Grand Chess Tour's Triple Play: Expanded Field, Events, Continents
The London Grand Chess Tour finals in December 2018. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Grand Chess Tour's Triple Play: Expanded Field, Events, Continents

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
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31 | Chess Event Coverage

The 2019 Grand Chess Tour will be the most aggressive expansion to date, according to a statement from the tour yesterday. Now entering its fifth year, the series of events had previously slimmed down at least in classical chess, but now while all time controls will be more represented, there's a clear shift toward speeding up the action.

Three-quarters of the events in 2019 will feature some sort of rapid and blitz elements. The field of grandmasters will also expand, as will the number of events and airline miles accrued by the players.

Hikaru NakamuraHikaru Nakamura's blitz and rapid prowess helped power him to the 2018 GCT title. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The highlights:

The number of "full tour players" (those that don't need wildcard invites) will increase from 10 to 12. That means all classical events will now go from nine rounds to 11, and so every full tour players will play all classical events without any wildcards. On Twitter, the GCT explained that there will be 14 total wildcards dispersed among the many rapid and blitz tournaments. Those tournaments will only feature 10 players each.

The prize fund has also shot up, and not insignificantly. Last year's $1,050,000 USD prize fund will bulge to $1,750,000 USD. Although the classical events and tour finals have bigger purses, the gain is mostly reflected in the increase in the number of events—there will be eight in 2019 (three more than in 2018 and mostly in faster time controls).

The tour will again culminate in another season-ending finals in London (the press release does not say, but presumably the same format as last year will be used). The "official sponsorship and branding partner" of the tour is Gameplan Sports, a "corporate branding" company based in India. The company got its feet wet by sponsoring the Tata Steel India event last year and has now grown to partner with the GCT to secure even more financial backers.

Speaking of India, the chess-obsessed country will play host to an official GCT event for the first time. Following the inaugural Tata Steel India event in late 2018 (with packed crowds), that tournament will come back (still as a rapid/blitz) and keep the same name, but with the added gravitas of being a tour event.

Vishy AnandSeen here winning the rapid portion in 2018, one would think that Vishy Anand would be a virtual lock to be invited to the Kolkata GCT event! | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Tata Steel Chess India.

Besides the Indian subcontinent, also getting on the tour is the continent of Africa. Last year's rapid/blitz event in Ivory Coast (also known as Côte d'Ivoire) has gone from "GCT-style" to an actual GCT event.

The Leuven rapid/blitz is no longer. GCT spokesperson Graham Jurgensen told Chess.com: "Basically the sponsor asked to take a break for this year. He’s indicated they are definitely interested in rejoining again [sic] in 2020 so hopefully it’s a temporary hiatus and we will see them back next year."

Leuven might be out, but Eastern Europe gets in on the action with two events: one in Croatia in summer and the Superbet Rapid & Blitz in Romania later in the calendar.

Speaking of calendar, players and fans alike might want to start planning out their suddenly very busy year. Squeezing in other marquee events and Grand Prix tournaments is going to require some tight maneuvering:

  • Ivory Coast Rapid & Blitz, May 6-13, 2019. Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
  • Croatia GCT (Classical), June 24-July 9, 2019. Zagreb, Croatia.
  • Paris Rapid & Blitz, July 26-August 2, 2019. Paris, France.
  • St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, August 8-15, 2019. St. Louis, U.S.
  • Sinquefield Cup (Classical), August 15-30, 2019. St. Louis, U.S.
  • Superbet Rapid & Blitz, November 4-11, 2019. Bucharest, Romania.
  • Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz, November 20-27, 2019. Kolkata, India.
  • GCT Finals (four players qualify), November 30-December 10, 2019. London, UK.

The two classical events in St. Louis and Croatia (one of Garry Kasparov's home countries—doubtless this is not an accident!) will both now make first prize a cool $90,000 USD and $325,000 total. The overall tour winner will now have his check made out for $150,000, a 25 percent increase from 2018.

Last year's final standings in the "regular season"—and the prize fund is getting even more robust this year.

Oh, Magnus could very likely return. Without having to focus on a world championship rematch, World Champion Magnus Carlsen has fewer distractions this year. However, he's not yet confirmed to return as a full tour player in 2019 (if not, the chiding from Giri on Twitter might be just as entertaining). The other 11 who have been invited: Hikaru Nakamura (returning tour champion), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano CaruanaShakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Levon Aronian, Wesley SoIan Nepomniachtchi, Vladimir KramnikAnish Giri and Viswanathan Anand.

If any of those players decline, the first alternate is Sergey Karjakin and the second is Yu Yangyi. The invite list comes from a combination of automatic qualifiers from 2018's tour (Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana), URS rating (Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Ding, Aronian), FIDE rating (Kramnik, Giri, So, Anand), and one wildcard "selected by the GCT Advisory Board" (Nepo).

A few rules modifications will also take place. Classical time controls are going to simplify down to a single time control, and speeding up slightly. Players will now have 130 minutes for all moves plus a 30-second delay (not increment) from move one.

In addition, the press release states that no draw offers will be allowed in any of the classical games in 2019 (previously "completely drawn positions in the endgame" could be adjudicated drawn by the arbiter). The language of the press release does not allow for any exceptions, so it remains to be seen if some opposite-colored-bishop endings and the like are really going to be forced to make 50 moves. Presumably the players will tacitly figure out how to repeat the position of course—you don't get to 2700 without a little bit of cleverness.

See our tournaments calendar for a full overview of top events in 2019, now updated with all the GCT events!

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