Ruchika Jha

Have India's chess triumphs failed to attract marketing dollars?

Grandmasters collaborating with tech, AI, or educational firms could forge successful partnerships, say brand strategists.

On Sunday, April 21, 2024, India’s 17-year-old chess grandmaster Dommaraju Gukesh became the youngest chess player to win the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE) Candidates Chess title in Toronto.

In all, three of the eight candidates were from India. Other than Gukesh, the other two chess grandmasters who qualified for the men’s cycle of the Candidates Tournament were Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi. Additionally, two of the eight women who qualified were Indian - Koneru Humpy and Vaishali Rameshbabu.

In the men's section, Praggnanandhaa ranked 5th with 7 points, followed by Gujrathi at the 6th position with 6 points. In the women's section, Humpy secured the 2nd position with 7.5 points, and Vaishali ranked 4th with 7.5 points as well.

While we witness the growing brand value of athletes of other sports following their victories, it appears that brands are yet to fully engage with the world of chess and its champions.

For years, chess has maintained a deep relationship with India, growing each year as a steady stream of talented players emerges onto the global stage. India has continuously hosted chess tournaments for several years.

In 2022, the Chess Olympiad was hosted by India for the first time. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the FIDE, also known as the World Chess Federation, decided to move the 44th Chess Olympiad, FIDE Congress, and Chess Olympiad for People with Disabilities away from Russia.

Shortly after this announcement, the All India Chess Federation (AICF) expressed its interest in hosting the events, in either Delhi, Gujarat, or Tamil Nadu. On 15 March 2022, FIDE announced that Chennai would be the new host of the event.

In 2023, Indian businessman and chairman of the Mahindra Group, Anand Mahindra, organised the Global Chess League 2023, featuring some of the most well-known players in the world. The event was streamed live on JioCinema.

So much concerted effort towards chess, so many intelligent, sharp, and well-known grandmasters who are making the country proud on a global level, and yet we do not see brand sponsorships and collaborations with chess players.


When brands think of onboarding celebrities or sports stars for partnership, they tend to look at their (celebrities’) popularity, fanbase, and engagement with the audience, and then forge partnerships, making content that would relate to the audience.

Toru Jhaveri, founder and strategy lead, The Stuff Of Life, an advertising and communications agency, believes that chess embodies very specific qualities that are often difficult for the general audience to relate to and are also cerebral. According to her, cerebral means “being focussed, and intelligent. These are qualities that we may admire but as we move into it, we cannot relate with them.”

However, Ambika Sharma, founder and chief strategist, Pulp Strategy, a digital communications agency, says that the relatively low number of brand partnerships with chess champions, despite the country's strong performance in the sport, can primarily be attributed to the niche audience and low media visibility of chess compared to more mainstream sports like cricket and football.

Ambika Sharma
Ambika Sharma
Sustained mainstream media coverage and consistent audience engagement are required for brands to see value in long-term partnerships.
Ambika Sharma, founder and chief strategist, Pulp Strategy

“While chess champions such as Viswanathan Anand have historically secured endorsements, the overall marketability of chess players remains limited because the sport does not command the same broad, televised appeal and high-impact visibility that attract major sponsors,” she adds.

Chess hype among content creators

Not only have the olympiads and tournaments gained traction, but the craze for chess has also swept through gen Z on the internet. Stand-up comedians and influencers like Samay Raina and Biswa Kalyan Rath delved into chess during the pandemic, holding online chess tournaments and charity events, sparking significant interest among their followers and contributing to the growth of playing chess online.

For some brands, it can be a piece of cake to reach out to influencers like Raina as they are an easier fit to make. Sharma explains that while Raina and Rath raised the profile of chess during the COVID-19 pandemic, translating this hype into brand endorsements has been challenging.

Toru Jhaveri
Toru Jhaveri
If you have a very specific kind of product there may be a more direct correlation between what you want your brand to represent and qualities associated with a chess grandmaster.
Toru Jhaveri, founder and strategy lead, The Stuff Of Life

“Sustained mainstream media coverage and consistent audience engagement are required for brands to see value in long-term partnerships. The sporadic nature of viral content often doesn't provide this consistency. Efforts by the players to create consumable content will improve the chances of discovery,” says Sharma.

How can chess players attract brand sponsorships?

Though less, there are a few firms that are now recognising the chess champions and showing interest in collaborating with them. In 2023, financial advisory firm Ambit had onboarded Vidit Gujarathi as its brand ambassador as the company fostered a strategic alliance in Chess, to help develop the game.

Sandeep Singhal, co-founder and managing partner, WestBridge, an investment firm, joined forces with former World Chess Champ Viswanathan Anand to start the WestBridge Anand Chess Academy (WACA) in India. They aim to help young chess talent grow. WestBridge not only mentors Gukesh at WACA but also is in a five-year sponsorship deal with him.

Anand himself has also endorsed brands like Subway,, Horlicks, NIIT, Parle Milk Shakti, Edify, Vodafone, and Crocin.

Darshana Bhalla, founder and CEO, D’Artist Talent Ventures, an integrated multi-disciplinary celebrity solutions firm, says that attracting sponsorships in chess requires a combination of sporting success and personal branding by the player.

She shares, “The landscape of chess and media, hence the sponsorships, in India is evolving currently. Albeit, there has been a chasm in being able to extrapolate such sponsorships to commercial purposes, thereby increasing opportunities for players to receive financial support and recognition for their achievements.”

For a chess player in India to attract brand sponsorships, they need to not only excel at the game but also increase their public visibility and media presence. As per Jhaveri, many chess players seem intimidating, though they may not be. But for all the qualities that they embody, they seem very intimidating to the general public.

“I would imagine that if you have a very specific kind of product, perhaps tailored for a B2B audience and related to technology or artificial intelligence, there may be a more direct correlation between what you want your brand to represent and the qualities associated with a chess grandmaster,” she asserts.

The path ahead

Years go by, but the question still lingers - Is there a chance that brands will consider partnering with chess grandmasters? The answer is certainly not a definitive no, but there must be at least a response.

Darshana Bhalla
Darshana Bhalla
Factors like intellectual appeal, engaged fan base, media exposure, collaborative opportunities, and potential for long-term partnerships can encourage brands to consider chess players as ambassadors.
Darshana Bhalla, founder and CEO, D’Artist Talent Ventures

Bhalla states that factors like intellectual appeal, global reach, positive image, engaged fan base, media exposure, versatility, collaborative opportunities, and potential for long-term partnerships can effectively encourage brands to consider chess players as valuable brand ambassadors.

Sharma emphasises showcasing successful partnerships within the sport as it can serve as case studies for potential sponsors. She also believes that by creating diverse media content, chess players and associations could partner with content creators to regularly produce engaging, relatable content that reaches a broader audience.

“Identifying brands that align with the intellectual and strategic aspects of chess, such as tech companies or educational platforms, could lead to more fruitful partnerships. A brand can also organise fun initiatives like an open challenge to play against a chess prodigy or a corporate challenge to foster more audience engagement,” she conveys.

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