70s Life: Gibraltar Chess Festival Hosts 72 GMs

70s Life: Gibraltar Chess Festival Hosts 72 GMs

| 23 | Chess Event Coverage

For those that don't watch ChessCenter regularly (shame on you!), in the latest episode, this author/commentator predicted the continued rise of open events.

Evidence number one might be the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, which commences its fifteenth incarnation this Tuesday and runs through February 2. Its first portion overlaps the final rounds of the much more white-haired elite event in Wijk aan Zee, the Tata Steel tournament.

Its a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but at the turn of the millennium, few would have predicted that open tournaments would be as important to the chess landscape as they are today.

The scouting report is that GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave only loses 10 points to his rating when tied up.

While not a round-robin, nor ever featuring GM Magnus Carlsen, there's still much supporting evidence that Gibraltar is leading the pack. Wijk has 12 grandmasters over 2700, while Gibraltar also has a dozen. But the Iberian Peninsula is just getting started. They will host a further 50 grandmasters in 2017, with 72 grandmasters in total. Given that there are female prizes, six WGMs have also registered. There's more than 50 IMs and about 75 percent of the 252 players have FIDE titles.

GM Vassily Ivanchuk (right) looks on to see his first-round pairing, chosen by Miss Gibraltar 2016 Kayley Misfud and announced by Tournament Director GM Stuart Conquest.

In a decade and a half, Gibraltar has obtained a loyal following among top tournament players. For the next two weeks, there are 27 Grandmasters per square mile in this British Overseas Territory.

Contrary to all of this, organizer Brian Callaghan actually wanted to point out the non-titled players when discussing the tournament's attributes. He recognized that other strong open tournaments exist, but he called Gibraltar the strongest "true open" since there is no rating limit at all to participate. Indeed, 30 players are below 2000, something we don't usually highlight in tournament previews! 

He is also proud of his tournament's commitment to large prizes (first place is £23,000, or $28,500 USD) and stewardship of women's chess. (There's a total of £44,000 female prizes.)

GM Anna Muzychuk returns to defend her title as top woman.

As usual, the tournament has completely filled up. Callaghan said they've reached their absolute limit of 252. While that happens to be two to the eighth power, that's not the reason for the number (Gibraltar is a 10-round event). The host Caleta Hotel is plum out of space.

Open tournaments often produce more off-balance games, both in terms of rating and the nature of positions. Despite Wijk aan Zee, for example, having a particularly pugilistic year, they still have had "only" 40 percent of the opening seven rounds of games produce a winner. That usually won't happen in a large open, which provides even more incentive for top players to "go for it" early on since someone will surely open with four wins. You could very easily play several great games of solid chess but still be trailing in the standings in an open.

Last year the ladies kept their heels on, literally and figuratively, in the "Battle of the Sexes."

Another unique benefit of Opens—amateurs in Gibraltar will get the chance to play against world champions, not just alongside them. Past world champ ion GM Veselin Topalov will play; his last Open was back here in 2015. Current women's world champion, Hou Yifan, returns; she's won the top women's prize twice but will attempt to be the first to three. Many eyes will be on the recently resuscitated career of GM Vassily Ivanchuk, who just became world rapid champion.

Ivanchuk's had some success in Gibraltar in his pre-checkers days (winner in 2011), but only two men can claim three years of success on The Rock. GMs Nigel Short and Hikaru Nakamura both have a trio of first-place finishes and both return this year to see who can one-up the other. In addition, Nakamura has won the last two years, something Short also did once (along with GM Kiril Georgiev).

As he just found out, GM Hikaru Nakamura's title defense will begin with fellow American FM Kazim Gulamali.

Gibraltar also doesn't "settle" for tiebreaks. In fact, if two players are tied, it's not just the title on the line in the playoff. The cash is not split, meaning last year's playoff, which went all the way to the armageddon games, counted for £5,000.

In a fantastic case of burying the lede, GM Fabiano Caruana and last-year's runner-up GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are also in attendance. (This is one respect where Tata has the "lead"—There are five top-10 players in Wijk and three in Gibraltar.)

Coming to Gibraltar involves an element of risk, beyond getting paired with a 2700. First there's the World War II bunkers and pillboxes...

...and also the lone runway (according to some one of the 10 most dangerous in the world), where it is not clear if it is scarier on a plane in a cross-wind landing, or crossing it on foot. And if you survive all that..

...the monkeys also await. Apparently the locals weren't done, as just last year, they also added a 71m footbridge suspended 50m in the air.

If the colossal avalanche of big names in the main isn't enough, keep in mind that Gibraltar is a true chess festival—It's not just a clever name!. Special events happen every night, and then some. Even as I type this, GM Boris Gelfand and GM Ju Wenjun are downstairs playing a simul.

Last year "Master Classes" were taught by GM Viswanathan Anand and Vachier-Lagrave, among others (and like last year, will be broadcast to the masses). This year Topalov and Hou Yifan are lined up, with two others to be announced. The annual "Battle of the Sexes" will return as well.

The live commentary team will be GM Simon Williams and IM Jovanka Houska. The nine-round event will take place daily from January 24 to February 2, with that final evening possibly containing a playoff. The games begin at 3 p.m. local time (GMT+1), which is 5 p.m. Moscow, 2 p.m. London, 9 a.m. New York, 6 a.m. Los Angeles.

Gibraltar 2017 Participants (Top 30)

No. Fed Title Name Rtg No. Fed Title Name Rtg
1 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2827 16 GM Short, Nigel D 2675
2 GM Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2796 17 GM Shankland, Samuel L 2674
3 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2785 18 GM Fressinet, Laurent 2660
4 GM Ivanchuk, Vassily 2752 19 GM Ganguly, Surya Shekhar 2657
5 GM Adams, Michael 2751 20 GM Howell, David W L 2655
6 GM Svidler, Peter 2748 21 GM Iturrizaga, Bonelli Eduardo 2652
7 GM Topalov, Veselin 2739 22 GM Hou Yifan 2651
8 GM Yu Yangyi 2738 23 GM Piorun, Kacper 2651
9 GM Vitiugov, Nikita 2724 24 GM Anton Guijarro, David 2650
10 GM Gelfand, Boris 2721 25 GM Gupta, Abhijeet 2645
11 GM Naiditsch, Arkadij 2702 26 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2637
12 GM Matlakov, Maxim 2701 27 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2633
13 GM Cheparinov, Ivan 2689 28 GM Sutovsky, Emil 2628
14 GM Kovalenko, Igor 2684 29 GM Oparin, Grigoriy 2625
15 GM Zvjaginsev, Vadim 2679 30 GM Edouard, Romain 2613

(See full list here.)

You can watch the action live at On days and times where the live show of Tata Steel conflicts, you can also watch via the tournament's site.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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