The 10 Best Chess Cities in the World
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The game of chess has a storied history dating back to about 600 AD, with many momentous events in those 1500 years.
About half a billion people today play chess worldwide, and the game has been adopted by cultures in every continent around the globe.
With such a large player-base and cultural acceptance, there is no doubt that there are several excellent chess cities in the world. But which ones are the very best?
Chess.com’s experts, including reporter Peter Doggers and IM Daniel Rensch, considered chess culture, events, history, facilities, and famous players to help choose the 10 best chess cities in the world.
Let us know your favorite chess cities in the comments and on Facebook.
Honorable Mention: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Beijing, Berlin, Chennai, Dallas, Dortmund, Dubai, Elista, Linares, and Wijk aan Zee.
Elista by Ray Nayler
While all the above cities are worthwhile centers of chess, they just missed out on making the top 10.
10. Havana, Cuba
José Raúl Capablanca by Aris Gionis
Cuba has been a chess-crazy country since the rise of the legendary José Raúl Capablanca, Havana’s own world champion. Capablanca, born in 1888, was world champion from 1921 to 1927, and many chess fans consider him the greatest player of all time.
Havana is a large city of 2.1 million, and its chess culture is greater than just Capablanca. The Havana Chess Club was founded in 1885, three years before Capablanca was born. The city also hosted the 17th Chess Olympiad in 1966, won by the Soviet Union’s super team of Petrosian, Spassky, Tal, Stein, Korchnoi, and Polugaevsky.
Of course, the most famous Havana chess event is the Capablanca Memorial Tournament, which has been held annually since 1962. For many years, the tournament was the best-paid event on the chess circuit. Bobby Fischer famously finished second in the 1965 tournament, playing by telex from New York City. The tournament was most recently won by GM Wesley So of the Philippines.
9. St. Petersburg, Russia
Green chess board by Taniusha
Russia is by far the most chess-obsessed nation in the world, and St. Petersburg is its second-largest city. With nearly 5 million residents, St. Petersburg is home to countless chess players and many grandmasters.
In fact, some chess historians consider the title “grandmaster” to have made its formal introduction after the famous 1914 St. Petersburg chess tournament, where Russian Tsar Nicholas II awarded the title to top five players: Emanuel Lasker, José Raúl Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Siegbert Tarrasch, and Frank Marshall.
8. Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø via Chess.com
Tromsø is the smallest city on this list, with a population of just 72,000. The city is, however, the largest in northern Norway, and the second-largest city north of the Arctic Circle, trailing only Murmansk, Russia.
Tromsø is a fairly new player on the international chess stage, but it has been the host of two very important recent events. In 2013, the city hosted the 2013 FIDE World Cup, which was won by GM Vladimir Kramnik.
Of course, Tromsø is also currently hosting the 2014 Chess Olympiad, the most important international chess event. You can follow Chess.com’s coverage of the Tromsø Olympiad at www.Chess.com/news.
7. London, England
London, England's largest city and home to 8.3 million people, has been a center of gravity for international chess for centuries. In 1851, the city hosted the first formal international chess tournament, which was won by Germany’s Adolf Anderssen, who defeated 15 of the best chess players in the world.
London has hosted seven world chess championships, trailing only Moscow for most in history. Most recently, London held the famous 2000 world chess championship, when Vladimir Kramnik shocked the world by defeating Garry Kasparov.
6. Reykjavík, Iceland
Harpa Concert Hall via Chess.com
Reykjavík, with 121,000 residents, is the largest city and capital of Iceland. Located on the southwest part of frigid Iceland, Reykjavík is the northernmost capital city in the world.
Though it’s much smaller than most other international cities, Reykjavík is home to six of Iceland’s eight grandmasters, making about 1 of 20,000 of the city’s residents a grandmaster. If New York City had as great a density of grandmasters as Reykjavík, it would have 416 -- but there are only 85 grandmasters, total, in all of the United States.
Reykjavík was also home to unquestionably the most famous event in chess history, the 1972 world championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. In the future, Reykjavík will host the 2015 European team championship in November next year.
5. Baku, Azerbaijan
Chess Academy Baku via www.coop-himmelblau.at
Baku, home to 2.1 million, is the capital of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The cosmopolitan city has a long history of strong players, and already has a promising future in chess.
Baku’s most famous chess player is, of course, Garry Kasparov, the legendary former world champion. Kasparov was world champion from 1985 to 2000, and he dominated competitive chess in that period. Many -- if not most -- chess fans consider Kasparov to be the greatest world champion ever.
Baku is also home to GM Teimour Radjabov, a former chess prodigy and currently ranked 27th in the world.
The future of chess in Baku is definitely secure, as the city will host two premier upcoming events: the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 Olympiad.
4. New York, New York
New York, the largest city in the United States with 8.3 million residents, also has the most extensive chess history in America.
New York is home to the famous Marshall Chess Club, one of the oldest in the United States, founded in 1915 by the U.S. chess champion Frank Marshall. The city’s oldest club, though, was the storied Manhattan Chess Club, which opened in 1877 and closed in 2002.
The most famous place to play chess in New York might be outside in Washington Square Park. The chess tables in the southwest corner of the park have been frequented by masters and strong amateurs for decades, including Bobby Fischer and other world-class GMs in the 1950s and 1960s. Josh Waitzkin, the chess prodigy depicted in the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” also played in Washington Square Park.
In formal chess competition, New York co-hosted (With St. Louis and New Orleans) the first official world championship match in 1886 between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort. The city also hosted the 1924 super tournament (Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Marshall, Reti, Maróczy, Bogoljubow, and Tartakower), the 1995 world championship (Kasparov-Anand), and the famous computer-human match of Deep Blue vs. Kasparov.
3. Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia
Khanty-Mansiysk is a fast-growing city in central Russia. Founded in 1930, the city has benefited from an oil boom, and its population has more than doubled in the last 25 years to about 80,000 today.
The city has played host to some of the most important world chess events in recent years. Khanty-Mansiysk hosted the 2014 candidates tournament, won by Viswanathan Anand, who will face Magnus Carlsen in November for a world championship rematch.
Khanty-Mansiysk also was the home of four straight FIDE World Cups between 2005 and 2011, crowning Levon Aronian, Gata Kamsky, Boris Gelfand, and Peter Svidler as winners in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011, respectively. The city also hosted the 2010 Chess Olympiad.
2. St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is the current epicenter of chess in the United States. The city is modestly sized, with about 320,000 residents, but has a thriving chess community thanks to The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, one of the largest chess clubs in the world.
The CCSCSL includes a master-in-residence position, which has been held by Ben Finegold, Yasser Seirawan, Alejandro Ramirez, Varuzhan Akobian, Jennifer Shahade, Ronen Har-Zvi, Irina Krush, Josh Friedel, Anna Sharevich, Robert Hungaski, and Bryan Smith, according to Wikipedia.
St. Louis is also home to world #5 GM Hikaru Nakamura, rated 2787 in the July 2014 FIDE list.
St. Louis co-hosted (With New York and New Orleans) the first official world championship match in 1886 between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort. The city has hosted the last six U.S. chess championships, and will host the strongest chess tournament in history, the upcoming Sinquefield Cup, later this month.
1. Moscow, Russia
Moscow, with a population of 12.1 million, is the largest city in Russia and the 8th-largest city in the world. It is undoubtably home to the most chess players in a single city in the world.
The city was the headquarters of the Soviet Union’s chess activities for most of the 20th century, and as such its chess history is by far the most extensive of any international city.
Moscow has hosted an astounding 15 world chess championships, most recently in the 2012 match between Anand and Gelfand.
The city has also staged two Chess Olympiads, in 1956 and again in 1994.
Nine chess world champions have lived in or played extensively in Moscow: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik, Ruslan Ponomariov, and Alexander Khalifman.
What are the best chess cities you've been to? Let us know in the comments section.
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