Masters Final, European Club Cup Take Off Tomorrow in Bilbao

Masters Final, European Club Cup Take Off Tomorrow in Bilbao

| 18 | Chess Event Coverage

Two (three?) major chess events were opened on Saturday in Bilbao, Spain: the Chess Masters Final and the European Club Cup (open and women). Starting from Sunday, the full top 10, with the exception of world #1 Magnus Carlsen, will be active in the Basque town.

Chess fans only needed to wait one week. On Sunday they can tune in for more top chess, this time played in Bilbao, Spain: the Masters Final, and the European Club Cup, held simultaneously in the same playing hall.

Masters Final
Whereas Shanghai and Sao Paolo acted as co-hosting cities in the past, the 7th Masters Final is held in full in Bilbao. The format is the same: a double round robin with four players. The participants are Viswanathan Anand of India, Levon Aronian of Armenia, Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine and Francisco Vallejo Pons of Spain.

Anand, Aronian, Ponomariov, Vallejo. | Photo © Manuel de Alba.

The Masters Final will be the last big tournament for Vishy Anand before his world championship match with Magnus Carlsen, in November in Sochi. As one of the five players who came to Bilbao right after the Sinquefield Cup, Levon Aronian is defending his title in Bilbao.

Now living very close to Bilbao, Ruslan Ponomariov can be considered the local hero. The 2002 FIDE world champion will surely be motivated to perform well so close to home. The only Spanish player, Paco Vallejo, is another local hero, but also one who announced his retirement from chess two years ago, in Bilbao. Luckily he kept on playing tournaments, and now he’s back for this event as well.

The playing days are Sunday, September 14-Saturday, September 20, with a rest day on Wednesday. Each round, play starts at 15:00 CET.

The time control is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves and then 60 minutes to finish the game, with 10 extra seconds per move from move number 41. Players are not allowed to agree draw without the arbiter’s permission. Players get 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 for a loss.

European Club Cup
And then there's the European Club Cup, the annual fight between European club teams. The open section, held for the 30th time, is a Swiss event among 52 teams. Each team consists of six players, but up to eight players are allowed in the line-up.

The favorites are SOCAR, the team sponsored by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic. Its line-up is good for a 2728 average rating. Note that the board order will be announced later by the team captains.

SOCAR (Azerbaijan)

# Title Name Fed Rtg
1 GM Anish Giri NED 2758
2 GM Anton Korobov RUS 2673
3 GM Wang Hao CHN 2730
4 GM Veselin Topalov BUL 2784
5 GM Teimour Radjabov AZE 2717
6 GM Shakhriyar Mammedyarov AZE 2756
7 GM Eltaj Safarli AZE 2655
8 GM Michael Adams ENG 2752

The difference with last month's Olympiad is very clear: lots of top teams have players from several federations. The favorites are playing with only three Azeri players, and the strongest is sitting on board four!

On paper, SOCAR's biggest competitor is one of the three Russian teams: Malakhite. It is also the only other team with an average rating above 2700 (2714, to be exact).


# Title Name Fed Rtg
1 GM Alexander Grischuk RUS 2789
2 GM Sergey Karjakin RUS 2777
3 GM Peter Leko HUN 2734
4 GM Alexi Shirov LAT 2701
5 GM Alexander Motylev RUS 2686
6 GM Vladimir Malakhov RUS 2696
7 GM Igor Lysyj RUS 2684
8 GM Viktor Bologan MLD 2648

This year an Italian team is among the favorites: Obiettivo Risarcimento. A week after playing the Sinquefield Cup, three participants from that tournament are sitting on the top three boards! Especially Fabiano Caruana, who played so magnificently in St. Louis, will draw lots of attention there.

Obiettivo Risarcimento

# Title Name Fed Rtg
1 GM Fabiano Caruana ITA 2801
2 GM Hikaru Nakamura USA 2782
3 GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2768
4 GM Etienne Bacrot FRA 2729
5 GM Laurent Fressinet FRA 2712
6 GM Kiril Georgiev BUL 2626
7 GM Daniele Vocaturo ITA 2585
8 GM Danyyil Dvirnyy ITA 2522

The other two Russian teams cannot be ruled out either. St. Peterburg is playing with Peter Svidler, Leinier Dominguez and Nikita Vitiugov on top boards, and SHSM Moscow has Alexander Morozevich, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Boris Grachev. 

And that about the cup holders? Well, as you might remember, the Czech Novy Bor was the surprising winner last year, and its line-up, an Indian, Czech and Polish blend, isn't bad either: Krishnan Sasikiran, Harikrishna Pentala, David Navara, Viktor Laznicka, Zbynek Hracek, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Mateusz Bartel.

As it turns out, Magnus Carlsen happens to be the only player in the live top 10 not present in Bilbao. Oslo is represented by Simen Agdestein and Jon Ludvig Hammer on top boards.

Many countries sent one or more teams; you can find the full list here.

The women's section, held for the 19th time, is a round robin tournament among eight teams: Batumi Chess Club "Nona" (Georgia), SC Bad Königshofen (Germany), Herzliya Chess Club and Rishon Letzion (Israel), Cercle d’Échecs de Monte-Carlo (CEMC), Ugra, Lady Kazan and SHSM Moscow (Russia). Each team consists of four players, but up to six players are allowed in the line-up.

The fight for first place is expected to go between Moscow (playing with Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina, Olga Girya, Alina Kashlinskaya and Ekaterina Kovalevskaya) and Monaco (with Hou Yifan, Anna Muzychuk, Kateryna Lagno, Pia Cramling and Almira Skripchenko).

Besides golden, silver and bronze medals for the top teams in each section, there is a modest prize fund for best placed clubs and individual board results: 24,000 Euros in the open section and 10,000 Euros in the women's section.

Like the Masters Final, the games of the European Club start each day at 15:00 local time. Playing days are Sunday, September 14-Saturday, September 20 without a rest day.

The time control is different from the Masters Final: 90 minutes for 40 moves plus 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move, starting from move one. There's also a slighly different anti-early-draw rule in effect: players may only agree to a draw after move 40.

It all takes place in the 2,200-square-meter Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall, located in the center of Bilbao.

The opening ceremony, held in the same place, was brief, but to the point. It started with both a Spanish and an English version of a promo video that had been produced a few weeks in advance:

Players, captains, officials and sponsors were welcomed to Bilbao by its mayor, Ibon Areso, by Ms. Maitane Leizaola, the Director of Youth & Sport of the Provincial Council of Biscay, by Javier Ochoa de Echagüen, the President of the Spanish Chess Federation, and by Zurab Azmaiparashvili, who gave his first speech as the brand new President of the European Chess Union.

When the four participants of the Masters Final were invited on stage, the pairings for the first round were shown above their heads on a big screen. Below is the full schedule:

2014 Masters Final | Pairings

Round 1 13.09.14 15:00 CET   Round 4 17.09.14 15:00 CET
Vallejo - Aronian   Ponomariov - Aronian
Anand - Ponomariov   Anand - Vallejo
Round 2 14.09.14 15:00 CET   Round 5 18.09.14 15:00 CET
Aronian - Ponomariov   Aronian - Vallejo
Vallejo - Anand   Ponomariov - Anand
Round 3 15.09.14 15:00 CET   Round 6 19.09.14 15:00 CET
Anand - Aronian   Aronian - Anand
Ponomariov - Vallejo   Vallejo - Ponomariov

Here's a short video of the opening ceremony produced by Freshmen Media:

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