Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short were on hand for a press conference that announced the launch of a "Grand Chess Tour" featuring Magnus Carlsen and eight more of the world's very best players. They will compete in the Sinquefield Cup, Norway Chess and the London Chess Classic for a combined prize fund of $1,050,000. The surprises so far are that Vladimir Kramnik declined an invitation while Wesley So is not on the list, though one player is still set to be confirmed (update: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will play). Today's event was described as “the biggest announcement in professional international chess since 1988”.
The following details were announced in today's press conference:
The Grand Chess Tour combines three supertournaments:
Each has an individual prize fund of $300,000 ($75,000 for 1st place), while $150,000 will be available for the overall result of the Tour (again, $75,000 for the winner). The total prize fund is therefore $1,050,000.
Nine players will be the same in each event, with the Top 9 on the January 2015 FIDE rating list the first to be invited. Each tournament will then have one organiser Wild Card.
The players who have confirmed are, with an average April FIDE rating of 2801 (!):
Vladimir Kramnik is the only player who was noted to have declined his invitation.
On the official website France's Maxime Vachier-Lagrave appears on the player page, so may have been selected, although it was announced at the press conference that the final player would be revealed in a few days' time. Maxime was 13th on the January 2015 FIDE rating list, below Wesley So, Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. His inclusion would mean nine players from nine different countries.
Update: It had already become clear from the official website and the Shamkir Chess press conferences that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was going to play, but it's now been officially confirmed:
Wesley So was no. 10 on that rating list, so would have seemed the obvious choice as the ninth player, given his subsequent rating rise and clear potential.
The official website has this question on its FAQ page:
How Were The Player[s] Selected?
The organizers of the Grand Chess Tour started with the January 2015 FIDE Rating List and sought players that demonstrate the highest levels of sportsmanship and professionalism. We invited the top-10 players in the world, eight of whom have confirmed their participation.
It's not clear if Wesley So was invited but declined, as that would suggest. Perhaps we'll learn more from the Shamkir Chess press conferences.
Update: It never became entirely clear, although the official line seems to be that So was invited but declined due to a scheduling issue - his match with David Navara in Prague does overlap with the start of the Norway Chess tournament.
Malcolm Pein explained that the difference between this event and the FIDE Grand Prix is that "players are being awarded with prize money that befits their status as top sportsmen". He also added that to avoid scheduling clashes with other tournaments the dates for the 2016 Grand Chess Tour would be announced immediately after the London Chess Classic is over.
The overall vision was summed up in a phrase from Tony Rich:
Our ultimate goal is to produce superstars out of these players.
Garry Kasparov, who was credited as the inspiration behind the idea, noted that at the moment a flaw is that players must play in all three tournaments and may struggle to meet that commitment, but the plan is to expand:
If the tour becomes truly global the sky's the limit because we'll have something that will be on the calendar of professional sports events.
The aim is to imitate sports such as tennis and golf which have similar tours and attract television contracts. At this stage, however, there's no overall sponsor for the Grand Chess Tour, just contributions from each tournament to the overall prize fund.
Nigel Short was asked if he would be playing:
I’m too weak, I'm afraid, but I'm working on it. My rating's going up at the moment... I think it’s wonderful. It’s great to see these players all together and it brings some cohesion to the chess world.
More details can be found in the official announcement and you can now also watch the press conference below:
Our article below, written before the announcement, took a look back at the history of such Grand Prix style events in chess:
What happened in 1988? The Grandmasters Association (GMA) held a six-tournament World Cup series over two years, with each long tournament including around 17 top players. The final event in Skelletftea, Sweden, for instance, featured Kasparov and Short, but also Tal, Portisch, Seirawan, Nunn, Korchnoi and many more famous names. Karpov and Kasparov tied for first with 9.5/15, with Kasparov claiming the overall series and a first prize of $175,000, while Anatoly Karpov took $142,500 for second place.
The GMA fell apart after that and in the years since the closest we’ve come to a similar event is perhaps the Grand Slam Chess Association, which in 2009 linked some existing supertournaments and staged a final tournament in Bilbao, though in a few years all that remained of the idea was the name of the Bilbao Chess Masters Final. FIDE has successfully staged Grand Prix series as qualifiers for World Championship events, but the very best players have avoided them since they could qualify in other ways and play in more lucrative events.
Earlier this year we covered details of a chess circuit when they were first leaked in February:
We also reported on the “hidden” ulterior motive for the Kasparov-Short match in our preview:
Don’t forget, of course, that we’ll also get to see Kasparov take on Short this weekend, with all the rapid and blitz games broadcast live here on chess24, with the usual wonderful commentary provided by the St. Louis Chess Club:
Garry is already there:
Even before today’s announcement we can safely say: chess
fans have never had it so good!