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An Introduction to Chess: Part 2 – Chess Tournaments

Where do professional chess players go to play chess? Get to know the various high-profile tournaments where you can watch the masters perform their magic on the chessboard.

Woodpushers — a term that refers to people who play chess — truly begin their journey when they get curious enough to find out about chess tournaments.

This happens when playing the game casually is suddenly not enough for them. The obsession begins with a fixation on strong chess players — on the local barber shop’s chess hero, on the national team’s players, and on the world’s top grandmasters. They sometimes go to social media sites to seek out chess content creators on YouTube, Twitch, or on Facebook to satiate this curiosity.

More often than not, this leads to the discovery that chess is a career and that many players make a living out of playing competitively.

Image from International Chess Federation on Twitter.

Although one could argue that chess in 2023 isn’t quite as an exciting spectator sport in comparison to football, basketball, or esports, competitive chess is still enjoyed by millions and it is one of the oldest surviving spectator sports accessible to many.

The following is a quick rundown of significant chess tournaments worldwide, for those who are new to the game, and for those who have already acquired a taste for chess and are in need of a refresher.

1. The World Chess Championship Match and the Candidates’ Matches

The World Chess Championship Match is where the reigning World Champion play against the strongest challenger.

The strongest challenger is the one who wins the prior Candidates’ Matches — a tournament pitting the strongest contenders from all over the world against each other, determined by their performances throughout the two-year cycle.  

The rules of the WCC have changed over the years since its inception in 1886. According to FIDE’s latest version of the chess handbook, the two players who compete against each other will play 14 games in classical format.

The 2018 World Chess Championship match in London. Image from FIDE on Twitter.

The last World Chess Championship match was fought in 2021, with Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen successfully defending the title against Russian challenger GM Ian Nepomniatchi. 

And for those who are wondering, yes, there was a prize. The winner got €2 million (roughly PHP 120 million). Magnus Carlsen has been the World Chess Champion since beating Viswanathan Anand in 2013.

2. FIDE World Cup and FIDE Women’s World Cup

FIDE is the international governing body for chess, and like its counterparts, FIBA and FIFA, it organizes an international chess tournament every two years.

The FIDE World Cup starts with 128 players, employing the grueling KO system until there is one left. The final four participants automatically qualify to join the next Candidates’ Matches (for the WCC). 

FIDE World Cup winner Teimour Radjabov. Image from Chess.com on Twitter.

The last FIDE World Cup in 2021 held in Sochi, Russia, had some Filipino participants. International Master Paulo Bersamina drew against Indian prodigy R. Praggnanandhaa in a King’s Indian Defense game. 

3. The World Chess Olympiad

People wonder why chess, with its rich history and huge following, is not part of the Olympics.

The answer dates back to 1924, when there was an attempt to include chess in the Olympics, but failed because of the difficulty in distinguishing amateur from professional players. Thus, the World Chess Olympiad was born. This is equivalent to the Olympic event of chess. 

All the registered countries, states, and nationalities are invited to compete, and the tournament is played in a team format, ideally consisting of a country’s four strongest players, plus one reserve player.

The teams play in a predetermined number of rounds, and the team with the highest score wins the event. 

The Philippine Chess Team during the 2022 World Chess Olympiad in Chennai India 
(from left: IM Paulo Bersamina, GM Mark Paragua, GM Rogelio Barcenilla, GM John Paul Gomez, GM Darwin Laylo)

In the most recent World Chess Olympiad held in Chennai, India, the Philippine chess team placed 32nd out of 188 participating countries. It was our best finish in a long while, considering the team was only the 52nd seed.

The Filipinos’ final match against powerhouse Norway proved to be a decisive highlight. Magnus Carlsen decided to sit out the final round, probably thinking his team could do well without him against the Filipinos.

Here is the deciding game where IM Paulo Bersamina demolished Norwegian GM Frode Olsen Urkedal:

4. The Sinquefield Cup 

The aforementioned chess tournaments are all organized by FIDE. However, some high-profile, strong chess tournaments are organized by private entities.

The Sinquefield Cup is an annual, invitation-only chess tournament held in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, a city with a rich chess history. The tournament honors Rex Sinquefield and his wife Jeanne, founders of the St. Louis Chess Club, one of the most popular chess clubs in the world.  

The most recent one, the 9th Sinquefield Cup, happened last year and was won by French GM Alireza Firouzja (the prize was USD 100,000).

2021 Sinquefield Cup. Image from Explore St. Louis on Twitter.

Unfortunately, the prestigious event was mired in controversy, when Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the tournament after his match with Hans Niemann, implicating the latter in a cheating scandal that led to lawsuits.

5. TATA Steel Chess Tournament

The TATA Steel Chess Tournament is an annual tournament held in January in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands.

Top grandmasters compete in the tournament, but other players can play as well. The Masters Group has 14 of the world’s strongest chess masters play against each other in a round-robin tournament.

The TATA Steel Chess Masters Tournament is also popularly referred to as the “Wimbledon of Chess.”

TATA Steel Chess 2023. Image from ChessBase India on Twitter.

The tournament is currently ongoing until the end of this week. At the moment, Uzbekistan’s Nodirbek Abdusattorov is leading the Masters Group.

You can follow live updates of the tournament here.

Banner image from Magnus Carlsen on Instagram.

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