World’s grandmasters meet again at TATA Steel Chess Tournament

Edition 28 December 2018, by Seringe S.T. Touray

Chess enthusiasts see the TATA Steel Chess Tournament, taking place between 11 and 27 January 2019, as the crème de la crème, hosting the best of the best grandmasters throughout the world. Held annually in the coastal village of Wijk aan Zee, North Holland, the Chess Tournament has been around since 1938, setting many a grandmaster against expert chess challengers throughout its time. Sometimes referred to as the “Wimbledon of Chess,” the contest not only draws in the world’s greatest players, but invites over a thousand amateur participants and thousands of live and online viewers to witness the event.

The tournament will centre on the two main player groups, each consisting of fourteen chess players that make up the elite 28. The tournament brands these sets the Tata Steel Masters and the Tata Steel Challengers. This current group, it is worth noting, is a far cry from what the tournament looked like at its foundation in 1938, when the small tournament hosted a tiny group of four players, with entry to the competition restricted only to Dutch nationals. With the increasing interest in the game, the competition soon doubled in size to eight players from 1943 onwards. However, it was not for another few years before it went international, consequently expanding the field to ten players, with the inclusion of Belgian and Swedish players in the first international event.

American-born chess grandmaster Robert James (‘Bobby’) Fischer, also a former TATA Steel Tournament title-holder, was and is still widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time, demonstrating great prowess and dominance from the age of thirteen, and winning the US Chess Championship a year later to become a grandmaster. His mastery of chess sparks close comparisons to current chess champion Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian grandmaster who also came into the spotlight at the age of thirteen, when he obtained the grandmaster title as one of the youngest players ever. Other famous names that have attended the chess tournament are Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand and Russian-born grandmaster Gary Kasparov.

Twenty-eight-year-old Magnus Carlsen, a sure favourite in any world chess championship, first participated in the TATA Steel Chess Tournament in 2004, the year he proved himself a grandmaster and secured himself a place in the global chess spotlight. Carlsen was a child chess prodigy with immense proclivity for the game, having finished first in a tie in the World U20 Chess Championship in 2002, shortly before gaining the title of grandmaster. Since his first appearance in the TATA Steel contest, Carlsen has appeared in the prestigious tournament ten times to demonstrate his growing skills. Currently, Carlsen holds the world record for most wins at the TATA Steel Tournament, with a total of six titles.

The TATA Steel Chess Championship’s organization of amateur chess events adds to the popularity of the competition, allowing anyone with a strong sense of the game and the will to meet and challenge competitors from around the world to sign up. Thus, more than a thousand amateur players register each year for a chance compete with worthy challengers. For amateur players, the three categories for registration are as follows: Weekend-fourround event (Weekendvierkamp), Weekday-four-round event (Dagvierkamp), and Ten-round event (Tienkamp), with prizes available for all events. Registration opened on October 29, 2018.

The 2019 tournament’s field of chess masters has already been completed, with the organizers confirming the identities of the fourteen grandmasters set to challenge one another. Among the participants are Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand, as well as Hungary’s Richard Rapport, Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik, and Dutch Anish Giri, Jorden and Lucas van Foreest, Erwin l’Ami and Stefan Kuipers. With all challengers known for their distinct styles, Richard Rapport and Magnus Carlsen are branded favourites by some observers, with Rapport known for his viciously offensive style of playing. Among the players who will attend, Rapport was the only one to defeat World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Jorden van Foreest will participate in the competition for the first time, joining his brother Lucas, who will return following his first appearance in 2017.

The perhaps odd name of the tournament has changed several times over the years, mainly due to changes in sponsorship deals. It was named Hoogovens Tournament at its commencement in 1938. This lasted until 1999, when its sponsor Koninklijke Hoogovens merged with British Steel plc, a major steel producer in Britain. In the merger, the two companies formed the Corus Group, thus changing the name of the chess competition to Corus Chess Tournament. Once the Corus Group rebranded to Tata Steel Europe just over ten years ago, the tournament finally adopted its current name, by which it has been known since its 73rd event in 2011. The TATA Steel Chess Tournament, if anything, serves as a beacon of hope for young chess lovers much like all grandmasters once were, creating a unique environment in which young and/or amateur players perform in close proximity to their chess idols. The competition inspires the next generation of players to bring out the best in themselves, while giving grandmasters a chance to defend themselves against formidable challengers.

Around one thousand children will partake in this year’s tournament in what is known as the Kids of Steel chess events, an initiative dedicated to making the tournament more inclusive by giving youngsters the opportunity to take part in entertaining events while improving their health. Its stimulating environment not only helps the young develop their chess skills, but also contributes to the well-known benefits of chess for the brain: the development of positive and scientifically-proven mental changes, including the growth of dendrites, exercise for both sides of the brain (for creativity and problem-solving), building self-confidence, and more. These benefits, in addition to a strong penchant for chess, make the next generation of chess players a force to be reckoned with. Grandmaster Bobby Fischer famously said that “chess is life,” which in hindsight has a broader meaning than Fischer himself might have alluded to, given the extent to which the game has been credited for improving the quality of life of chess players. As usual, the Netherlands continues to be a hotspot for global events, with the TATA Steel Chess Tournament merely one of many events to look out for throughout the next twelve months. The roster of this year’s competition, which includes some of the best-known names in the world of chess, ensures the event will elicit as much excitement as previous contests.