JANUARY 21 ― The last month or so has seen a great deal of attention being paid to a number of longstanding international chess events and their success certainly deserves kudos but perhaps some analysis as well.
In December, both the London Chess Classic and Qatar Masters were held (as was the Australian Championships and many events leadings up to it) while this month the New Zealand Chess Congress has ended, Wijk aan Zee (Tata Steel Chess) has started as has also the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.
Locally, of course, we did not miss out as we had the Penang and Johor Opens and the Causeway Rapids but these are not world class events. However I did find the way the MMU Invitation Chess Championship, poor grammar in its title notwithstanding, typical of an emerging class of local organising which is very interesting and therefore worthy of comment.
What's very interesting about all the events mentioned is that their success is down to just two factors: they have found their audience and perhaps a niche or place in the Sun, and the creation of their very own special ambience.
While the London Classic was part of the Grand Chess Tour and enjoyed an especially special place as the final leg, the organisers not only continued to ensure that their No. 1 player had a place but also organised a very interesting British Knockout Championship together with a whole series of supporting events such as a FIDE Open and various Weekenders and Rapidplays.
There was a strong focus on both chess for children and junior chess with many activities designed for them. There were also numerous other publicity-generating activities such as the simultaneous exhibitions given by top GMs.
The London Chess Conference was a big event in itself with expert speakers and global participation. What is more, it helped legitimise the role of chess in mainstream education.
Besides positioning itself as a big-money Open tournament (to put it mildly), the Qatar Masters is adding to the game's prestige with the best possible playing conditions (read: luxury) and the appearance fees ensured that not only did World No 2 and ex-World Champion Vladimir Kramnik play his first Open last year in decades but they managed to get World Champion Magnus Carlsen this year!
New Zealand is even a bit more off the beaten track than Australia but this time around the organisers managed a New Zealand Chess Congress that was even better than last year's and while they managed to get a few decent names (and a very nice mix), it was the combination of a great city and even nicer people (the wonderful chess community there included) that made the event.
Similarly I would say that Australia did pretty much the same and successfully too except they ran all their events leading up to, over and after Christmas and on to the New Year, from Melbourne to Sydney in the summer heat!
The traditional tournament in Wijk aa Zee is now known as Tata Steel Chess and they have once again put together a fantastic field with the elite, rising young stars and significant Dutch interest represented.
Concurrently there is a Challengers Event where even more young talents from the Netherlands and of course the rest of the world are being given their opportunity.
Wijk aan Zee is a European event but it is rich in chess history and culture as indeed the whole country so the players enjoy this special environment which encourages them to focus on playing the best chess possible.
It is interesting that Gibraltar has become one of the tournaments that everyone wants to go to. Not the biggest place in the world and not with any real chess tradition let alone strong local players but somehow the very idea and location plus a chess family that reassembles itself each year makes this an attractive event.
Yes, this is the promise of many events that punch well above their weight in the international chess consciousness with perhaps only the Bangkok Open in this category although several others have their own supporters from neighbouring countries.
So to have a successful international event, the winning recipe needs to have a number of key ingredients starting with what the location has to offer and ending with the hosts. Who said that chess, even amongst the elite, is all about the money?
Locally, however, the direction is becoming very internalised with events like MMU in Malaysia showing that our local chess community is enjoying chess more and more as a hobby and in doing so is turning into pure amateur chess.
Kids aside and the dreams of their parents exploited by those making a living from local chess, I see that we are now coming up with our own “neighbourhood” champions to compete with other such local “big” names but have gone further to reimagine it as if the event was on a global stage.
We imitate some of what we see at big events through the Internet with computer analysis of games on a blog replacing real commentary, having “live” game broadcasting on a few boards, etc. and our very small local chess audience gets all excited.
It is all about themselves and their friends or kids, all playing together in a local MMU type tournament which is occasionally graced by one or two national players (or when allowed, even with international flavour thanks to a Filipino or two teaching chess here on a social pass).
Don't get me wrong. This is not bad at all. It's actually right and fully appropriate, even admirable for those enjoying their hobby ― chess.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.