The 2022 Reykjavik Open got underway on April 6, with 245 competitors from thirty-nine countries, including twenty-two Grandmasters. Four players are from Canada, including one of Chess Institute of Canada’s very own instructors, National Master David Filipovich, who gives us this account of his chess adventures there.
The event is being held in the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, one of the capital city’s most striking landmarks, and a centre of cultural and social life in the very heart of Reykjavik.
In his opening remarks, the mayor of Reykjavik Dagur Eggertsson reminded everyone that the inaugural Reykjavik Chess Tournament (back then, a biennial, invitation-only event) was held in 1964, and was won by former world champion Mikhail Tal. He also noted that 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the famous Fischer-Spassky World Championship, and that Bobby Fischer lived his final years in Iceland as a full citizen of this chess-loving country.
In 2008 Iceland was particularly hard hit by the global financial crisis. A major effort to promote tourism began as a response, and continues unabated to this day. From that year onward, the Reykjavik International Chess Tournament was been held annually as an open tournament, missing only 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iceland is a truly unique and wonderful place for a chess tournament, or for a nature lover’s vacation, or both! The landscapes, even if only seen from the bus from the airport to the capital, are otherworldly. Contrary to what the country’s name suggests, Iceland enjoys a cool, temperate maritime climate with refreshing summers and mild winters thanks to the gulf stream, unlike its huge neighbour Greenland, which is mostly covered by ice! (The English name “Iceland” is actually a corruption of the native word meaning “island.”)
Because of Iceland’s high latitude (just south of the Arctic Circle), some summer days have twenty-four hours of sunlight, while in the deep winter daylight lasts only four or five hours.
Iceland takes its egalitarian principles very seriously. It is considered to be the most feminist country in the world (its current prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is the latest in a long line of female elected leaders) and has very liberal and accepting attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. A mere 3% of its population falls outside the middle class.
Another fascinating thing about Iceland is that it is almost completely devoid of trees. This is mainly because of excessive logging by Iceland’s earliest settlers, the Vikings. Forest coverage dropped from approximately 35% to less than 1% today, although major reforestation efforts are underway, with many trees being imported from Canada!
The Reykjavik Open is a true chess festival, with its nine rounds played over one week. Additional events include the opening ceremonies, a chess trivia contest, a blitz tournament, a backgammon tournament, and even a pickup football (“soccer” for North Americans) game pitting Team Iceland versus the Rest of the World!
Finally, there are more tourist-oriented activities, such as a full-day “Golden circle” bus tour of the some of Iceland’s natural wonders such as waterfalls and geysers, cultural highlights, and of course a visit to Bobby Fischer’s gravesite.
The entire event concludes with a fine closing party.
I hope that one day you too will be able to make a chess pilgrimage to this truly unique and fascinating place.
— David Filipovich, CIC Instructor