This article originally appeared in The Field’s newsletter, Game Points, on June 5, 2024. Sign up here to get the newsletter directly delivered to your inbox every week.

Grandmaster Gukesh Dommaraju has been the toast of the nation since he became the youngest person to win the FIDE Candidates in April. He was 17 at the time.

Now a year older, Gukesh is widely regarded as the candidate most likely to help India regain the lost glory of Viswanathan Anand’s reign. There’s a good chance this could happen, given that the reigning world champion Ding Liren of China has been grappling with mental health issues like depression and struggling to produce results at the chess board.

Against this backdrop, there seems to be a bigger battle brewing behind the scenes in the ever-growing Indian chess market.

On Saturday, FIDE, the International Chess Federation that governs the sport around the world, announced that it has received three bids to host the World Championship match between Ding and Gukesh. Singapore – a country with a sizeable population of both ethnic Chinese and Indians – has expressed interest in providing a neutral battleground for the big-ticket clash. But the two other bids raised some eyebrows: Chennai and New Delhi.

The two Indian cities, located on opposite ends of the country’s map, have turned in bids of $8.5 million each – approximately Rs 71 crore – to host the event.

While $2.5 million of that sum is expected to be prize money, $1.1 million would be FIDE fee – an amount paid to the world body for the hosting rights.

To put things into perspective, for the 2022 Chess Olympiad held in Chennai, the host city shelled out Rs 75 crore. Unlike the World Championship match between two players, the Olympiad had more than 1,700 players from around 186 countries in action in the southern Indian city.

Meanwhile, for the 2013 World Championship match that Chennai hosted, the one in which Anand lost his crown to Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, former chief minister Jayalalitha’s government in Tamil Nadu had granted a sum of Rs 29 crore.

There were questions raised about the amount FIDE demanded when the bidding process was made public, but the fact that two Indian cities have bid to host the 2024 World Championship adds to the intrigue.

At a time when one would think that India’s entire chess machinery would work to help Gukesh win the biggest title the sport has to offer, a great schism has appeared within the sport in the country. The proverbial North versus South battle has found another chapter.

According to Emil Sutovsky, CEO of FIDE, Chennai was the first city to bid for the event. Delhi came in as a last-minute entrant on the final day, May 31.

The national chess body, the All India Chess Federation, has backed the Bharat Mandapam – the venue of the G20 summit in Delhi – as the venue for World Championship match. The Chennai bid has been routed via the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu and is supported by the state government.

The All India Chess Federation’s Delhi bid is also supported with a No Objection Certificate from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, as mandated by the National Sports Development Code of India, 2011.

The Chennai bid was made without an NOC from the Sports Ministry, reports say.

The Tamil Nadu government’s bid has not gone down well with the newly elected executive committee of the All India Chess Federation. It claimed the Chennai bid had not been put forward to the national association.

But as per FIDE guidelines, it is not mandatory to route the bids via a national federation.

As per a report in The New Indian Express, FIDE had written to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin convincing the state to put in a bid.

What may look like a sporting tug-of-war purely for hosting rights may also have underlying political interests.

On one side, there is Chennai, by far a leader in producing chess talent, and the hometown of both Anand and Gukesh. The city is in the state led by Stalin, whose Dravida Munnetra Kazahagam party is not aligned with the Bhartiya Janata Party, which leads the Union government.

But by the match being hosted in Delhi at a time of political tension between India and China, an in-form Gukesh taking on a struggling Liren for the biggest crown in chess may help the BJP’s optics.

All in all, the fact that two bids have been made from India for the same event without proper communication between the local groups does not offer a good picture for sports administration in the country.