The world recently witnessed an intense nine-round chess tournament in Stavanger, Norway, featuring ten of the world’s highest-ranked chess players. It is believed that very rarely has such an extraordinarily elite team been gathered to settle their differences over the chess boards in a singular competition. Previously, there was St Petersburg 1914 where the mightiest disciples of the royal game met. It was a landmark occasion for chess because it was at that tournament that Tsar Nicholas 11 coined the word ‘grandmaster’ and named each of the following players with the title: Emanuel Lasker, German Empire; Jose Raul Capablanca, Cuba; Dr Alexander Alekhine, Russian Empire; Seigbert Tarrasch, German Empire and Frank James Marshall, United States of America. Those were theoriginal chess grandmasters of history. The St Petersburg tournament finished in the order stated above.
Wikipedia has named the strongest chess tournaments from the year 1850, some more notable than others. One such was AVRO, Holland, 1938. By then, the old timers had mostly departed and a new breed of rising stars had taken control of the game. Alekhine was the world champion when the AVRO tournament was organized. However, Paul Keres, Reuben Fine and Mikhail Botvinnik were continuously threatening his title. The said trio completed AVRO in that order ahead of Max Euwe, Alekhine and Capablanca, former world champions. Samuel Reshevsky and Salo Flor were the other participants, all legends of chess. The AVRO competition was the very best the world had to offer at the time, just like Altibox 2017. One is curious, nevertheless, about whether the ten participants of Altibox 2017, would be referred to as legends of chess sometime afterward.
Similar to Alekhine at AVRO, world chess champion Magnus Carlsen finished in the second-to-last position at Altibox 2017. Chess fans experienced disappointment with Carlsen’s performance. He scored his only victory in the latter half of the tournament against his former challenger Sergey Karjakin. Following his abject loss to Carlsen and finishing in the cellar of the tournament, perhaps Karjakin may be saving his energy for the 2018 Candidates tournament, which would be contested to identify a challenger for a title shot at the championship. Karjakin has already secured a place in the Candidates tournament being the last challenger to the world champion.
The Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian took the gold at Altibox, Hikaru Nakamura the silver and Vladimir Kramnik, the bronze. Aronian needed a draw to seal his victory, and this he did with Wesley So as his opponent. With his tournament victory, Aronian has rejoined the fabled 2800 chess dwellers. If he continues winning, or placing in the top three, he stands an opportunity to be named among the world’s numbers two to four.
So had a disappointing tournament at the most elite level of chess. So stumbled when it mattered, although he did not lose a single game; he did not win any. Chess players require wins to progress. Ironically, following his nine draws from nine games, So made an interesting suggestion about drawn games. The drawn games should be replayed under faster time controls all the way up to Armageddon, he stated.
Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky who reported on So’s point of view, felt such a workload would be enormous for players. Yermolinsky doesn’t see a change in the manner in which tournaments would be conducted in the future.
Meanwhile, the Paris tournament of the Grand Chess Tour which entails a Rapid and Blitz format, has commenced. The tournament ends today. Carlsen and So are leading the ten participants with 2.5/3 points each.