Traditionally, at the end of the year, there are many chess tournaments around the world. At that time, most chess players are on vacation. The most famous example is Hastings International Chess Congress, which had its first edition in 1895. This year, because of the Covid pandemic, tournaments decades older moved online or got canceled. There was one exception. The XXXI edition of the Krakow International Chess Festival took place from December 27th to January 4th in a traditional format. Players were meeting face to face. They were grouped by rating in six different tournaments. Almost 500 players participated.
To play chess during a world pandemic… That sounds like Antoninus Block in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”. “A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it. It’s one of the most important movies ever made.
These days, in chess, Grim Reaper was replaced by computers that can defeat any human being. Computers are trying to kill the soul of chess by exploring all the possible variations of the game.
Returning to real life, there were, of course, special safety measures for the Krakow tournament. All players had to have their nose and mouth covered with a mask. Each player’s temperature was checked at the beginning of the game. The hands were disinfected. Also, no visitors were allowed inside the playing venue. The pictures for this post were taken from the tournament site.
Due to the current world situation, I expect to pass a long time until the next chance to play chess at the table. The alternative is not too good. There are many online chess tournaments. The problem with online chess is that some players are cheating with software. They are identified after the games with the help of software that detects computer moves. Unfortunately, the rankings can’t be corrected at the end of the tournaments. The damage remains.
My hope for this tournament was not to get infected with Covid. Now, I can say that I achieved this goal. I was playing in the B section of the tournament. Together with 95 other players and 3 arbiters. We were in the same room for 3 to 4 hours for 9 days. Although we were wearing masks, the risk was present. The context was that at that time, Poland had a high rate of infections.
The tournament venue was the Galaxy Hotel on the shores of the Vistula river. It is not far from the city center. The playing conditions were great. Many boards were transmitted live on popular chess sites. The organizers had to cancel some other touristic activities planned for the chess players because of Covid.
As for myself, I played in the intermediate level tournament. It was open for players rated between 1700 and 2100. The nine players that I encountered were rated higher than me. I lost 5 games, won 3, and draw one. Not a great result. However, because of the differences in rating, I ended up winning 15 ELO points. More important, I was able to enjoy some chess games. Normally, I would share some chess positions as highlights. Unfortunately, I had no chance to make combinations. The only combination that was played against me was incorrect. I played correctly and my opponent gained nothing out of it. All the games were interesting. It was tough fighting even if there were no fireworks.
I would like to end on a positive note. It makes me really happy that chess is so popular among children. This happens not only in Poland or in Romania but in many other countries around the world. Children can learn a lot of things from chess. Maybe I will write later a post about the benefits of chess.
Across the world, based on the average ratings of the top 10 players, the leading countries are Russia, the United States, China, and India. This can give you insight into how popular chess became worldwide.