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On Chess: Grand Chess Tour Kicks Off In Africa

Hikaru Nakamura celebrating his victory with the trophy in the 2018 Grand Chess Tour.
Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour

The fifth edition of the Grand Chess Tour (GCT) promises to be bigger, better and more international than ever. The tour has been expanded to eight tournaments spread over four continents. The number of tour participants has been increased to 12 players now fighting for a record prize fund of $1.75 million. The 2019 GCT will employ a combination of formats that have been used previously, combining classical chess with rapid and blitz, as well as an exciting finale in London at the end of the year.

Croatia GCT and the Sinquefield Cup are both classical tournaments with five rapid and blitz tournaments to be held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Paris; St. Louis; Bucharest, Romania; and Kolkata, India. The tour will include 12 confirmed participants who will play in both classical events and in three of the rapid and blitz events. There will be a total of 14 wildcards across the five rapid and blitz events.

The 12 tour participants are:

  • Magnus Carlsen - Norway
  • Hikaru Nakamura - USA
  • Fabiano Caruana - USA
  • Ding Liren - China
  • Anish Giri - Netherlands
  • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Azerbaijan
  • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - France
  • Viswanathan Anand - India
  • Levon Aronian - Armenia
  • Wesley So - USA
  • Ian Nepomniachtchi - Russia
  • Sergey Karjakin - Russia

Aside from the format and the additional events, one of the most exciting parts of the tour will be the return of Magnus Carlsen. The world champion usually remains fairly inactive during even years when he has to play in a World Championship match, and last year was no exception. He has returned to active tournament play with a vengeance, winning all three super tournaments he has played this year and increasing his rating to 2875, only seven points away from his peak of 2882.
The tour will kick off in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on May 8 in the luxurious Pullman Hotel, located in the heart of the country’s largest city. It will be the first GCT event ever held on the African continent and will feature the world champion and the reigning GCT champion, Hikaru Nakamura. They will be joined by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Wesley So, Ding Liren, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin. The wildcards of the event will be former world champion Veselin Topalov, highest-rated junior player Wei Yi, and reigning African champion Bassem Amin.

"I'm excited," said Carlsen in a chess.com interview during the Grenke tournament. "It will probably be my only opportunity to go to Cote d’Ivoire. It’s exotic for sure. It will be the first time I, or any sitting world champion, plays in Africa. I specifically chose to play there.”

The event in Abidjan has taken on a flavor of a festival, as the Ivory Coast Chess Federation is organizing several parallel events. An invitation has been extended to 16 West African federations to send teams to participate in these events. After the morning games, the players will then be invited to the GCT arena as spectators. The organizers will also have an area where spectators can play casual games and watch the live commentary, thus creating an interactive environment for players of all levels.

The Ivory Coast Rapid & Blitz tournament promises to be an exciting, one-of-a-kind event, bringing the world champion to Africa for the first time in history. The rest of the chess world can watch the live commentary produced by the St. Louis Chess Club in English and French starting May 8 on grandchesstour.org at 9:50 a.m. CST.

Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess when she was 8 years old, after her father took her to the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Yerevan, Armenia. There, she met grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest female player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. Currently the third-highest-rated female in the U.S., Abrahamyan has represented the United States in four Olympiads, two World Team Championships since 2008 and has played in every U.S. Women’s Championship the St. Louis Chess Club has hosted. She continues to play competitive chess, coach and work as the journalist for the most elite chess tournament circuit, the Grand Chess Tour.

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