Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Raise and fall of chess-tournaments

Raise and fall of chess-tournaments

Just like anything in life, chess-tournaments know a starting-phase, a mature phase and an extinguishing phase. Tournaments can start in 2 ways: or there is a group of players - often amateurs- willing to start a tournament, which is getting more and more successful and at some point of time becomes a regular one on the calendar. Another possibility is a meacenas opening his (her is not often occurring) wallet and immediately attracts big names - or takes over the initiative of the amateurs.

We all know the first variant - often that are fun tournaments in which you can play against known and less known players of your own country. Such tournaments are often smaller and less prestigious but do have a big number of fans. Maybe the best example is the Open of Gent, already for decades despite the economical crisis and competition of other tournaments, very successful thanks to the festivities in Gent. It is today a mature tournament (the 40th edition will be this year) - and still supported by members and helpers of KGSRL, but the financial side is also covered by the sponsor Eastman. We hope this tournament can still live long.

A totally different approach has e.g. the Grenke Open in Karlsruhe. This tournament at Eastern is now having its second edition and has now (27th of March) already more than thousand (indeed, 1000!) registered players of which 204 titled ones. Grenke least IT-services at small firms and this business-model seems to earn good money. We also had in Belgium such period, when Bessel Kok was the CEO at Swift and Brussels end of the years '80, beginning of the 90ties suddenly got a few tournaments in which the best players of the world participated (OHRA and Swift, followed by the candidates-matches). As player you can only think: let us enjoy as long it lasts and hopefully it lasts for some time.

Fall and end

The most recent example I know is the 33rd tournament of Cappelle-la-Grande, this time without any big sponsors. Consequences were: no more money for invitations so no very strong players like (Kamsky, Yusupov, Iturrizaga…). By the way the tournament almost didn't go through. Some local grandmasters were still willing to participate (in 2017 these were Alexandre Dgebuadze and Jean-Marc Degraeve), probably attracted by the bigger chance to win the first prize. This also created less interest by the "average" players - as not enough opportunities to meet a grandmaster. The local papers wrote about out-standing debts, caused by a too generous management see (le phare dunkerquois). It is weird that even the website of the club doesn't mention anything anymore of the tournament - I still didn't find any ranking of the end-results. This doesn't sound good for the future of this tournament.

There seemed to be no safety net after the departure of the sponsor - enthusiastic amateur - organizer. It is sad. Below two pictures demonstrating the difference.
Cappelle-la-Grande in 2016: a full room and also the 2 platforms are fully occupied. At the walls we can find posters of the sponsors and flags of the participating countries.
Cappelle-la-Grande in 2017: not much entertainment, few visitors, a too big room for the number of participants; at the stage there are only 3 top-boards.
The most well-known example is of course Linares (1978-2010, 27 editions). The top tournament of Luis Rentero (1932 – December 2015),a grocer whom became rich after selling his supermarket-chain to Delhaize, suddenly stopped after no more money was injected. They still looked at some alternative formulas (one of them was half of the tournament in Mexico (jetlag !)), but the closed tournament once called “the Wimbledon of Chess" stopped existing any longer. A shame, it was the first real super-tournament inviting year after year only the best players of the world to check who is who in the rankings.  A disadvantage of this evolution was that the best players started to like playing in tournaments getting a lot of money and risking little elo. Losing of a colleague rated 2700-2750 is less painful than a patzer of 2550-2600. Linares was some real-life version of what Andy Soltis described in “Los Voraces”: a millionaire assembling the best players in the world in some desolate village in the desert to define the picking order of that year (it reminds me of the legend in the world of wrestling, in which once per year a real (secret) camp happens to define who is the best player, so the show events for the public can occur without the harsh combats and risks of injuries). Los Voraces is written as column for the famous chesscafe.com (when it was still free) and is now for sale in book-format, but you can also find it for free at Google Books.

But Linares was clearly an "artificial" tournament: not supported by a local club or enthusiastic players, willing to volunteer. It seems that tournaments like Hastings, Reggio Emilia and Wijk aan Zee are more resistant. Is it a coincidence that those tournaments are concentrated in the winter-months?

There was a remarkable trend in the 90ties in Spain, in which one after the other top-tournament was created. It looked like any serious city needed to have its own chess-tournament: Dos Hermanas, Madrid, Leon… It was excellent for the development of the talent of Topalov and it attracted many players to live temporarily or even definitely in Spain (Salov,Ljubojevic). Fortunately Spanish chess also benefited from this as several local players obtained the grandmaster-title. A decade later the money was gone, building yards were closed, unfinished building are silent witnesses of destroyed dreams.
Chess-tournaments as indicator of a bubble? Maybe - money needs to roll and sponsoring is a method to do that. The culture and local habits will define where the benefactor will want to spend its money - in Belgium it still is football. Chess is too much special, and without money you can't survive or talent (and icons) can't be cultivated. But to maintain for long-term tournaments there is still love of the game needed.



  1. It is a shame about Cappelle. I attended it this year (2017) and found it was excellent. I do hope it continues as it was good to play in and our hosts were very friendly indeed. Brought in many visitors all of whom added value to the local economy.

    1. In 2005 I played CLG. I missed the IM-norm with half a point but it was anyway a very nice experience. I would love to play once again but I am now waiting till my son is playing strong enough to go together. Around 1400 ratingpoints should be enough for him to get some fun.