Grand Chess Tour Adds 2 Events, Keeps $1 Million+ Purse

Grand Chess Tour Adds 2 Events, Keeps $1 Million+ Purse

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The 2016 Grand Chess Tour, in only its second season, looked to be losing steam with the news last month that Norway Chess would be leaving. Instead, the tour announced today that it is doubling its contests and keeping its $1 million+ prize fund.

The two new events will be in Paris and Brussels-Leuven and will take place back-to-back in the beginning of the summer. The Paris leg will be June 8-14, then Belgium will host its event from June 15-21.

How can the two events be held with nary a rest day in between? Two reasons. First, high-speed trains like the TGV can take you from Paris to Brussels in one hour, 22 minutes (this author reached 250km/hour this week on the TGV from Stuttgart to Strasbourg). Leuven is then only 20km farther. 

Second, the two Francophone events will both be a combination of rapid and blitz. No classical chess generally means fewer rest days needed.

GM Magnus Carlsen will have to play four events to retain his title instead of the three from last year. | Photo Ray Morris-Hill.

Both new events carry a $150,000 prize fund. The two classical events in St. Louis and London keep their $300,000 purse, just as last year. The only minor alteration comes with the overall tour prizes. Gone is the third-place award of $25,000 -- that money was lumped on to the first-place check, which goes from $75,000 to $100,000 for the tour champion.

Second place overall remains $50,000. The tour thus keeps its $1,050,000 total cash outlay.

Norway Chess left the tour largely over a difference of funding. They believed that corporate sponsorship was the best model for sustainability (the Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic both rely largely on individual patrons).

However, the two new events do come with backing from businesses. Paris will be funded by Colliers International France, a commercial real estate firm whose parent company tallies about $2 billion in revenue each year. Brussels-Leuven is sponsored by Your Next Move, a Belgian non-profit. According to tour spokespeople, these deals were landed through the use of "personal contacts and sponsorship consultants."

The press release does not add any clarity to which players would be invited to the four events this year. Per the rule from the inaugural cycle, the top three finishers from last year (GMs Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri and Levon Aronian) are guaranteed invites.

GM Levon Aronian, last year's Sinquefield Cup Champion, is assured an invite to the 2016 Grand Chess Tour.

For the record, those three slotted players will be playing in Norway this year anyway. The three Americans who played all or part of the Grand Chess Tour last year (GMs Nakamura, Caruana and So) will all skip Norway in favor of the U.S. Championship (a full preview of that tournament is coming soon).

One wrinkle from last year: There will now be two wildcards per event instead of one. The host event will still get to invite its preferred player (just as in 2015), but now the Grand Chess Tour will also get one invitation per event.

Assuming there will again be a "regular" rotation of players as in the first season, that means only eight players will be invited to be mainstays in the tour. The announcement states that five remaining spots will be filled by the five highest-average-rated players from calendar year 2015 (using all monthly rating supplements).

This is opposed to regulations from 2015 that are still posted on the Grand Chess Tour's web site -- the rules state that six players earn entry by rating, not five. One unlucky player will be left out with the new wording.

Despite losing to him in the playoff, a wacky final day of the 2015 Grand Chess Tour saw Giri take more tour points in London and therefore earn an automatic bid over MVL for 2016. | Photo Ray Morris-Hill.

It is not clear if some players were asked about calendar availability or format preference. asked GM Hikaru Nakamura and he replied that he had not been informed prior to today.

Tour spokesperson Michael Khodarkovsky told that "informal conversations with players and their representatives did take place."

When asked about other specific cities in which the tour was rumored to expand, he said, "GCT management is continuously working on further developments and potential expansion of the Grand Chess Tour." 

One top player that seems to benefit may be GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Last year's fourth-place finisher played steady in all three events, but had a rating swoon in early 2015 that seemed to preclude him from qualifying by rating. He also had some unfortunate tiebreak luck in London that allowed a top-three tour finish to Giri instead of him.

With one event now taking place in Vachier-Lagrave's home city of Paris, today's news seems welcomed for him. Add his affinity and adroitness at faster time controls (he finished second in the 2015 World Blitz Championship), and the French number one would be a logical choice to receive one of the wildcards for at least the French event, if not more invites.

Update: spoke with Vachier-Lagrave and he informed that he's been sponsored by Colliers International since his 2009 World Junior Championship. He said he also saw the head of Colliers Europe at the London Chess Festival. "They've wished to organize a tournament for some time now," Vachier-Lagrave said about the company.

Last year, with only one wildcard per event, all three hosts chose a player representing the home federation (GMs Jon Ludvig Hammer, Wesley So and Michael Adams). In case you're wondering, the top Belgian player is GM Luc Winants, FIDE 2565.

Tour dates were also announced for the two classical events. The Sinquefield Cup will be August 19-September 2, (two weeks before the 42nd Olympiad) and the London Chess Classic will be December 7-December 19.

The 2016 Grand Chess Tour calendar (image courtesy official site).

The press release does not specify if the new events will count equally in tour points with the classical events. Khodarkovsky said that the points system and prize structure for the events will be made public after players are confirmed for the tour.

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