General Feb 3, 2015 | 5:03 PMby Colin McGourty

Stavanger, St Louis & London form $1 million “Golden League”

Big changes are afoot at the top of the chess world with the 2015 Norway Chess, Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic supertournaments set to combine to form a new “Golden League” Grand Prix series of events with a $1 million prize fund. A fourth new event in Jakarta, Indonesia is expected to join the series in 2016. Each tournament will feature ten players, with the top nine by rating invited along with one wild card for the organiser.

Is the map of the chess world about to be transformed?

The news broke from the GRENKE Chess Classic in Baden-Baden, where GM Ian Rogers talked to Norwegian television:

That was soon confirmed by IM Malcolm Pein, the organiser of the London Chess Classic:

More details were revealed in an article by Even Emberland for Dagbladet:

  • Garry Kasparov is behind the initiative (one assumes with heavy support from Rex Sinquefield)
  • It will have no connection to the World Chess Federation (FIDE)
  • The format of all three tournaments (or four, including the Indonesian event) will be the same as that already used for No Logo Norway Chess – a 10-player single round-robin
  • The players will be the top nine by rating plus a wildcard for each organiser
  • The first event to take place will be this year’s No Logo Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, set for 15-26 June
  • Veselin Topalov has already confirmed he expects to play in the three existing tournaments (he talked about his plans at the end of a masterclass in Gibraltar)

Ian Rogers notes the eventual plan is that players compete in three out of four tournaments:

The old team of Silvio Danailov, Veselin Topalov and Ivan Cheparinov back together again in Gibraltar | photo: Sophie Triay, Gibraltar Festival website

The idea of a series of events like the tennis Grand Slam has been tried before, with Topalov’s manager Silvio Danailov founding a chess Grand Slam in 2006, that included Wijk aan Zee, Linares, MTel Masters and Nanjing with a Grand Slam Final in Bilbao. Only the name of that final event still recalls the glory days of the series.

One of the issues with that earlier series was that all the individual events continued to have completely different formats and systems for inviting players. It seems the new system may aim to eliminate that, and aspire to something closer to that used in tennis, as recently advocated by Levon Aronian:

To be honest, I think the tennis system with something like the ATP ratings is ideal, with the number one declared at the end of the year. In chess, though, it’s hard to create that since the system of inviting players to tournaments isn’t transparent. That’s the fault both of personal relations between the players and hidden fees. If a corporate sponsor appeared who could bring stability…

World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana would also prefer something closer to tennis to the current World Championship system, as he explained in an interview with Vlad Tkachiev:

Of course you could improve the system a lot – for instance, with a series of tournaments involving the world’s top chess players to decide who the best is that year. At the moment the World Champion only needs to win the match for the crown and for the rest of the time he can play how he likes. Yes, Carlsen is now unquestionably the strongest player in the world, but overall the system doesn’t reflect who’s best at the current moment, since the Champion only needs to win one match and wait for the next.

However, to make such changes you need a more effective organisation than FIDE. It’s enough to look at what’s happened to the Grand Prix and the Women’s World Championship. It’s pretty ridiculous, but there are no signs it’s going to improve in future, unfortunately.

Caruana also went on to list the problems with the existing FIDE Grand Prix series of tournaments in that interview (scheduling, low prize fund, changing venues), though the big one is that at the moment it simply doesn’t have great appeal for the very best players, who only take part out of qualification necessity.

Two players we'd expect to see feature in the "Golden League", though if the selection criteria are as strict as they seem Aronian will have to be careful not to slip out of the Top 10! | photo: Georgios Souleidis, GRENKE Chess Classic

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. If the series is a success could it be expanded to include other major supertournaments such as Wijk aan Zee and Shamkir Chess?

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