One of the most exciting responses in the chess world to the pandemic was the dramatic surge in online chess, both at the amateur and professional level.
Chess has always translated well to online study and play, but the beginning of the lockdown saw an incredible rise in the demand for online chess as people the world over flocked to chess websites and online learning offerings. Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit only amplified that interest.
The entire world of professional chess was disrupted, of course, starting with the 2020 Candidates Tournament stopping at its halfway mark, and its continuation being delayed for over a year. Almost every live chess event was cancelled, and as they tentatively began to return in 2021, we saw COVID make its presence felt on multiple occasions despite the best efforts of organizers.
Last year saw the creation of the Champions Chess Tour, a series of online rapid chess tournaments that took place over the span of the year. The great success of this event led to some of the largest audiences for chess games in history, and some very exciting and enjoyable.
And today we saw the launch of the 2022 edition of the Champions Chess Tour, with the 2022 Airthings Masters, the first event of the series. The format for this (and all) involves fourteen or sixteen invited players, who play a series of rapid (15 minutes + 10 seconds per move) games.
The first part comprises a round robin, followed by a knockout playoff of the top eight players.
This tournament featured many of the usual suspects, like Duda, Mamedyarov and so on. Notable matchups were a reprise of last year’s World Championship, with Magnus Carlsen losing with the white pieces to Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Andrey Esipenko’s convincing victory over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who blundered badly on his ninth move and never recovered.
Other notable participants include the sixteen year old Indian GM Praggnanandhaa, Vietnam’s top player Quang Liem Le, and China’s Ding Liren, who has been having a very difficult year with pandemic restrictions and time zone differences for online games. Alexandra Kosteniuk is the only woman playing in this field.
But our featured game from round one is from Canada’s own Eric Hansen (pictured above), who won a well-played game in round two against Pragg, and is the only Canadian to have played in the Tour either last year or this year.