Chess.com New Host Of Isle Of Man Tournament
Now entering its third incarnation, big changes are afoot for the large Swiss event held each fall on the Isle of Man. Chess.com will ferry to the Irish Sea to take over from Pokerstars as the new host and sponsor of the event, along with the Scheinberg family.
Add in the assistance from The Isle of Man Department of Economic Development, and you have your three-tiered sponsorship indicative of the triskelion on the Isle of Man flag (seen above).
The tournament and its new name, the Chess.com Isle of Man International Masters, is primed to become the strongest open event ever held in the British Isles, which would supersede last year's event for this moniker. This year's nine-round competition will take place October 1-9 at the Royal Hall of the Villa Marina, the "island's most prestigious venue" according to Manx native and Isle of Man International Chess Committee Chairman Alan Ormsby.
The Villa Marina, a grand venue for chess. (Photos courtesy WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni).
Three players from the 2700 club have already confirmed their participation, including recent Gashimov Memorial winner GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (maybe he has a thing for third-year events?). Also booking their tickets are GM Wang Hao and GM Michael Adams. The latter is the strongest player in the UK, but Isle of Man isn't part of it! The Crown Dependency gets to mostly make its own rules, one of which is an automatic qualification spot to the British Championship.
Confused? Don't be. Just know that there is a £50,000 prize fund, with £12,000 going to first place (about $17,500 USD). Commensurate with other large Swisses like Gibraltar, there will also be sizable Ladies' Awards, totaling £9,500 with £3,500 for allocated for first.
Chess.com is also paying for the flight for two players to attend. The top male and top female from the later Title Tuesday event on July 5 will get their airfare paid to play at Isle of Man! Tiebreak rules/procedures will be announced prior to the next Titled Tuesday.
GM Laurent Fressinet, formerly of the 2700 club, will return for the third year in a row. He finished second in both 2014 and 2015, so you could say that he's due!
Frequent Chess.com/TV commentator GM Simon Williams leads the broadcast team, and will be joined by experienced on-air personality WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni. Chess.com will be further represented by several staff members, as Peter Doggers will produce the live show and yours truly will be on site writing daily reports and doing candid video interviews with players.
"We have a very simple goal with the sponsorship of this tournament," said Chess.com Vice President IM Danny Rensch. "We want top players and fans to think of the Isle of Man as one of the premier Swiss events of the year. Just like Gibraltar, Reykjavik, and Millionaire Chess, our tournament is becoming a must-visit destination for the world's elite and also up-and-coming aspirational players."
One of the "aspirational" players is 49-year-old GM Julio Granda Zuniga, who will return and attempt to make 2700 for the first time. He's only one point away!
Ormsby said that thanks to funds provided by the Scheinberg family, he is actively recruiting other top players. The timing of the tournament luckily does not conflict with the FIDE Grand Prix. Players will have three days to travel to the October 12 start of the yet-to-be-determined location.
There are other open tournaments (seven rounds) taking place simultaneously for those with ratings below 2100 FIDE (186 ECF).
Last year's top female was IM Jovanka Houska of England.
So far, the masters tournament looks to crown a new champion, as neither winner from the first two years has signed up yet. GM Nigel Short became the inaugural champion in 2014. Last year, GM Pentala Harikrishna's win became the initial springboard to adding roughly 30 rating points and vaulting him into the current top 15.
His key game was a round-seven win over GM Arkadij Naiditsch, where White's two passers looked good until his knight got trapped where the Black knight belongs.
GM Pentala Harikrishna after winning in 2015.
Ormsby said his goal is to grow the tournament, not just with better conditions, players and prizes, but also sheer numbers. In 2014, 70 players competed in the top section, while last year he produced 100. This year Ormsby is shooting for 140 (he's up to a little more than one-third of that goal so far, with players from Mongolia to Paraguay already entered).
He said another reason to visit is the "stunning scenery." Here's what he means:
A view of the tiny "Calf of Man" island, which has four lighthouses but only two residents! (Photo: Wikipedia.)
Although the tournament is only three years old, the Isle of Man Parliament (Tynwald) is more than 1,000 years old, some citing it as the longest continuously functioning parliament in the world. Of course, most historians claim chess is even older.
"I am stoked that Chess.com has finally found a tournament to organize," Rensch said. "And it's even better that we're not starting from nothing. We want to take this tournament and make it the best Swiss in the world."