A few days ago I returned from Shamkir, Azerbaijan. Few of you will have missed the super tournament that took place for the second time, and won by Magnus Carlsen for the second time!
When this tournament was announced last year, I did not hesitate to attend. It was held in the memory of Vugar Gashimov, one of the nicest chess personalities I've met. It still feels so sad that he isn't with us anymore.
It was great to see that the organizers kept their very high standards in 2015 — I'm sure that once again it was one of the best organized chess events of the year. Jeroen van den Berg, tournament director of the second oldest running chess event (Tata Steel Chess), was a guest for a few days and even he was impressed!
So what makes a tournament so well organized? It's the little details. Some examples:
- plenty of cars available to bring players and journalists to the venue (nobody ever really had to wait for one)
- models on high heels welcoming you at the entrance (completely unnecessary, but a nice gesture anyway, bringing some glamour to the event)
- the chess boards nicely “embedded” in the tables and hardly any wires visible (creating an image of chess that just “looks good” is important)
- a press room with the live show on a big TV, plenty of sandwiches and drinks for the journos (not bad when you're sitting there for 6-7 hours)
- proper internet in that press room (sounds pretty basic, but for many events this is still quite a challenge!)
- a press chief that regularly asks you if everything is OK, if you need help with anything (this is both fantastic service and how it should be)
- a website that offers its own content but also provides updates with new content from other media (making the sponsor and others happy)
- the main sponsor who, at the closing dinner, walks to each table for a toast, thanking everyone (hospitality and professionality coming naturally)
On top of that, the organizers in Azerbaijan understand how important it is that a tournament is social. You have probably seen the photos of the football tournament that was held on the rest day. (I guess this is the place where I can mention that I scored a goal.)
And, like last year, on the last night lots of players and organizers joined in the hotel bar for some chatting and some blitz. The bar smoothly turned into a chess cafe, and it was priceless to see Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and others pay coffee house chess and trash talk!
I've heard that there is a good chance that a third Shamkir Chess tournament will be held next year. It will be hard to say no to it!