“Always up for a new challenge — bring it on!” said Magnus Carlsen as the World Chess Champion confirmed he’ll return to defend his title in the 2nd edition of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. The first of 9 events begins on February 19th, with the 10-month series streamlined this year with fewer days, more at stake and more of an incentive to play for a win in every game. The online event on chess24 is also moving towards in-person chess, with all three Majors set to feature 8 players competing from a single location.
The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour is back, with Tour Director Arne Horvei commenting:
The Tour goes from strength to strength and we are expecting another titanic battle to decide the champion in 2022.
We know the players are excited about the changes we have made. The new season will see new rules, new faces and also a new look for the Tour — so look out for that. We hope every chess fan out there joins us for the big kick-off on February 19.
Some things remain the same. All the games will be played on chess24, with the main time control fast-paced 15-minute games, with a 10-second increment each move. To break ties there are two 5+3 blitz games followed, if needed, by Armageddon.
We’ll stream every minute of the action live, with two broadcasts in English alone. Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell will be back in our Oslo studio, while Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko will be reunited from the first event of the 2022 Tour.
Peter and Tania commentated on one of the iconic moments of the last Tour
But there are also a lot of changes, based on feedback from the players and chess fans.
The new dates for the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour are out, with some revisions mainly to avoid clashes with the World Chess Olympiad and the Candidates Tournament (check out the full 2022 Chess Calendar). In comparison to the 9-day events in 2021, each Regular tournament will feature 8 days of chess, while each Major is played over 7. The action will be intense and easier to fit into the players’ hectic schedules.
The Regular events will still feature 16 players, giving the opportunity for a wide range of players to get a chance to shine, and will still eliminate half the field in an all-play-all qualifier, but that will now be held over 4 days and not 3. Instead of playing 5 games a day there will be 4 games on the first 3 days and then 3 on the last, giving the players and commentators a chance to preserve some energy for the battle ahead!
The new Tour slogan “Every. Move. Matters” applies to the new prize structure that will encourage fighting chess by making every game of the qualifiers matter. There are now 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss. Each point is worth $250, so whatever a player’s tournament situation they know that winning the next game will earn them $750.
If the game ends in a draw only $500 will be split between the players, with the extra $250 now going into a season-long bonus pool that can be used for extra prizes — more details to follow!
You can’t, of course, eliminate draws, but with the extra money at stake for wins, and a ban on draw offers before move 40, there’s more incentive than ever to play aggressively.
How do the Regular tournaments last a day less despite taking a day more for the qualifier? The quarterfinals and semi-finals have now been cut down to one day each compared to the two days in 2021. The knockout format of a 4-game match is the same, but now if it finishes 2:2 the players will immediately proceed to a playoff featuring two blitz games and, if needed, Armageddon.
The final will remain a 2-day match, with a playoff only on the second day if the players are level after their two mini-matches.
It’s fair to say the 3rd place match, played between the two disappointed semi-final losers, has never been a great favourite among the players or fans, with relatively little at stake. This year there won’t be any 3rd place matches.
It was partly Magnus to blame, but the handicap system used in the 2021 Finals to reward play over the whole Tour took away much of the intrigue. On the other hand, if the Finals is a completely separate tournament there's little incentive for a player who's already qualified to go all-out in the remaining events.
In 2022 there will be three Major events, but no separate final tournament. Instead the top scorer over the course of the tour will win the title and a $50,000 bonus.
For the first tournament on the Tour the 16 players will be invited on a discretionary basis, i.e. as wild cards (we’re almost ready to announce a great line-up!), but from then on the top 8 players in the preceding tournament will be invited to the next Regular event.
There will be two Regulars before each Major, and the players know that if they get to the final in either of those events they’ll qualify for the next Major.
Another two places will be based on tour standings, while the remaining two spots are wildcards.
One of the biggest changes in 2022, pandemic permitting, is that the players will all come together in a single physical venue to play each of the three Majors, similar to how Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri and Jan-Krzysztof Duda played the 2021 final from Oslo.
In the 2021 Tour the Majors began with 12 players, but were soon altered to have exactly the same 16-player structure as the Regular events, just with a higher prize fund. This year it’s all change!
Each Major will feature 8 players, who will play 4-game mini-matches against each of the other players over the course of 7 days. The matches, as in last year’s Finals, will be scored 3 points for a win in rapid chess, while if a blitz playoff is needed the points will be split 2:1. Unlike those Finals, however, the players will all start on zero points, so there’s everything to play for.
The same goes for every round, since in the Majors a point is worth $2,500, meaning that on any given day a player can earn $7,500 by winning in rapid chess, regardless of the overall tournament standings.
The points system has been simplified this year so that it mirrors the prize fund, allowing the money earned to be used to rank the players. Once again, prize money can be earned for every qualifying game in the Regulars and for every match in the knockouts and Majors.
Despite having one less event the overall prize fund has grown in 2022, with at least $1.6 million on offer (and more likely to follow). The prize fund for the Regular events is at least $120,000, increasing to a maximum $150,000 if there are no draws at all in the qualifier. In addition to the money per game in qualifying, the knockout winner earns an extra $25,000.
There’s $210,000 on offer for each Major, with a perfect 7 wins in rapid chess in 7 rounds earning $52,500.
Partners supporting the Tour include Mastercard, FTX, Julius Baer, Aker BioMarine, Airthings and Concordium, as well, of course, as Meltwater. Zubair Timol, Vice President EMEA Meltwater, said:
We are very excited to be partnering with the Play Magnus Group for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. The previous season was a tremendous success, as chess continues to grow as a sport, with increased online viewership, enriched by social conversations across multiple platforms.
Looking ahead, Meltwater is delighted to contribute to the sport and looks forward to the ongoing collaboration with PMG.
There’s less than a month to go, with the line-up for the 1st event to be announced soon!
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