Preview: 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss
John Saunders reports: in just under a month’s time there begins the newest, and potentially most exciting, qualification event in the 2019/2020 World Chess Championship cycle – the inaugural FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss tournament, to be played over 11 rounds in the Isle of Man. The primary purpose of this tournament is to fill one of the eight places in the Candidates’ Tournament to be held in the first half of 2020. It features a phenomenal field of 160 leading players who aspire to the title and an eye-popping first prize of $70,000, with a total prize fund of $432,500. The latter detail has also attracted the two biggest names of all, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, who head a competitor list featuring 26* players rated 2700 or more.
Magnus Carlsen receives the trophy and cheque from sponsor Isai Scheinberg at the 2017 Chess.com Isle of Man Masters (photo: Maria Emelianova/chess.com)
The opening ceremony is scheduled for October 9th, round one is on 10th October and the last on 21st October with a rest day after six rounds on 16th October (see the full schedule here). The venue is the COMIS Hotel and Golf Resort which is halfway between the Isle of Man’s capital, Douglas, and the airport at Ronaldsway, with a journey of around 7 kilometres in each direction. The tournament director is Alan Ormsby (Isle of Man), the chief arbiter IA Alex Holowczak (England), the Fair Play officer is IA Andrew Howie (Scotland), with Chess.com’s onsite commentary being provided by GM Daniel King (England) and IM Anna Rudolf (Hungary).
If you’re thinking that this event looks a lot like the annual autumn Chess.com Isle of Man Masters, you’d be right. You could think of it as doubling for the sixth in the annual series of super-strong swiss tournaments held here. However, along with the similarities there are some significant differences other than it being an official eliminator. Both have a field of around 160 competitors but, whereas the usual Isle of Man Masters is open to all, this year’s Grand Swiss isn’t. It is composed of 100 qualifiers, based on a rating average from 12 lists (July 2018 to June 2019), topped up with 16 holders of world and continental championship titles, one qualifier from the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) tour, three nominees of the FIDE President, and 40 wildcards nominated by the organisers, IOM International Chess Ltd.
One similarity with earlier Chess.com Isle of Man Masters’ tournaments is the sheer strength of the entry. In its recent iterations, the Masters has established itself as the strongest regular swiss-paired chess tournament in the world, with only the multi-award-winning Gibraltar Masters coming close to its strength in depth. In 2017 the Masters sported 12 players with 2700+ ratings, headed by Carlsen, Caruana and Kramnik, and, despite the 2018 event missing the big names of 2017 because of a clash with the Carlsen-Caruana world championship match, the pool of 2700+ rated players increased to 19. The 2019 Grand Swiss sees this number jump to 26*. Of course, strong players don’t end at 2700 and it is perhaps the battalion of 87* players rated between 2600 and 2700 in the field that underlines the extraordinary strength in depth, making it arguably the most impressive line-up in a swiss-paired tournament ever. Another way to appreciate the strength of the line-up is to consider that Baadur Jobava of Georgia, one of the world’s most exciting and popular GMs, is ranked 101st in the field.