Best of 2019: Event, News, Player, Stream

Best of 2019: Event, News, Player, Stream

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48 | Chess Event Coverage

The year 2019 was very busy for the chess world, especially at the highest level. The calendar was packed, and the fans had so much to enjoy watching from the different playing halls but mostly online, of course.

In this article we look back and make our choices for event, news, player and stream of the year.

Chess Event Of The Year

Sinquefield Cup | St. Louis, Missouri, Aug. 15-29, 2019

Despite a significant amount of draws, Ding Liren made the 2019 Sinquefield Cup the tournament of the year when he became the first player to beat World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a tiebreak match, winning both blitz games to claim the title. Ding would go on to win the Grand Chess Tour, but his result in St. Louis left many wondering if he was the candidate best-suited to take down Carlsen.

Ding followed his Sinquefield Cup win when he clinched his spot in the 2020 Candidates' Tournament by reaching the FIDE Chess World Cup final just a few weeks later.

Chess.com provided complimentary coverage of the Sinquefield Cup on ChessTV, and a full replay of the tiebreakers can be viewed below:

Fans will not have to wait long to see if Ding will have his chance to play in the world championship as the Candidates' Tournament will take place in March 2020.

Chess News Story Of The Year

For 2019 we focus on how you, the readers of our news, have interacted on our site. By looking at the number of comments posted to the news stories, we get a good impression of what "moved" you most.

The top-10 of our news stories are ranked by the number of your comments:

10. Wesley So Wins Fischer Random World Championship

One of the few tournaments Carlsen did not win this year was also one of the most prestigious. Wesley So won the first official, FIDE-sanctioned Fischer Random World Championship by beating Carlsen on his home soil with Ian Nepomniachtchi winning bronze in his match against Fabiano Caruana. 205 comments.

9. 14th World Champion Kramnik Retires From Classical Chess

A shock went through the chess world when 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik suddenly announced his retirement from standard chess in late January 2019. Because he's such a legend of the game, it is no surprise that his news received many comments.

Kramnik won the bronze medal. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Vladimir Kramnik. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Luckily for us, he continues to play chess at faster time controls, and his bronze medal at the world blitz was a wonderful reminder of his class. 207 comments.

8. Carlsen, Lagno Repeat As World Blitz Chess Champions

The story of Carlsen winning the "double," getting the triple crown and finishing the year as the world champion and world number-one in standard, rapid and blitz is big. However, the incident on the last day in his game with Alireza Firouzja, who lost on time and whose protest was rejected, boosted the comments even further, and this story just makes it into the top-10! 208 comments (at the time of writing!). 

7. APRIL FOOL! Rensch To Leave Chess.com For TBS

"In a move that he described as 'the best opportunity I've ever had,' Daniel Rensch announced Monday that he would be departing his position as chief chess officer at Chess.com to play the role of Lead Punchline on the new TBS show Just Alright at Chess."

This is how our April Fool's "press release" starts, published on Apr. 1, of course. It might not have fooled many, but it was definitely food for discussion! 251 comments.

6. Wang Hao Wins FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, Qualifies For Candidates

For the first time since 1993, a Swiss tournament was part of the world championship cycle. Carlsen (already the champion) and Caruana (already qualified for the candidates) played just for the marbles but failed to win the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss in Isle of Man. Other favorites such as Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura failed as well, and eventually Wang Hao won first place and the much-coveted spot in the 2020 Candidates' Tournament. 261 comments.

5. Alekseenko's Candidates Participation Confirmed As MVL Appeals With Open Letter

At the time, nobody paid much attention when Kirill Alekseenko finished in third place in Isle of Man. However, FIDE's new regulations made the Russian player eligible for a wildcard in the candidates.

Kirill Alekseenko and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Photos: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

That news was bad for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave because the sponsor of the candidates is Russian and chose Alekseenko instead of him. 314 comments.

4. Firouzja Seeks Nationality Change After World Rapid & Blitz Ban By Iranian Federation

This story is still developing with the latest reports indicating that Firouzja is negotiating with the French Chess Federation to play for them instead of Iran. It is becoming more and more difficult for the 16-year-old Iranian grandmaster to pursue his career because the Iranian government is blocking its athletes from playing against and in tournaments with Israeli participants. 332 comments.

3. Player Suspected Of Cheating Caught With Phone At Dutch Open Championship

The topic of cheating always beats anything when it comes to readers' interactions. Using technical assistance to win a game of chess is considered the biggest sin in chess and evokes the strongest emotions. Two of the top three stories of 2019 are about cheating when a Dutch amateur player was caught with a phone during a game at the Dutch Open Championship. 378 comments.

2. Carlsen, Giri Battle Racism With Game Where Black Moves 1st

A story you might have already forgotten occurred last March. Anish Giri traveled to Oslo where he participated with Carlsen in a United Nations campaign against racism. They star in a video in which they play a game of chess, and Black makes the first move instead of White. "This rule was never about race or politics, but we can break it to send a message to everyone who believes that color should grant advantage in chess or in life," Carlsen said. Remarkably, many readers were, well, not amused. 663 comments.

1. GM Igors Rausis Under Cheating Investigation (528 comments) & Rausis Loses GM Title, Gets 6-Year Ban For Phone Cheating (248 comments)

The story of the year received a total of 776 comments if we combine the two news articles about it. GM Igors Rausis was stripped of his GM title and received a six-year ban from FIDE's Ethics Commission after he was caught with his phone during a game at the Strasbourg Open. The 58-year-old Latvian-Czech grandmaster raised suspicions after he had increased his rating in recent years to almost 2700. 


The story went viral in mainstream media, and many quoted Rausis' comment to Chess.com: "At least what I committed yesterday is a good lesson, not for me—I played my last game of chess already."

Chess Players Of The Year

The Chess.com content team had a very tough time deciding on overall Player of the Year and also Women's Player of the Year. If this were an election, both contests might have recounts! (Note that voting occurred before the 2019 World Rapid & Blitz.)

For the best overall player of 2019, you might think the case is clear for Carlsen, but he took first place by just a single point. Ding posed a formidable challenge. Maybe the queen sacrifice in their tiebreak game at the Sinquefield Cup is just too hard to forget!

Magnus Carlsen
In 2019 Magnus Carlsen had one of the best years by any player in history. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After nine content team members had voted, Carlsen ended with 22 points and Ding, 21 (first place is worth three points; second place, two;  and third place, one). Interestingly Ding is first or second on every ballot, but Carlsen is left completely off one. That nearly cost him, but his abundance of first-place votes carried him to victory.

Speaking of victories, they came nearly one per month for the champ. 

Carlsen ended 2018 as the World Blitz Champion, then just kept on winning in January with first place at Tata Steel. He also won the Gashimov Memorial and the strongest-ever tournament on African soil, the Grand Chess Tour Ivory Coast.

The Norwegian jumped back to Europe to win Grenke Chess and took his rating to near-record highs. Then he hopped over to Scotland for some whiskey and more winning. He took another rapid event, the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars Tournament in May.

Turn the calendar to June, when he won on home soil at Altibox Norway Chess, not needing all the rounds to do so. Later in the summer he moved from the Arctic to the Adriatic and won another GCT event, this one in Croatia. It was his eighth-straight win, and he returned to his peak rating of 2882 as a result.

He nearly won another title in St. Louis but was denied at the Sinquefield Cup by Ding's playoff heroics. But Carlsen wasn't done mastering GCT events, as he won another fast time control tournament in India at the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz. He did so with a record score for any GCT event as his 27 points were four ahead of second place.

Carlsen now sits at 107 classical games in a row without a loss. Although it wasn't included for the voting, the standard world champion just won the World Rapid Championship and defended his World Blitz Championship to hold the "Triple Crown" of chess.

Ding's case is supported by his first place (and sensational blitz queen sac) at the 2019 Sinquefield Cup, second place at the World Cup, and win of the overall Grand Chess Tour Finals in London.

Ding Liren
Ding Liren's Grand Chess Tour victory is the summation of his excellent 2019 campaign. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In third place with nine points is Nepomniachtchi.

The 2019 Women's Player of the Year is... Aleksandra. No, it's Alexandra. Actually, it's both! There is amazingly a dead-heat tie between Russian GMs Alexandra Kosteniuk and Aleksandra Goryachkina. The veteran and the youngster each scored 15 points to become co-players of the year (with eight content team members voting).

Aleksandra Goryachkina
Aleksandra Goryachkina dominated the most important women's tournament of the year, the candidates, at the age of 20. Photo: FIDE.

Goryachkina received the most first-place votes (four) but was left off the ballots of two voters. Weirdly Kosteniuk had just one first-place vote, but consistency got her into the tie, with many second-place votes and being left off just one ballot.

Goryachkina's largest standout result is winning the Candidates' Tournament, which qualifies her for the world championship match in 2020. Unlike Carlsen, who sometimes won titles this year with one round to spare, she punched her ticket with two full games to be played! She also closed 2018 with a third place in the Women's World Rapid, and in 2019 finished in the three-way tie for first in the Monaco Grand Prix. She was undefeated but finished a half-point off the pace in third place at the Russian Women's Championship.

Of course, it was Kosteniuk who officially won in Monaco. She also took runner-up at the first-ever Cairns Cup. She proved to be nearly Carlsen's equal in faster time controls by adding other titles at the IMSA World Masters Rapid and Blitz and winning both the European Rapid and European Blitz.

Alexandra Kosteniuk
Alexandra Kosteniuk spells her first name with an "x," and her "x-factor" is her superb play in rapid and blitz events. Photo: Karol Bartnik/FIDE.

Concerning the second place for Russia at the Women's World Teams, well, that was a "push" because both "Alex(ks)andras" were on that team.

Third place is only one point behind and was also on that team! With 14 points Valentina Gunina takes a very close bronze and has two first-place votes, thanks to her win in the inaugural Cairns Cup and second place in the Chess.com Women's Speed Chess Championship.

Chess Streams Of The Year 

As we end 2019 (and the 2010 decade), a major revolution in chess has been chess streaming. Although finding chess being broadcast on public television is still rare (outside of Norway), it's almost impossible to find a major event that isn't broadcast free online these days.

Many top players have also begun streaming with Carlsen, Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave, Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja, and more starting regular channels on Twitch! These streams provide an unprecedented insight into the real-time thinking of elite chess players and show how many mind-blowing variations they actually do see AND that they occasionally do miss things.

Here are our three most memorable chess streams of 2019! What are yours?

#1 - The FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship

Fischer Random chess arrived in a big way in 2019 with the first-ever official World Championship, sanctioned by FIDE. The event took much of the year with the most open qualification system in the history of a world championship. Finally, it all came down to the live finals in Norway, where So shocked the world by, not just winning the match, but crushing Carlsen in brilliant fashion.

#2 - Arena Kings: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Daniel Naroditsky and Alireza Firouzja

Arena Kings featured many great players streaming their live commentaries, but no one was more dominant in the format in 2019 than Nakamura. Although tested at times, he continually proved the stronger player. Don't miss his fight for the title in the season finale against Naroditsky and Firouzja.

#3 - Bullet Chess World Championship

Since the invention of online chess, bullet chess has been a favorite of chess fans, but only this year did we see a true Bullet Chess Championship as the likes of Nakamura, Firouzja, Vachier-Lagrave, Vladislav Artemiev, and Aronian competed in our first-ever championship. The matches were sheer chaos, but ultimately Nakamura emerged victorious against the insanely talented rising star Firouzja.

What are your thoughts on our choices for 2019? Do you have other favorites?

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