Forty-eight hours before the first move was to be played at the De Moriaan Community Centre in Wijk aan Zee, tournament director Jeroen van den Berg was down by one player. Russian GM Daniil Dubov, one of the 14 players who was to arrive for the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the Dutch fishing village on the shores of the North Sea, pulled out after his trainer began running a fever. Dubov, too, was feeling under the weather.
The playing field of the event -- the first major over-the-board tournament since the Norway chess event in Stavanger last October -- had already been hit by three rounds of changes since it was first announced on December 10. GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Nodirbek Abdusattorov had withdrawn over travel and visa complications and were replaced by Pentala Harikrishna, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Nils Grandelius, respectively. Van den Berg's list of alternate players was already thinning and he was in desperate need of a fourth replacement.
"I immediately thought of Alexander (Donchenko)," says van den Berg, "To save time, we sent a car to pick him up from his home in Germany, around five hours away. He was without preparation and played his first game less than a day after he reached Wijk aan Zee. I also had a contact of one of the players' seconds who lived nearby, as a back-up option in case this failed. I've been a tournament director for two decades now but this was the most challenging edition to organise."
The Tata Steel Masters, which concluded last weekend, is among chess' most prestigious, annual invitational events. In tennis terms, it's the Wimbledon. Since its inaugural year in 1938, the tournament (called Corus Masters earlier) has only been cancelled once in 1945 because of the Second World War. Magnus Carlsen has won the tournament on seven occasions, the highest number of times, followed by Viswanathan Anand, who has won the event five times.
This year, to restrict it to a small field of elite players, the amateurs' competition was done away with. Three top-five players -- Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave -- were part of this year's edition, where Jorden van Foreest became the first Dutchman to win for the first time since Jan Timman in 1985. The 21-year-old remained unbeaten through the 13 classical rounds and won a dramatic blitz playoff against Dutch No. 1 and eventual runner up, Anish Giri.
For van den Berg, who started out as a board boy at the tournament in 1984, it was a question of all or nothing. As a classical tournament, going online wasn't an option. Around October, it was clear that only a small field of elite players could be hosted. Some top players who van den Berg contacted were frank about their virus concerns and their wish to skip the event, and he then narrowed his pool largely to players in Europe. Out of 14 participants, 13 were from the EU.
As part of the press service team at the event in the early 1990s, van den Berg faced his greatest challenge when the roof of the playing hall was blown away by strong gale winds just ahead of final round games. An alternate venue for around 500 amateurs had to be arranged at the last minute. But this year's challenges were of a completely alien nature. Van den Berg borrowed lessons and experiences from both the Norway chess event and the recent Speed Skating World Cup in Heerenveen, Netherlands, to put together this edition.
"From the Norway organisers, we got the idea that there was no need for plexiglass screens between players or for masks to be worn during games. Instead, the width of tables was increased from 0.80m to 1m and the distance between tables to 2.50m. Masks can be quite uncomfortable during games, especially for players who wear glasses, so is playing moves under the plexi partition, and we wanted to avoid both.
Players were not obliged to wear a mask unless they were stepping away from the playing area to the restroom or to get refreshments. At the Norway event, players were only tested once before the start of the event, but in our tournament, we had tests four times in all, one before the start and three on the eve of each rest day. Thankfully, no one tested positive," he says.
Two bubbles were created -- in the playing hall and at the hotel, one that van den Berg says he was advised on by a colleague who also worked closely in putting the speed skating event together. Barring the 14 participants, director and two arbiters, the playing area was out of bounds for everyone else. There was one-way traffic in De Moriaan during the course of the tournament, the players had a separate entrance to the facility and the chess sets were sanitised before every game.
Players had to quarantine for 10 days on arrival, but since the Wijk aan Zee tournament has the status of top sport event in the country, they were allowed to compete while they were serving quarantine. They were, however, not allowed to travel to Amsterdam or get their own groceries during the 10-day period. Organisers did the latter on their behalf and had provisions delivered to the hotel. Players could place meal orders via call to the reception, pick them up from the bar 20 minutes later and then eat in their rooms. On January 22, the Netherlands went under 9PM-4:30AM curfew, which will run up to February 9.
"Players usually prefer to retire to their rooms after their games and prepare for next day's play, so the curfew didn't impact them really," says van den Berg. "But even once their quarantine ended, no one really wanted to take a risk and venture out. We normally organise sightseeing trips for players, which we didn't this time. We also usually host a round or two outdoors at a football stadium or some public place to attract audiences, which we had to skip this time as well. Some players were here with members of their family, like Magnus (Carlsen) brought his father and Anish's wife was accompanying him. In Wijk aan Zee, players usually love going out once a while for a nice meal. Here, the chess culture runs deep and even people who run restaurants and bars know players by face and follow their games."
For van den Berg and his team, it was a long and difficult preparation to carry the 16-day tournament comprising some of chess' top names safely to the finish line. According to Chess.com, over 700,000 viewers watched their broadcast streams during the playoff -- a fairly impressive number for an over-the-board classical event, and a hint of online viewership possibly translating into meaningful numbers.
"Until late last year, we weren't sure how we'd pull this tournament off, or how many players would even be willing to travel for it. When I picked up the phone to check with them, I was surprised as quite of a few of the top players jumped up to say 'yes'. That's perhaps the beauty of physical tournaments. One can't stay away for too long."
Read more from the original source:
- Veteran chess player teaches patience and strategy with Labor Day weekend tournament - WPTV.com - September 4th, 2021
- Chess federation to host tournament Oct. 3 at Ypao Beach - The Guam Daily Post - September 4th, 2021
- 100 Women Who Care NPO needs sponsors to host a chess tournament - Midrand Reporter - September 4th, 2021
- Kids run, a chess tournament and new kid space at ETHS - Knox TN Today - August 23rd, 2021
- Fiji Chess gears up for another online tournament - FBC News - August 9th, 2021
- Dobbs Ferry Chess Champion Competing in National Tournament - The Hudson Indy Westchester's Rivertowns News - - The Hudson Independent - July 25th, 2021
- Chess: Viswanathan Anand to return to over-the-board action after a year with Croatia tournament - Scroll.in - July 10th, 2021
- FIDE Candidates Tournament: 4 Winners ... - Chess - June 28th, 2021
- FIDE Candidates Tournament: 3 Winners In Final ... - Chess - June 28th, 2021
- Chess Tournaments, Tech Giants And $100,000 In Bitcoin - Bitcoin Magazine - June 28th, 2021
- New Chess Tournament Features $100K BTC Reward for the Winner - Live Bitcoin News - May 30th, 2021
- Cryptocurrency : World chess tournament will award bitcoin to its winners Explica .co - Explica - May 30th, 2021
- How 9-year-old Delhi Boy Raised Funds in Online Chess Tournament to Aid Covid Relief Efforts - Yahoo India News - May 30th, 2021
- Two grandmasters will play in the "European Parliamentary Friendship Online Chess Tournament" - Chessbase News - April 21st, 2021
- FIDE Candidates Tournament: Giri Strikes, Moves Into Second-Place Tie - Chess.com - April 21st, 2021
- Invitational chess tournament to be held in Benin for IDSDP | sportanddev.org - sportanddev.org - April 5th, 2021
- Open Air Chess Tournament at Sugar Land Town Square - 365 Things to Do in Houston - March 9th, 2021
- Back in the game: Karpov to play classical tournament in Malm - Chessbase News - March 9th, 2021
- Success at Satu Mare in the online national chess tournament for the age group - CampusLATELY - January 26th, 2021
- First ever Barak Valley Open Chess Tournament kickstarts in Silchar - Barak Bulletin - January 26th, 2021
- Another weekend on-line chess tournament - Sunday Observer - January 25th, 2021
- World famous Hastings chess tournament takes place this weekend - Hastings Observer - January 9th, 2021
- Rook No Further! Coral Springs Holds Open Play Chess and Tournament - Coral Springs Talk - Coral Springs Talk - January 6th, 2021
- Azeri-Jewish Chess Grandmaster Radjabov in tears after winning tournament - The Jerusalem Post - January 6th, 2021
- Beccacece and a chess tournament with the Racing kids - Inspired Traveler - December 16th, 2020
- Young Chess Stars Meet in a Winner Take All Tournament Checkmate! - The Zebra - December 9th, 2020
- For the love of the game: Tournament chess returns to Virginia, pandemic or not - WTOP - November 16th, 2020
- Costumed players bring success for first Chess Halloween Tournament - The Madison Record - themadisonrecord.com - November 6th, 2020
- 14-year-old Mendonca wins chess tournament in Hungary - The Tribune India - October 28th, 2020
- FIDE Candidates Tournament Postponed Until Spring 2021 - Chess.com - October 17th, 2020
- How To Play In US Chess Online Rated Tournaments - Chess.com - October 9th, 2020
- CCPS hosting in-person chess tournament, limited to students in Grades 4-12 - The Southern Maryland Chronicle - October 7th, 2020
- Irshad Mohammed walks away with top spot in latest round of chess tournament - Stabroek News - October 7th, 2020
- On Chess: Returning To Over The Board Chess Tournaments - St. Louis Public Radio - October 3rd, 2020
- So Leads Saint Louis Tournament Before Blitz Games - Chess.com - September 19th, 2020
- FIDE Candidates Tournament Resumes November 1 - Chess.com - September 9th, 2020
- Forks The final of the chess value tournament ended with a historic title distribution due to a server problem - Pledge Times - September 1st, 2020
- The United States Chess Federation - Clubs & Tournaments - August 21st, 2020
- Norway Chess to be 1st over-the-board super-tournament since March - chess24 - August 19th, 2020
- Chess Tournaments Calendar: July 2020 - Chess.com - August 15th, 2020
- Fishbein, Park, Liang, and Xie win at Tournaments of State Champions - uschess.org - August 12th, 2020
- Hikaru to host Chess tournament headlined by xQc, IWillDominate - Dot Esports - August 11th, 2020
- Leon Mendonca wins on board chess tournament in Hungary - The Hindu - June 24th, 2020
- The International Tournament in Bamberg starts! - Chessbase News - June 24th, 2020
- Chess Lovers in the Costa del Sol Unite as Malaga Will Host an Online Tournament This Saturday - Euro Weekly News - June 24th, 2020