Norway Chess Leaves Grand Chess Tour

Norway Chess Leaves Grand Chess Tour

| 59 | Chess Event Coverage

Norway Chess has decided to step out of the Grand Chess Tour. For 2016, the tournament couldn't reach an agreement with the other two events in the tour: the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic.

Shortly after its inaugural year, the Grand Chess Tour has to deal with a its first setback: Norway Chess has stepped out.

[Note: Update posted at bottom of article.]

Officially named Altibox Norway Chess (now that a contract with the telecom and fiber company has been signed), the super tournament in the Stavanger region couldn't come to an agreement with its colleagues in St. Louis and London.

“A sad, but for us necessary decision, since our views differ from the [Grand Chess Tour]’s on the future of top class tournaments,” Kjell Madland, chairman of the board at Altibox Norway Chess was quoted in the press release.

The reason for the Norwegians to go their own way? The very nature of the three tournaments and their funding.

Our views differ mostly with regards to commercial sponsorship and what we hope to build,” Jøran Aulin-Jansson, the spokesperson for Altibox Norway Chess, told “Altibox will be our main sponsors for 2017 and 2018 as well. We are based purely on commercial sponsorship. That is our focus.”

The other two tournaments exist by the grace of benefactors: the Sinquefield Cup is funded by billionaire Rex Sinquefield and the London Chess Classic by a benefactor who has always remained in the background.

We believe that to create sustainability for a tour like this, most of the financing should be based on commercial sponsorship,” Aulin-Jansson added. “I don't think the three parties disagree on this.”

The situation is not much different than in April 2015, when the Grand Chess Tour was announced. However, Aulin-Jansson is not happy with the pace at which the other two tournaments are seeking commercial sponsors. 

“Maybe our expectations were different than those from the others. We have spoken a lot; we couldn't reach an agreement suiting everyone. It's not that we are against nice and good people who are paying for these tournaments, but to be able to create long-term sustainability, commercial is the only medicine.”

The decision was not an easy one, said Aulin-Jansson. “We have had numerous meetings with this and other stuff on the agenda, mostly on Skype. It's not any bad will, it's the sum of pluses and minuses. We don't have regrets, we have learnt a lot. I think it's a difference of perceptions.”

Despite signing the contract with Altibox, Norway Chess is still looking for more sponsors. Aulin-Jansson: “We have lost money so far, and 2016 will also be a difficult year. Altibox is our main sponsor but not the only one. You can say that we are still investing in chess.”

Last year the Grand Chess Tour was announced as “the  biggest announcement in professional international chess since 1988.” Back then, Tony Rich, the executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, said: “We are hoping to expand, in particular, to Asia and Africa. Heck, if you can put a chess team together in Antarctica, I bet we could have an event there as well.”

From the very start Jakarta has been mentioned as a potential location for a new tournament that would be included in the tour. Because of personal reasons, the organizer of that event had to put his plans on hold.

Malcolm Pein, the tournament director of the London Chess Classic, told that he doesn't see it as a big blow for the Grand Chess Tour that Norway Chess is out. “I don’t view it as a serious setback. We're confident that we can continue on a similar basis.”

Pein hinted at a new tournament added to the tour, to be announced in a press release later this month.

On the Norway Chess website he is quoted: “We are disappointed to see Altibox Norway Chess leave the [Grand Chess Tour], but we wish them all the best for the future, hope that they will be around for many years and that we may cooperate again in future years.”

All of the three tournaments in the 2015 tour had a $300,000 prize fund. There was an additional $150,000 prize fund for the top three players who performed best in all three tournaments.

Magnus Carlsen, the winner of the first Grand Chess Tour, is “ready” to play in Altibox Norway Chess again. Whether he'll play in the tour is unclear, his manager Espen Agdestein told VG:

We have not made a final decision to yet, and we have not received any formal invitation. In principle Magnus wants to play the strongest tournaments, but among those is the world championship in the United States in November, so this year's program will be adapted to that.”

[Update: Below is a statement from the Grand Chess Tour press office.]

The Grand Chess Tour is pleased to announce that the tour will take place again in 2016. The tour will comprise a minimum of three tournaments which will be announced shortly. Player invitations will be issued by the end of January.

Tournaments confirmed so far are the Sinquefield Cup in August and the London Chess Classic in December. The prize fund is expected to be similar. GCT rules will be amended in the light of the experience in 2015. The GCT is pleased to announce the appointment of David Sedgwick as chief arbiter for the GCT in 2016.

Altibox Norway Chess is scheduled for April 18-29. It will be broadcast live by TV2 again, and the confessional booth will also return. “And we're trying to improve in many areas,” said Aulin-Jansson. 

The organizers of the Sinquefield Cup were not available for comments.

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