About once a year, I write about chess. You can see previous year's installments back on my old steam-powered LiveJournal
. I've been wanting to write this for a while, ideally even as part of my wider mind sports round-up
, but if I had tried to fit it all in at the time, then the article wouldn't have been posted in any sort of timely fashion.
The most recent major tournament was the Tal memorial
, Tal being a reference to Mikhail, the eighth World Chess Champion from Latvia. The tournament was arguably the strongest held all year, with all ten participants ranked within the world's top thirteen (with only #1 Vesselin Topalov and Azerbaijan's top two players - #11 Teimour Redjabov and #6 Vugar Gashimov - missing. Can't remember ever hearing of Gashimov before.) Vladimir Kramnik, the fourteenth undisputed world champion, ended up at the top of the leaderboard, with three wins and six draws in what was his best result since, probably, his world championship unification victory in late 2006, ablutionary controversy and all. Second place was shared by Vassily Ivanchuk and Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen, the latter particularly impressive due to starting the tournament with a run of seven draws despite a head cold and finishing with a brace of victories.
The next major tournament rolls around next week and this time an unnamed City of London private sponsor has stumped up big money to fund the London Chess Classic
, not unreasonably considered the strongest tournament in the UK for 25 years. ( The line-up. )
So exciting times in the world of chess, yet the only event to make the mass media at all recently was Kasparov coming out of retirement for a twelve-game half-rapid half-blitz match against Karpov in September. Their epic matches may have been among the defining marks of sport in the first half of the '80s, but it does seem a shame that the mass media are stuck three-quarters of a generation behind the rest of us. Perhaps it's a sign that the mass media still associate chess with multi-month man-on-man epic matches, which would speak less well of FIDE's shorter matches and even knockout tournaments for their title.
Speaking of which, FIDE's World Cup is in progress, with 128 entrants winnowed down after five rounds of caissic combat to a final four: Belarus-to-Israel emigré Boris Gelfand, Carlsen counterpart Sergey Karjakin, Ruslan Ponomariov (who has history in these knockouts
) and surprise package Vladimir Malakhov who has probably amassed the most impressive beatpath to date. The 128 players in Khanty-Mansiysk (bless you), Russia will share US$1.6 million - specifically, they'll get 80% of it, and the organisers will keep 20%. The World Cup winner also gets one of the eight spots in the Candidates' Tournament to determine 2011's challenger. It's needlessly complicated (college football's BCS makes sense by comparison) and FIDE keep changing the rules
. No change there, then.
And yet I find it tricky to support individual chess players unless either (a) I've met them or (b) I share a nationality with them in an international competition. (Even as a child of the world with a globalist perspective, I tend to identify as British rather than English or European in such matters.) While chess is avowedly an individual game, I'm most interested in it as a team sport where a team might give me some degree of identification and thus rooting interest. Four competitions have caught my imagination over recent months - the same four as usual.
The 4 Nations Chess League, or 4NCL, is a face-to-face competition in Great Britain with 11 rounds of play over five weekends between teams of eight players. ( Read more... )
The European Club Cup 2009 is a similar sort of tournament, but the teams of six are drawn from leagues all across Europe. ( Read more... )
This event took place two weeks before the European Team Chess Championship - a similar enterprise, but the latter is played between national teams of four rather than between clubs who may field international line-ups. ( Read more... )
And finally, the United States Chess League holds the grand final match of its fifth season tomorrow. ( Read more... )