it is all about computer for the current generation where chess is faster and demands more computer skills, which the elder generations struggle with.
  • After using computers even he doesn't want to go back to books. After reading a book nowadays he wants to go back and check them with a computer.
  • In the 2013 match against Carlsen, he had missed one key element. That computers had grown in strength and thus it was difficult to come up with new ideas. So the situation gave much more room for a typical stylist to assert himself over the board
  • When he was young he went around tourist spots and came much fresher to the board
  • Fitness is not only important for chess but also an important regime which one must follow

The event would feature extensive coverage and live game telecast at the official website:, Twitter: and Facebook: ChessBase India will be covering the event extensively with round by round reports and Priydarshan Banjan being present at the venue.

20 days to go! Let the countdown begin!

With thanks to contributions from Manisha Mohite, Hemangi Gupta and Akshat Khamparia

About the Author

Venkatachalam Saravanan performs multiple tasks at the MCL. He is the comperer and keeps the show going with his humour and lively interviews. He also takes care of the reporting and maintains the social media presence of the event. He is an International Master and has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, and has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s. He turned complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second and a trainer to a handful of Indian players. He reports on chess tournaments, occasionally being a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels. Apart from chess, he is also interested in Tamil and English literature, music and photography.

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