A chess tournament on a train

by Macauley Peterson
10/26/2017 – The 7th annual Chess Train tournament rolled into Prague's main station after five days and nine rounds of rapid chess October 13th to 17th. With games played entirely on board a dedicated train from Czech Railways, this is a one-of-a-kind event that is a lot of fun — so much so that some players return year after year. International Master Roman Khaetsky from Ukraine took top honors, as he finished undefeated, yielding just three draws. | Photos: Anezka Kruzikova

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Making tracks

If chess at sea is not your cup of tea, perhaps entertain the idea of chess on a train! The route is new every year, and the novelty doesn't seem to wear off. The train is organized by Pavel Matocha and the Prague Chess Society in partnership with Czech Railways. 

Eightly players climbed aboard the 2017 edition of the Prague "Chess Train" which travelled from the Czech capital to Olomouc, then to Slovakian cities of Trencin, Bratislava, and back via Lednice to Prague.

The roughly 700 kilometer route is not the longest the tournament has attempted, but that just leaves more time for sightseeing at each day's destination. On the way, nine rounds of rapid chess (20 minutes plus 10 seconds increment per move) were played as the train transited between stops.

Tournament winner Roman KhaetskyThe Chess Train is a way to exercise both a passion for chess and travel. The chess is played in a relaxed enviroment with low stakes, and plenty of time to enjoy the ride. At the end of each day, players get to explore a new city, in groups or individually, before retiring to a comfortable hotel. When done right, it's an enjoyable five days of good food, good friends, and good chess.

Past events have included grandmasters, but this year the top seed was IM Roman Khaetsky [at right], from Ukraine. He duly won the clear first with 7½ / 9, a prize of 15,000 Czech kroner (about €585 euro) and a glass locomotive trophy.

The prize ceremony itself is unique, as aside from the top five places, and three rating awards — all small cash prizes — there is a grab bag of additional prizes ranging from hotel vouchers to books and DVDs (including some from ChessBase), to an outdoor LED sports head lamp, a pair of gognac glassic with a train theme, Czech music CDs, and a mishmash of others — all of which are distributed to players roughly in order of standing. No one goes home empty handed.

Prize giving ceremony

Safely back in Prague, organiser Pavel Matocha announces the winners | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Here's a game from the winner:

Oleksandr Vakulenko 0-1 Roman Khaetsky

The Maroczy System

The Maroczy System of the Sicilian Defence is one of the modern openings where Black attacks the white centre mainly with pieces. After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Nf6 the pawns c4 and e4 secure White a space advantage in the middle, however, it is exactly these central pillars which may easily become targets of the black counterattack. Sergei Tiviakov has been applying this system with Black in his tournament practice since 1991 and is considered one its greatest experts.

Chess in Motion

Each morning after breakfast, players board the train and start their first game of the day. The top boards are arranged in custom cars that have been emptied to allow for a long row of tables. You can literally watch the world flying by as you contemplate your moves. If you make it to these cars, it's a sign you're playing well.

Roman Khaetsky and Oleksandr Vakulenko

Roman Khaetsky and Oleksandr Vakulenko at the start of the game shown above | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

The lower boards are housed in private first class compartments, which have the advantage of being closer to the restaurant and passenger cars.

Van der Wal vs. Maatov

Quieter, but no less scenic: Robert van der Wal vs. Alice Maatov, in Round 1 | Photo: Anezka Kruzikov

A dozen masters took part, but the tournament caters to amateurs and club players of all levels. One 1837-rated player, Jon Loman, was awarded a special prize for the "most beautiful game" of the tournament, a 21-move miniature. He's Swedish but went for a Danish Gambit against his German opponent, and capped a king hunt with a flourish:

Jon Loman 1-0 Wolfgang Mendow

A Gambit Guide through the Open Game Vol.1 and 2

To avoid them or to play them, you have to know them. In two Volumes we see gambits such as Frankenstein-Dracula Gambit, the Cochrane Gambit, the Belgrade Gambit, the King's Gambit, Marshall Gambit, the Scotch Gambit, the Jänisch Gambit and many more.

Chess Train, the film

The Chess Train was the subject of a 2016 short documentary by Estonian filmmaker Maris Flabba who rode the train in 2015 on an expansive route that travelled from the Czech Republic to Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Poland at a time when hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees were fleeing to Europe.

2016 Chess Train documentary short film | Maris Salumets on YouTube

Scenes from 2017

Photographer Anezka Kruzikova returned to Prague with treasure trove of photos, from which we've selected a few highlights (with more in the gallery above).

Players group photo

(Click or tap to expand) Players group photo | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Bratislava panorama

Bratislava panorama | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

High above Trencin, Slovakia

High above Trencin, Slovakia | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Relaxing after the second day

Relaxing after the second day | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Lednice castle

Lednice castle | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Awaiting the guests

Tournament staff awaiting their guests | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Pavel Matocha in driver's seat

Pavel Matocha in the driver's seat — onward to 2018! | Photo: Anezka Kruzikova

Next year's Chess Train will take a Polish route: Prague — Ostrava — Warsaw — Krakow — Hradec Králové, October 12-16, 2018.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect game score for the Loman vs. Mendow game.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 10/27/2017 06:25
probably amidst a wild life safari!!!!!
puzzledpawn puzzledpawn 10/26/2017 09:49
Looks like a fun tournament
ParasGudka ParasGudka 10/26/2017 07:04
This is such a novel idea! I hope we can have such a tournament on the new SGR in Kenya.