Sunway Sitges: The First Ever Online Classical Swiss

Sunway Sitges: The First Ever Online Classical Swiss

| 35 | Chess Event Coverage

After some hiccups on the first two days, the Sunway Sitges International Online Chess Open is now well underway. It's a historic event: never before has a Swiss tournament with a classical time control been held online.

The inaugural Sunway Sitges International Online Chess Open tournament runs April 19-27, followed by a day of quickplay playoffs among the top 16 players on April 28. The rounds start each day at 17:30 CEST which is 11:30 a.m. Eastern and 08:30 a.m. Pacific time. You can watch the top boards here.

You can call him crazy, or you can call him a genius. Oskar Stober Blázquez might be both, but he's definitely a pioneer.

The organizer of the Sunway Sitges chess festival, held every year in December in his hotel, has been strongly impacted by COVID-19, with his hotel being closed and with Spain having one of the severest lockdowns of all countries.

And yet, he thought about chess players and the fact that they cannot play over-the-board chess anymore. Stober wanted to organize a "real" tournament for them, and he wanted to hold it soon, while people were still being confined to their homes.

That was about two weeks ago. In a short period of time, together with, he managed to set up the first-ever classical Swiss held over the internet.

Players play from their homes, with an open webcam, to deal with the biggest hurdle in such an endeavor: the risk of cheating. How to deal with players going to the toilet, where they might have placed a bunch of opening books? Or even a phone?

"Although there are strict anti-cheating measures, they are not perfect," says Stober. "But that's not very different from most over-the-board open tournaments, where e.g. metal detectors are still very rare. You can bring a phone to the toilet there too."

The players are all connected to a Zoom call (two separate ones, since there is a limit of 300) with arbiters, organizers, and technicians, who are also very active throughout the rounds in a channel on Slack, an online workplace management system.

"If players play suspiciously strongly after returning from the toilet, arbiters but especially opponents will notice that quickly. They can contact arbiters during games, or after. Luckily, we've had only five to six complaints per round, which is not much considering that there are more than 150 games played in both groups."

The tournament has an A group for any player and a B group for players with a FIDE rating below 2000.  The games are not FIDE rated.

The first prize in the main group is a very decent 1,500 euros, while there are still 300 euros waiting for the winner in group B. All in all, this historic event attracted over 450 participants.

"This is a very good number, and higher than expected," said Stober. "We were hoping for at least two hundred. I wasn't sure if people were interested in such a thing."

The tournament encountered some problems at the start. There were some mispairings in the first round, and the second round was seriously disturbed by a server outage, but from Sunday onwards things have progressed relatively smoothly. Some players withdrew, but the big majority stayed.

"I have to say that I am pleased that people are... amazing," said Stober. "I got many messages from people saying it's understandable, it's the first time, and so on. The positivity has been overwhelming."

The positivity has been overwhelming.
Oskar Stober Blazquez

The results so far, after three rounds, seem to suggest that there have been more upsets than usual in open tournaments. That can easily be explained by the very different setup; some players might simply not be used to playing online that much.

For instance, GM Vitaliy Bernadskiy didn't seem to be playing at his best in the game below, but kudos to Mark Gluhovsky, who happens to be the Executive Director of the Russian Chess Federation and is not a bad chess player himself.

Here's another example. Brazilian GM Alexander Fier, himself a very experienced open tournament player, seemed to be cruising to victory in round two, but then he faced stiff resistance from 17-year-old V.S. Raahul, who even ended up winning:

The A group has 224 participants from 57 federations, with 16 GMs and 30 IMs. 15 players started with a perfect 3/3. 

Sunway Sitges International Online Chess Open | Round 3 Top Standings

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name RtgI Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 4 GM Shevchenko Kirill 2592 3,0 4,0 6,0 6,00
2-3 7 GM Nasuta Grzegorz 2558 3,0 4,0 5,5 5,50
2-3 39 FM Reimanis Ritvars 2421 3,0 4,0 5,5 5,50
4-8 3 GM Bachmann Axel 2599 3,0 4,0 5,0 5,00
4-8 12 GM Salinas Herrera Pablo 2514 3,0 4,0 5,0 5,00
4-8 13 IM Vrolijk Liam 2502 3,0 4,0 5,0 5,00
4-8 17 IM Quintiliano Pinto Renato R. 2469 3,0 4,0 5,0 5,00
4-8 28 GM Vasquez Schroeder Rodrigo 2441 3,0 4,0 5,0 5,00
9 43 IM Kopylov Michael 2407 3,0 4,0 4,5 4,50
10 100 Rudovskii Filipp 2158 3,0 4,0 4,0 4,00
11 37 IM Mehar Chinna Reddy C.H. 2422 3,0 3,5 4,5 4,50
12 9 GM Sindarov Javokhir 2557 3,0 3,5 4,0 4,00
13 78 Raahul V S 2259 3,0 3,5 3,5 3,50
14-15 33 IM Das Sayantan 2431 3,0 3,0 4,0 4,00
14-15 41 FM Srihari L R 2414 3,0 3,0 4,0 4,00

(Full standings here.)

Concerns about cheating will remain, and the fact that at least one player has already been caught won't help there, although maybe it should. The anti-cheating system, which includes two full-time employees continuously checking games as well as improving their methods, has proven to work, especially in combination with the webcams on all players.

Stober: "At the end of the tournament, our mechanisms will be much better than on the first day. Will they be perfect? I don't think so. But that's also the case for regular tournaments. Our main goal is that people have some fun doing some different things in these times of the coronavirus."

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Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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