Despite the pandemic, global chess is thriving, while cancellations and delays are rife in Britain. The Christmas season has highlighted the contrast as thousands of players flocked to watch Magnus Carlsen in action or even play in the same tournament with the iconic world champion, at the same time as the UK’s longest running congress, previously only stopped by the second world champion war, canceled the 2021-22 version due to the dangers of Omicron.
Carlsen was expected to retain his World Rapid (15 minutes) title in Warsaw on Tuesday, following his match win in Dubai last month at slow classical chess, but instead there was a shocking result. Nodirbek Abdusattorov, 17, of Uzbekistan, became the youngest ever world champion when he first defeated Carlsen and then Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi in a play-off after they tied on 9.5/13.
Now Carlsen will try to keep his World Blitz crown on Wednesday and Thursday. Starting at 2pm GMT both days, the game is free and live to watch with fast moving and expertly commented action, and should be good holiday entertainment for chess fans.
Blitz is three minutes for each player for the entire game, plus an increment of two seconds per move. There are nearly 300 players in the open and women’s events. David Howell, who finished well in the top half of the Rapid with 8/13, is the only English participant.
Carlsen’s main blitz rivals are expected to be five-time US champion Hikaru Nakamura and 18-year-old No2 Alireza Firouzja. All three were in action before Christmas in a massive online event. The first prize was a single Bitcoin, which combined with the temptation to play in the same tournament as Carlsen, attracted 17,000 entrants. The time limit was quick blitz, two minutes per player for the entire game.
There was a bizarre denouement when, less than an hour into the scheduled two hours and with Nakamura in the lead, Firouzja in second and Carlsen around sixth, the lichess link server crashed. The tournament has been suspended and will be completed later in January if player schedules allow.
Hastings was scheduled to start on December 29, but had to be canceled in mid-December as Omicron numbers grew. It was first organized in 1920 and is the longest running annual event in the world. In the 1930s, a decade in which four world champions played there, Hastings was the most prestigious annual chess tournament.
The London League has postponed all games from January to June, while the Four Nations League has canceled the weekend of January, giving the option to shorten the season with the weekends of March and May, or postpone the games until the summer.
There are some bright spots. The ECF’s online events are popular and can be recommended for anyone who wants to try their hand at competitive online chess. Several strong tournaments have been organized or planned in the North East of England, which is currently the unlikely epicenter of over-the-board play in Britain.
Ian Nepomniachtchi v Sanan Sjugirov, Russian teams 2015. White to move and win. The recent world title challenger is two pawns behind, so drastic action is needed.
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