2nd Prague Chess Festival: The Czech Wijk aan Zee?
Czech chess legend Vlastimil Hort kissing Ju Wenjun's hand (She's facing Alexei Shirov). last year. Photo: Vladimir Jagr/Prague Chess Festival.

2nd Prague Chess Festival: The Czech Wijk aan Zee?

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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28 | Chess Event Coverage

With two grandmaster groups, a tournament for talents and multiple opens, it's tempting to describe the Prague Chess Festival as the Czech Republic's version of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament. The festival has a prize fund of 44,000 euros ($48,000) and starts tomorrow.

You can follow the tournament here in our live portal. The tournament runs February 12-21 with a rest day on February 17. The rounds start at 15:00 CET which is 6 a.m. Pacific time. The last round starts an hour earlier.


The Czech Republic's strong chess tradition—think of Oldrich Duras, Richard Réti, Rudolf Charousek, Salo Flohr, Lubomir Kavalek and of course Vlastimil Hort, who in the photo gives a kiss on the hand to Ju Wenjun in last year's edition—was revived last year with the first edition of the Prague Chess Festival.

The second edition takes place February 11-21 in the Don Giovanni hotel in Prague, Czech Republic. Similar to the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, the main events consist of two round-robins. Both have 10 players (instead of 14 in Wijk aan Zee), but they bear the same names: Masters and Challengers. 

The Masters tournament was already in the news last week when the organizers announced that the Chinese GM Wei Yi had to cancel his participation as the effects of the coronavirus in China had made it too complicated for him to travel to the Czech Republic. The substitute for Wei is none other than Alireza Firouzja, the hottest chess player on the planet right now.

Alireza Firouzja
Alireza Firouzja. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Firouzja told Chess.com that he learned a lot from his participation in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, adding: "It will be another great opportunity for me to again play some interesting games."

The top seed is Jan-Krzysztof Duda, also a participant in Wijk aan Zee and the subject of a recent interview here on Chess.com. He revealed what may be one of the secrets behind his success. "I’m studying at the Academy of Physical Education in Krakow, and through this, I have an opportunity to work with top Polish trainers and sports specialists, for example, the physiologist of former Polish tennis star Agnieszka Radwanska."

Other favorites for the title include the strong Russian grandmaster Nikita Vitiugov, the Indian GM Vidit Gujrathi, and the more seasoned GMs David Navara and Pentala Harikrishna—both being local heroes at this event.

Although there are no players from the world's top 15, the field does include six players from the top 30, and all 10 are from the top 100.

2020 Prague Masters | Participants

# Rank Fed Name Rating B-Year
1 16 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof 2755 1998
2 21 Vitiugov, Nikita 2731 1987
3 23 Firouzja, Alireza 2726 2003
4 26 Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi 2721 1994
5 28 Navara, David 2717 1985
6 29 Harikrishna, Pentala 2713 1986
7 41 Anton Guijarro, David 2697 1995
8 53 Shankland, Sam 2683 1991
9 66 Ragger, Markus 2670 1988
10 83 Grandelius, Nils 2659 1993

The Challengers group, where the winner qualifies for the 2021 Masters, is a mix of experienced players and young talents. Nijat Abasov, Jorden van Foreest and Andrey Esipenko represent the latter category while forming a trio of favorites based on ratings. The oldest participant in either group is Hannes Stefansson, a 12-time Icelandic champion.

2020 Prague Challengers | Participants

# Rank Fed Name Rating B-Year
1 67 Abasov, Nijat 2670 1995
2 69 Van Foreest, Jorden 2667 1999
3 93 Esipenko, Andrey 2654 2002
4 127 Bartel, Mateusz 2639 1985
5 199 Piorun, Kacper 2611 1991
6 396 Nguyen, Thai Dai Van 2560 2001
7 400 Krejci, Jan 2529 1992
8 560 Stefansson, Hannes 2529 1972
9 597 Kriebel, Tadeas 2524 1995
10 1437 Cernousek, Lukas 2442 1983

The time control for both groups is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move, starting from move one. No draw offers before move 30 are allowed. 

There is one more similarity with the tournament in Wijk aan Zee. There will be a Vugar Gashimov Prize for fair play (in both groups) where the jury looks at the players' approach to media, spectators and chess fans, and fighting spirit.

The prize is in memory of the Azerbaijani grandmaster who died in 2014 at the age of 27. His brother Sharkan Gashimov will personally hand over the trophies.

Sarkhan Gashimov Petr Boleslav
Sarkhan Gashimov (left) with Petr Boleslav, the main organizer in Prague.

The total number of participants in the side events is close to 400, with 273 players competing in the main Open. The top seed is the Norwegian Grandmaster Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, followed by GM Nikita Petrov of Russia and GM Alexei Fedorov of Belarus.

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