A Carlsen Lull: Norwegian Angles After Tata, And Hybrid Futures
Aryan Tari - adjusted to new elevation at Tata Steel. Photo: Maria Emelianova

A Carlsen Lull: Norwegian Angles After Tata, And Hybrid Futures


Now that 2021 is well underway, the chess scene is still looking very much rapid and online, even though we have had a few bursts of normality. One very big thing in that direction was the traditional Wijk aan Zee tournament, the Tata Steel. Always a highlight of the year, the event had extra luster this time by being a rare over-the-board meeting of the elite, and one of very few in lingering Covid times.

As mentioned last time, there were than normal points of interest for Norwegian news watchers; champion Magnus Carlsen, of course, but also our youngster Aryan Tari, and, hidden in the wings, the shadow of another young GM, Johan-Sebastian Christiansen.

This isn't a news blog, so there is no headline in 'yet another' missed victory by Carlsen. Magnus is organizing and playing in a seemingly endless number of online events, gradually acquiring a massive chess business empire, and ... not doing quite as well as he used to, either here or on his online rapid chess tour. Surely no one (?) believes that his mojo wore off the minute he hit the age of 30, but as people like to say in Norway, he doesn't have his usual 'glide' lately.

From my (Jonathan Tisdall) point of view, Tata was a success more for Aryan's sake, with Tari turning in a solid '-1' performance in his second ever super-tournament, losing only twice and downing Carlsen-killer Andrey Esipenko. This indicates that that he had learned a lot from his rough top-level debut at Norway Chess last year and he is acclimatizing to these new heights.

It must be said that Magnus took his defeat in good humor. He had to settle for a corporate expansion in the Netherlands, adding New in Chess to his chess business portfolio.

The organizers must have been giddy by the two-way tie for first between local boys Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest, which guaranteed a Dutch victor for the first time since the glory days of Jan Timman.

Anish Giri at Tata Steel
Another cruel finish - Anish Giri lost the Tata title after an Armageddon blunder against his young compatriot. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Jorden broke the 2700 Elo barrier and greatly impressed with some smoothly aggressive play, typical of that Tata magic that the young whippersnappers are supposed to provide when arriving in elite company.

The novel Norwegian news angle was to be found backstage - with a quick chat with Jorden's regular second, Johan-Sebastian Christiansen. To be fair, 'Joh-Seb' had been unable to attend this year, and freshly minted young Dutch GM Max Warmerdam was on site to assist his compatriot, which he did with considerable aplomb, producing some excellent preparation, including the bit that sank Sweden's Nils Grandelius in the last round.

JT: You're still working with Jorden?
JSC: Yes, of course! I said that I couldn't physically attend Wijk this year, and recommended that he bring along Max Warmerdam. Neither I nor Max had a tremendous amount to do since Jorden was extremely well prepared for the tournament.

JT: So you're still working together between events?
JSC: Normally, yes, but not so much during Corona, since there aren't so many tournaments. We speak daily. It will be better when the world opens up again. We are just keeping each other updated.

JT: How did the two of you connect, and when did you start working together?
JSC: We met in the 2017 World Junior and became very good friends there. Then he quickly understood that I was very good in opening prep, and so we continued to stay in touch and work together, and discuss openings.

Then I helped him in the B-group in Wijk in 2018 from home, and was on the spot in 2019 and 2020. We had a 10-day training camp in the Netherlands in autumn 2019 before last year's Tata Steel. Otherwise we have discussed variations and sent each other files and ideas.

JT: And what about you, do you have any plans during the Corona-times?
JSC: No plans I don't want to travel abroad in these times. I don't understand how they can arrange tournaments with so many nationalities. We'll never get rid of this virus like that... I'm not doing much unfortunately, quite tired of playing online. So now I really hope that we can play over the board again. The pandemic is driving me crazy.

JT: Incredibly impressive of Jorden.
JSC: Yep, he's going to be a top star.

Johan-Sebastian Christiansen will at least get to play partially over-the-board in the very near future. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Ahead of the curve !?
Between The Queen's Gambit and the soaring popularity of chess streamers, the rest of the world may soon enjoy Norwegian-level obsession with the game, but there are arguments to be made for this little country still having some head starts.

In mid-January FIDE made the type of administrative announcement that doesn't seize headlines, but in the current Covid-ravaged climate, could be very much a game changer. The news is that FIDE has approved 'hybrid competitions' for rating purposes. This opens the way for online games with a physical presence, where the players gather at one end in a public place - like a club or hotel - and have arbiters in place.

This would not only go a long way to combatting various complications surrounding the thorny problem of online chess and cheating, it would re-introduce a partial element of social and secure play. This has great potential for aiding event developments beyond the current uncertain future created by Covid, it could also be used to provide international opportunities for locations suffering from other types of obstacles, logistical or financial.

What makes this particularly exciting from here is that the FIDE decision comes after a hybrid chess initiative launched by former Olympiad hosts, Tromsø. Tromsø Chess Club launched a project in late November 2020 called "Digital Arena in the North", aimed at developing a social and physical aspect to the current boom of chess popularity emerging online.

We in Tromsø are already discussing (the FIDE news) and we are overjoyed

Tromsø hosted an Olympiad (in 2014), and the club celebrated its centenary in 2018, but there is no avoiding the fact that Norway's geography and population spread poses serious challenges. The project, currently seeking funding (but proceeding in any event), has proposed two different formats to combine virtual and physical chess.

The first type is very similar to current online events, but format two is basically hybrid-chess, with the introduction of arbiters at hub locations to lower travel costs and hinder cheating.

"Our chess friends in Kirkenes, Alta, Bodø, Narvik, Harstad and Murmansk are just a few keystrokes away," said Tromsø chess dynamo Jan Sigmund Berglund. FIDE's announcement came faster than domestic reactions to consider the project.

"We in Tromsø are already discussing (the FIDE news) and we are overjoyed," Jan Sigmund told me. "This means that such tournaments are now comparable to traditional events! Their being rated means they will immediately become more serious."

The Northern Norwegian Championship 2020, cancelled by Covid, will become the first ever hybrid event.

More local news

The first edition of this blog announced a new admin and plans for a more active Norwegian community on chess.com. Things change quickly nowadays, and with Trym Sørsdal having moved upwards in the organization, it is time again to introduce ... a new admin!

Anders Aure is now taking over these duties, and you can learn more about him by visiting his profile. He's a very welcoming type, and the community should again be in good hands - again!


As soon as this piece was published, I was contacted by my old friend and journo-colleague Stefan Löffler, who is organizing what is likely to be the first real Hybrid-chess event in a test this weekend - February 20-21. He has written an excellent, in-depth article about the four-cities challenge match, including meticulous details such as the calculation of its CO2 footprint and improved climate impact.

While this may be a slight loss of wind in Tromsø sails, there is still a strong Norwegian angle, and more appearances by the stars of this article. Oslo will field one of the four teams (Barcelona, Malmö and Bratislava complete the field).

Johan-Sebastian Christiansen will lead the strong Oslo squad, which is made up of Offerspill club members. Offerspill is a particularly fitting choice, the club founded by Magnus Carlsen with the goal of connecting online chess play with traditional over-the-board club activities and international events.

Rounding out the set of local angles, Aryan Tari will be streaming live commentary of the event in English for Offerspill and the organizers. Another online program for your busy viewing calendar...