A meeting of Grandmasters: the Bundesliga Championship Tournament

by Conrad Schormann
9/15/2020 – From September 16 to September 2020, the Bundesliga Championship Tournament, an over-the-board round robin with eight teams of eight players, will take place in Karlsruhe, Germany. The winner will be German Team Champion 2020. But which of the many top players, who regularly start in the Bundesliga, will make it to Karlsruhe? Conrad Schormann shares information and insights. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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World class chess in the "Garden Hall"

It will be a meeting of grandmasters, that much is certain. But before the start of the Championship Tournament of the Bundesliga there was and is still lots of speculation: Who is playing? Will we see World Championship Candidates? How about MVL? How about Fabiano Caruana?

The clubs are keeping a low profile to make it difficult for the opponents to prepare. As the world’s strongest chess league the Bundesliga is arguably also the most international of chess leagues, and in times of travel restrictions, the league’s internationality makes it hard to predict the line-ups. But there have been leaks.

Fabiano Caruana (OSG Baden-Baden) is likely to play since the Baden-Baden Chess Center has mentioned a recent training session he had in Germany with his coach and Baden-Baden teammate Rustam Kazimdzhanov. Meanwhile, French Grandmaster Romain Edouard (SV Werder Bremen) has mentioned on Twitter that he is corona-free and ready to play.

The line-up of the Schachfreunde Deizisau is easier to predict than the line-up of other teams. Their squad consists primarily of top German players, who as locals are least affected by travel restrictions. The website of the Bundesliga itself has leaked that youngster Vincent Keymer will continue to try to come closer to the 2600 Elo mark in Karlsruhe as part of the Deizisau team. The young German grandmasters Matthias Blübaum and Alexander Donchenko will also probably continue their duel for the top spot on the German ranking list in Karlsruhe – like Keymer they both play for Deizisau.

Matthias Blübaum, winner of the recent German Masters, and with a rating of 2660 currently Germany's number one. | Photo: Frank Hoppe

Alexander Donchenko has a current rating of 2654 and is number three on Germany's ranking list (behind Blübaum and Nisipeanu). | Photo: Amruta Mokal

On the FIDE list Donchenko and Blübaum are six points apart, but on the live-rating list they are just one point apart.

Deizisau’s team captain Sven Noppes has close connections to the Grenke group and is a central part of the team that made the Championship Tournament possible. When the first wave of infections went down after the lockdown in March and people asked how things would continue, Noppes had initially offered to host a season finale for all teams. "That turned out to be difficult. Some teams didn't want to take part," reports Markus Schäfer, President of the Schachbundesliga.

Then, the organizers of the chess Bundesliga were inspired by the Basketball Bundesliga. In basketball, the FC Bavaria Munich, which also has a team in the chess Bundesliga, organized a championship tournament for teams that wanted to play. In a series of online meetings, the team captains of the chess Bundesliga agreed to follow this model: everything is set to zero, whoever wants to play takes part, and it's about nothing less than the 2020 German team championship.

The venue will be the "Garden Hall" of the Karlsruhe Exhibition Center, well ventilated and spacious. Organizer is the Baden-Baden Chess Center in cooperation with the German series champions OSG Baden-Baden and the Grenke Group. Grenke is best known in as a sponsor of the Grenke Chess Classic and its associated open tournaments, and Wolfgang Grenke also supports the Bundesliga teams OSG Baden-Baden and SF Deizisau.

The organizing team around Chess Center chairman Christian Bossert, Managing Director Hanna Marie Klek and Sven Noppes has come up with a comprehensive hygienic concept. Noppes traveled to the chess festival in Biel to see how it was possible to play chess in times of Corona. The plexiglass partition between the players, known from Biel, is now also set up in Karlsruhe. Moreover, the players have to wear masks and have to keep distance when they are not at the board. And anyone entering the area must confirm in writing to be free from symptoms of illness.

"Unfortunately, the original idea of ​​a central Covid test could not be realized. That was a question of capacity," explains Schäfer. It is now primarily up to the clubs to ensure the health of the players. In the case of Deizisau this will require less effort than in Viernheim which has numerous East European players on the team, led by former World number two Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Will he play? "I definitely hope so," says IM Christian Seel, first board of underdog Aachener SV, the only team that plays without any professionals.

All clubs have agreed not to register new players. But it was possible to register players from lower teams for the Championship to be able to compensate for players who cannot make it to Karlsruhe. Some clubs have made use of this.

In Deizisau, for example, Czech grandmaster Stepan Zilka is new to the squad, an indication that he will play. Latvian grandmaster Zigurds Lanka is new to SC Viernheim. We will probably see him at the board too.

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Conrad Schormann, skilled newspaper editor, runs an agency for editing and communication in Überlingen, at Lake Constance. But he lacks time to play chess which is partly due to the fact that he very much likes to write about it, for Chessbase, in the Reddit chess forum, or for his chess teaching blog Perlen vom Bodensee...

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