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Welcome to the FIDE newsletter

Welcome to the new FIDE Newsletter. Published bi-weekly, this newsletter aims to provide you with relevant information about happenings within our organization, and the member chess federations. Not only will you find information about current FIDE events, but we will also share with you the main decisions, case studies, and inspiring stories.

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A roundup of the first part of the 2020 Candidates


The FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020 was brought to a halt after the decision of the Russian authorities to stop all international flights as of March 27. By that point, half of the tournament had been played (seven out of 14 rounds) and the chess community and the world, in general, had had a chance to enjoy spectacular games, a welcome distraction from the rolling news about the coronavirus. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich said that FIDE did “everything to ensure the safe and secure return of everyone to their homes”.

The Candidates tournament is one of the most important chess events of the year – to both the players and the chess community – and is directly connected to the match for the title of World Champion. This year’s event has a prize fund of 500,000 euros, which is the biggest ever for a Candidates tournament. For the duration of the first part of the event, interest in chess has risen globally. The live stream and commentary of the 2020 Candidates have attracted a viewership of several million people around the world. Reports about the 2020 Candidates appeared on prominent pages in media outlets like Reuters, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, to name just a few.

In chess terms, the seven rounds played at the 2020 Candidates produced some very fine games and provided great examples of fighting spirit. In the first part, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi gave the best performances, but other participants showed a high level of preparation and sophistication in their play. Almost all the games played in the first half provided excitement and novelty, with very few dull games - if any at all.

Following the agreement between FIDE and players before the event, with regards to the current global developments, the tournament has now stopped and will continue at a later stage when circumstances allow. In the meantime, FIDE has said that it remains committed to ensuring that the chess community continues to function during this period. FIDE will use this time to find new ways and ideas to connect the chess community and to reach out to people.


Read more on the FIDE website...

There was considerable debate about FIDE's decision to try and go ahead with the Candidates Tournament as it was planned. Virtually everyone voiced their opinion, especially on social media, being the most outspoken those who thought it was an outright mistake. Many others showed more understanding, acknowledging the extreme challenges posed by an unprecedented situation and a rapidly changing global scenario.

Magnus Carlsen, on his video appearance on "Chess24":
“Having completed seven rounds has some merit – at least we tried, which I think in these days should not be discounted as nothing! I feel as though obviously this situation is chaotic and all those people who called for the tournament to be postponed from the start are going to say, ‘I told you so’ at this point, but I do feel as though they tried what they could and now it’s just not possible so they have to get the players out safely. (...) They really wanted this to happen and with that in mind they did what they could and obviously not all the players are going to be happy with the way it happened, but I think this is just a situation in which you get to show your strength of character."


Vishy Anand, "The Sportstar":
"With hindsight, the decision looks questionable. But when they decided to go ahead with it, everything wasn't as clear as it is now. I feel globally the consensus on stopping everything and focusing on the virus became evident only a week before the Candidates started. By the time many of the participants were in Yekaterinburg. I feel [the quality for the games at Yekaterinburg] has been consistently high. There have been very few games that were decided by crass blunders. There have been lots of interesting, original ideas. And it was gripping stuff to watch."


Maxime-Vachier Lagrave, "The Times of India":
"I understand those who say the tournament should never have started. For me, in fact, the FIDE and the organizers tried to do their best to make the tournament possible, knowing that there were not many players. A lot was done. Generally speaking, it seemed possible and for a long time, I thought the tournament could even go to the end. Obviously, the conditions were not ideal for anyone. But from a strict health point of view, there no more risks for the players during the tournament then elsewhere. I'm even taking much more precautions now in France! The only big criticism I can make of the organizers is the opening ceremony with more than 1000 people. Otherwise, generally speaking, everything has been done to ensure that the sanitary conditions are respected for the players. Of course, with the information we have been getting as we've gone along, over the days and weeks and weeks afterward, we tell ourselves that the tournament shouldn't have started."


Anish Giri, "The Volkskrant", "MatchTV.ru", and Twitter:
"I don't really understand the negative sentiment. I thought people liked the fact that top sport was still being done somewhere in the world. Now we have to defend ourselves. I am sure that our games were a comfort to the millions of chess lovers online. Despite all the limitations that the coronavirus imposes on us, they had something to look forward to every day."

"There were special safety measures and few people around the tournament. During the games, there were just two people in masks in the playing hall. They served us food only in our rooms. They said it was better not to go to the restaurant at all. Twice a day we were checked by a doctor. That didn’t particularly bother me. It seemed to me that the tournament organizers were in constant contact with the authorities and everything was going according to plan, but the tournament ended surprisingly chaotically. On the day of the 8th round, my coach was called by a girl from the organizing committee (...). I thought it should be held until the end given all the safety measures that had been taken. At that moment it seemed to me as though they’d abandoned me. Then I thought a bit and understood – the organizers had no other option given the unpredictable problem with the closure of airspace."

"Pity this unfortunate situation is used by people to push their political or selfish agenda. My usual childish puns would feel out of place on this hostile chess-twitter day. I am merely going to let my fans know I have safely made it to Amsterdam! And we will be back!"

 

FIDE cancels events, shifting towards online activities


Apart from stopping the Candidates, last week the FIDE Council had to make two other difficult but necessary decisions. The main one was rescheduling the 2020 Chess Olympiad, which is now to be played in the summer of 2021 at the same locations, Moscow and Khanty-Mansiysk. The second one was the postponement of the 4th stage of the Women's Grand Prix, which will be moved to the 2nd half of 2020. The exact location and dates will be determined later, taking into account the development of the epidemiological situation in the world.

Some other activities, like the FIDE seminars, will be conducted online. The Trainers' seminars planned for Magglingen (Switzerland) and Uppsala (Sweden), with Tomas Luther and Artur Yusupov respectively, have actually been revamped as a result. Now, both highly respected coaches will team-up, offering a joint seminar, open to anyone in Europe from April 3-5.

Also starting on April 3, FIDE will offer several online seminars for organizers, led by our event's manager Maxim Korshunov. Before joining FIDE last September, Maxim worked for FIFA as Stadium manager for the World Cup 2018, and he brought in very valuable experience.

FIDE is also planning some other activities, like weekly lectures. For those parents who are now in shelter-in-place with their kids and developing an improvised "homeschooling" program, we will produce and distribute some basic chess-teaching materials. And we will start a digital library on the FIDE website, giving access to all chess lovers to selective chess books, which authors are kindly granting us permission to reproduce digitally.

Online chess activity peaks during the global lockdown


Hundreds of millions of people are under lockdown all over the world. With more free time in their hands than they used to have, but very limited leisure options, online-activities are taking over. As open-air activities are suspended and sports leagues shut down, streamers, esports, online games, and video games, are filling that void.

This has caused a foreseeable surge in online chess activity as well. The broadcast for the Candidates Tournament was already followed by a larger number of spectators than as usual - more than one million per day on average, in the official broadcast alone.

"We have seen our numbers across nearly all metrics grow by 30-40%", says Nick Barton, Director of Business Development for Chess.com. "We have broken daily records for games played, new members onboarded and concurrent players on site. We recently saw an increase to over 50,000 new member registrations in a single day and this number has been growing consistently over the last two weeks. In addition, we have seen 8,5 million games played over a 24-hour period a number which is also steadily increasing each day."

Very similar growth is being experienced by the second-largest chess community online, the French registered charity Lichess.org. "Over the last few weeks, lichess.org's average number of users at peak times (CET evenings) has increased from around 45,000 per evening, to last night's high [29 March] of 82,000. Presumably much like all of the other sites, our metrics have increased by around 40% since the start of the month", says Theo Wait, a spokesperson for the community-run platform. "Every evening over the last week we've broken our previous record for simultaneous online players. We recently held a Titled Arena (Alireza, Carlsen, Andreikin respectively on the podium), and hit over 4 million games played in a day shortly after - when we normally used to experience 2.5 million games played a day. With respect to signups over the last month, lichess.org has had a 300% increase in monthly sign up activity from 1 March - 20 March."

"Chess24.com's daily registration numbers have tripled since the beginning of the lockdown in many countries", says Chess24 CEO Sebastian J. Kuhnert. "The number of games played every day on our platform has, on average, doubled in comparison to the same period in 2019". The site provides non-stop live educational chess entertainment streams to fill the chess entertainment void, and the Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup featuring top players such as World Champion Magnus Carlsen as well as young stars GM Alireza Firouzja and GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, has become a rare source of super-GM entertainment.

50 years ago, the USSR was battling the rest of the World


These days mark a half-century since the legendary Match USSR v. Rest of the World took place in Belgrade (Yugoslavia), between 29 March and 4 April 1970. The clash is still regarded as one of the greatest chess events of all time, with virtually all the top players in the world taking part. The line-up included the elusive Bobby Fischer, who at the time hadn't played competitive chess for almost two years, but somehow was persuaded to play. Not only that: he accepted to play on the second board - probably not feeling confident enough to face Boris Spassky on board one after such a long period of inactivity.

"The possibility of such an event had been spoken about since the time of the famous USSR v. USA radio match of 1945", writes the historian Douglas Griffin who, in collaboration with Chess Informant, is working on an expanded, 50th Anniversary Edition of the tournament book. "But the idea did not begin to take concrete shape until March of 1969, when M. Molerović of the Serbian Chess Union asked whether it would be possible to organize a match under the aegis of FIDE".

The match was held in the Assembly Hall of the House of Trade Unions ("Dom Sindikata"), a spectacular venue nicknamed "the Belgrade Olympia". This venue would also host the Candidates Final match between Spassky and Korchnoi several years later. With 1.600 seats, the hall was packed with spectators during the entire week, and reports from that time actually mention an audience of more than 2000 spectators. Sports Illustrated adds the detail that more than 60 foreign correspondents attended the event.

The teams consisted of ten players, plus two reserves, who played over the distance of 4 rounds:

 

  USSR Rest of the World
1 Boris Spassky Bent Larsen
2 Tigran Petrosian Robert Fischer
3 Viktor Korchnoi Lajos Portisch
4 Lev Polugaevsky Vlastimil Hort
5 Efim Geller Svetozar Gligoric
6 Vasily Smyslov Samuel Reshevsky
7 Mark Taimanov Wolfgang Uhlmann
8 Mikhail Botvinnik Milan Matulovic
9 Mikhail Tal Miguel Najdorf
10 Paul Keres Borislav Ivkov
 
reserve players:
 
  Leonid Stein Fridrik Olafsson
  David Bronstein Klaus Viktor Darga



The line-ups of these two formidable teams included no less than six players who had been, or would become, World Champions - five of them in the Soviet squad, and just one (the future champion!) on the Western side.

The Soviets were the overall favorites, but the "Rest of the World" team performed very well on the top boards, with Fischer defeating Petrosian by 3-1 (two victories followed by two draws). It seemed that the match would end on a 20-20 tie, but Lajos Portisch let Viktor Korchnoi slip away with a perpetual check when he was an exchange up, and with several good moves at his disposal - a result that upset Fischer so much that he complained to the team captain, Max Euwe.

The result was sealed in favor of the USSR by the minimum margin: 20½ - 19½. This was a result that probably left both sides a bit disappointed. A similar match-up was organized a couple of times in later years, but never again at the same level. The 1970 match left us incredible jewels, like Spassky's demolition of Larsen's pet opening 1.b3, or the two games in which Fischer defeated Petrosian.


[Photo credit: Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology]

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