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General Jan 6, 2016 | 3:48 PMby Colin McGourty

Norway Chess quits the Grand Chess Tour

Norway Chess has left the Grand Chess Tour, with Tournament Director Jøran Aulin-Jansson telling chess24 the series isn't sustainable until it focuses more on commercial success. The Norway Chess supertournament will go ahead in 2016, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen already a confirmed participant. The Grand Chess Tour is currently reduced to only the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic but also plans to continue, with mentioning it may add a rapid tournament in France in early summer.

After just one year as part of the Grand Chess Tour, Norway Chess 2015 will be a standalone tournament again in 2016 | photo: Macauley Peterson 

The bombshell announcement appeared on the Norway Chess homepage today, citing differing views "on the future of top class tournaments":

Changes in Grand Chess Tour for 2016 and Altibox Norway Chess

The Grand Chess Tour was created with one goal in mind: a circuit of international events, each demonstrating the highest level of organization for the world’s best players. Following the successful inaugural year, the Grand Chess Tour will proceed in 2016, but without the participation of Altibox Norway Chess which will continue as a stand-alone tournament.

“After long and careful consideration, Altibox Norway Chess decided to leave the Grand Chess Tour. A sad, but for us necessary decision, since our views differ from the GCT’s on the future of top class tournaments. We wish all the best for the GCT and hope that our partnership may be renewed in the years to come. Altibox Norway Chess will take place in April this year with the same high standards as the previous events” states Kjell Madland, Chairman of the board at Altibox Norway Chess.

“We are disappointed to see Altibox Norway Chess leave the GCT, but we wish them all the best for the future, hope that they will be around for many years and that we may cooperate again in future years” said Malcolm Pein, on behalf of the Grand Chess Tour.

Norway Chess might be considered the inspiration behind the Grand Chess Tour, since when it launched in 2013 it already had what became the Tour’s 10-player single round-robin format and the idea of inviting close to the strongest field of players possible (in turn borrowed from the Russian Tal Memorial). It therefore had to make the least changes when it joined the tour for its third edition, merely reducing the top prize but contributing $50,000 to an overall Grand Chess Tour prize fund.

The Grand Chess Tour was launched in April 2015, with Jøran Aulin-Jansson flanked by Nigel Short and London Chess Classic Director Malcolm Pein in the St. Louis press conference | screenshot: St. Louis Chess Club

So why the sudden split now after only one year? Tournament Director Jøran Aulin-Jansson explained to that his event differs from the others:

Of these three tournaments Norway Chess is the only one which is almost solely based on commercial sponsors and a fierce effort from volunteers.

In conversation with chess24 he elaborated:

JJ: They’re not on our wavelength in the sense that we’re trying to make this a commercial success and they’re not that motivated.

chess24: But why would they mind if you find sponsors and have commercial success – do they want too big a piece of it, or there’s another problem?

JJ: To make it commercial every tournament has to be planned and executed with that in mind, as the first priority. Without that as the first priority none will succeed.

chess24: So they’re relying too much on Rex Sinquefield or others and you can’t guarantee the future with that money?

JJ: It’s not sustainable. To make it sustainable you need a market, not single persons.

Withdrawing from the Grand Chess Tour is unlikely to make a great change to the tournament, with Jøran suggesting it would simply run the way it ran in 2013 and 2014. The aim of attracting the very best players remains, although the organisers will, of course, have more freedom and could, for instance, invite two-time winner Sergey Karjakin or rising star Wei Yi (JJ wasn't giving away any details on that score).   

What now for Norway Chess?

Well, this year’s event, which starts with a blitz tournament on April 18th, looks like being a success, if only for one reason – World Champion Magnus Carlsen will play! He recently featured in an advert for tournament sponsors Altibox, Norwegian broadband suppliers:

Magnus' manager Espen Agdestein told TV2:

Magnus will play Norway Chess, but the other tournaments are provisional as we haven’t received invitations. The main priority this year is of course the World Championship. Beyond that Carlsen would like to play tournaments that are as strong as possible and fit into his preparation.

Espen regretted Norway Chess splitting from the Grand Chess Tour and the “fragmented” chess tournament structure, but felt Norway Chess would still prosper:

They’ve already demonstrated the ability and willingness to innovate, and my impression is that they’ve considered this carefully and have exciting plans for the tournament ahead.

What now for the Grand Chess Tour?

To have a tour it goes without saying that you need at least three events, so we can expect an announcement soon: claimed to have inside information:

VG understand the Grand Chess Tour organisers are looking to replace Norway Chess with a rapid chess tournament - maybe in France in early summer.

Malcolm Pein, however, cast doubt on that when contacted by chess24, telling us:

Right now there are six places under consideration.

The idea all along was for more events to be involved in the Grand Chess Tour, but so far events hinted at for both 2015 and 2016, particularly a new tournament in Indonesia, have failed to materialise. A greater number of tournaments would allow players to skip one, enabling a larger field to be invited. That might in turn reduce some of the criticism of the same players continually meeting each other - criticism boosted by the high number of draws in London and the subsequent excitement of the Qatar Masters.  

Of course expanding the Tour looks like a pipe dream just now, with the packed 2016 chess calendar - the Candidates Tournament, World Championship match and Olympiad for starters - reducing the room for manoeuvre. 

We’ll keep this article updated, especially if more news emerges of the plans for the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. So far we've been unable to reach a representative from St. Louis.

Update: 7th January, 2016

The Grand Chess Tour has now released a statement confirming the series will go on with at least three events:

The Grand Chess Tour is pleased to announce that the tour will take place again in 2016. The tour will comprise a minimum of three tournaments which will be announced shortly. Player invitations will be issued by the end of January.

The second announcement to come out of St. Louis was more interesting, though! 

Garry Kasparov will be back in action, potentially facing three of the world's current Top 10! | photo: US Chess Champs

Garry Kasparov, who demolished Nigel Short in the exhibition match launching the Tour, is going to play again. This time, though, he could face the likes of Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So in a two-day blitz tournament after the 2016 US Championship, again to be held in St. Louis:

The U.S. Championship will culminate with the top three players competing in a special blitz round robin format against legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov. The round robin matches will take place over two days upon the conclusion of the Championships.

The other detail to note, though, is that the US Championships, running from April 13-29, clash with Norway Chess, which, as mentioned above, has its opening blitz tournament on April 18th. That means all the top US stars will need to choose. 

The scheduling clash was presumably one of the topics Norway Chess and the other Tour organising were discussing before their split, though it should be noted the Candidates Tournament limits the potential to avoid clashes. That takes place in Moscow from March 10-30, and the participants would no doubt appreciate some time to recover afterwards. 

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