How to make chess exciting without Magnus Carlsen

Saturday, 09.11.2019
13:43 clock

Gray hoodie and sports shoes – that's how Magnus Carlsen sat on the board last Sunday. The chess world champion played neither an international tournament, nor met an opponent from the world class. Carlsen played in Oslo for the club founded by him Offerspill against a clearly inferior opponent. One can safely call that a little break, which takes Carlsen between the World Cup in Fischer Random chess and his next tournament – to recognize the casual clothes.


Stronger looks the dress code these days in Hamburg, where the third of four Grand Prix tournaments of the chess federation Fide runs. There, the players are wearing jackets on the board. The Grand Prix series is one of the most important events in the chess calendar, after the fourth round, the two best players in the series qualify for the Candidates Tournament 2020 In Yekaterinburg they are among the eight players to determine the next challenger of World Champion Carlsen. Although world-class chess is played here, hardly anyone watches. Because Carlsen is not there.

He is the most famous active player, his name ensures attention. The reputation of the world champion goes beyond the chess scene. People who are hardly interested in chess know Carlsen – but rarely other players.

  "There are two types of tournaments: tournaments where Carlsen plays and tournaments without Carlsen," says Ilya Merenzon, head of Grand Prix organizer World Chess, SPIEGEL. Means: The attention is not great for the Grand Prix without Carlsen.


With the question of how the World Cup cycle without Carlsen can be made more attractive to new fans, the chess World Association Fide and tournament organizer World Chess deal for years. They have not found the big solution yet. Merenzon refers to chess as a "billion-dollar startup", but the sport has not made it out of the starting blocks yet. The organization of the Candidates Tournament and the World Cup has already been withdrawn by World Chess, but the Grands Prix is ​​still allowed to host Merenzon's team.


Valeria Gordienko / World Chess
World Chess President Ilya Merenzon (l.) And Fide President Arkady Dvorkovich (r.).

  To make the tournaments more interesting until the World Cup, the Fide has changed the World Cup cycle. In addition to the Grands Prix, players can qualify for the Candidates Tournament in two more events.

  The four tournaments of the Grand Prix, formerly held in the league system, take place since this year in the K.O. mode. High-quality chess play grandmaster like the Russian Alexander Grischuk or the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave anyway. The new system is to ensure that games of rare draws end, the players should take more risk.

The fide president and the fifa


But not all tournaments of the World Cup cycle will be played in the future in K.o. mode. The World Association wants to find the right mix of tournament formats, says Fide President Arkady Dvorkovich, who has been in office for about a year. He wants to promote chess more prominently in public, also with the help of the Football World Federation Fifa.

  Dvorkovich was the head of the organization of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, through the job he has a network of contacts. FIFA President Gianni Infantino is said to have been one of the first to congratulate him on his election as Fide boss. Chess and football World Federation have been in talks for a few months about cooperation, says Dvorkovich the SPIEGEL.

  This should take place in three areas:

  Chess should be promoted in football schools
    The Fide wants to learn in the field of management from Fifa
    Football stars are to visit and promote chess tournaments
  This promises Dvorkovich more visibility of his sport. He likes to talk – like Merenzon – about the possibilities that marketing could offer. 50 million people would engage in online chess online on a daily basis, says the Fide president. This should obviously be the target group.


The livestream of the first day of the Grand Prix on Youtube has about 20,000 views to date. The account of Magnus Carlsen on the video platform has about 233,000 subscribers.

  He has achieved 30 percent of the goals he wants to achieve in his four-year term, says Dvorkovich. There is still a lot of work to do.

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