Behind the Scenes of the WR Chess Masters

by André Schulz
2/22/2023 – At top chess tournaments, you usually see the pictures of the players before and during the games. But there is also a lot to see behind the scenes, and the WR Chess Masters at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Düsseldorf is no exception. | Picture: Heike Keymer, Lotis Key and Sebastian Siebrecht (Photos: André Schulz)

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The WR Chess Masters is a new super-GM tournament in Germany, in Düsseldorf to be precise. Of course, there have always been chess tournaments in Düsseldorf, but you have to go far back in history to find tournaments of great national or international importance.

In 1951, the German Championships were held here, with 22 participants playing a 21-round round robin tournament. Rudolf Teschner won this mammoth tournament. Also in 1951 a match between Germany and the Netherlands took place in Düsseldorf. It was played on ten boards with two rounds. The Netherlands won 11-9. Max Euwe won both his games against Wolfgang Unzicker.

And if you look for major chess events before that, you won't find anything until 1908. The first half of the World Championship match between Emanuel Lasker and Siegbert Tarrasch was played in Düsseldorf. The second half in Munich.

Tarrasch had already fallen behind in Düsseldorf, blaming the 'sea climate' to which he was not used. In March 1908 Düsseldorf had already hosted a DSB congress. And in the 1860s Düsseldorf had also hosted several congresses of the West German Chess Federation.

So now, in 2023, Düsseldorf is once again attracting the attention of the chess public. The WR Masters is hosted by the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The luxury hotel has 19 floors in the east tower of the so-called "Düsseldorfer Hafenspitze". The whole ensemble consists of a base and two towers. The west tower houses the offices of many companies. At the weekend, the FC Bayern Munich team stayed at the Hyatt Regency before their match against Borussia Mönchengladbach. 

From both towers you have a beautiful view over the Rhine promenade in Düsseldorf and can probably see as far as Mönchengladbach, where Bayern played and lost on Saturday afternoon. Some WR Chess Masters participants took the opportunity to ask for a photo with the football stars.

But the chess players were also asked for autographs and photographs.

In demand: Autographs from Vincent Keymer

The WR Chess Masters is held in a conference area of the hotel on the ground floor. The actual tournament hall is large enough for the ten players, the arbiter and a few other officials, but too small to accommodate spectators.

Cosy: the playing hall before the round

The adjoining room is used as a press room, but also as an equipment room. Here is the cloakroom, and there are countless boxes of boards, figures, clocks and other paraphernalia.

In an opposite room sit the two commentators, Yasser Seirawan and, on most days, Elisabeth Pähtz. The Women's Bundesliga also took place on the first weekend of the WR Masters. Elisabeth Pähtz played with Baden-Baden in Leipzig and Anastasiya Karlovich joined Yasser Seirawan.

Anchorman Yasser Seirawan and Nastja Karlovich

The tournament is supervised by three referees. Gregor Johann, Federal Tournament Director of the German Chess Federation, is the chief arbiter. He is assisted by Tshepiso Lopang from Botswana and Michael Weber. Disputes between the top players are rare, but the issue of preventing cheating is taken very seriously. 

Tshepiso Lopang and Anastasia Sorokina

Michael Weber controls Vincent Keymer

Upon entering the tournament hall, each player will be thoroughly searched for metal parts (e.g. electronics) with a Garrett scanner. A strong magnetic pen is also held in front of each player's ear. If a device is placed in the ear canal, the magnet will pull it out.

Gukesh is tested with a magnet

The players' bathrooms are located at the far end of a large lobby. When a player visits the bathroom, they will be discreetly escorted by Michael Weber, who will ensure that the player does not speak to anyone.

The Lobby

Some players like to walk around when it is not their turn. This is not possible in the hall. So the players make their rounds in the area outside the hall. Here you can also find snacks with finger food, fruit, biscuits, nuts and soft drinks. There is also a coffee bar where you can get all sorts of coffee drinks from a vending machine. Talking to the players is also strictly forbidden outside the tournament hall.

The anteroom with tables to analyse

Anna Endreß gives chess lessons to children at the side events. Her day job is as a lawyer.

At the start of each round, there are several photographers and videographers scurrying around taking pictures of the players. There are webcams on long tripods at all the tables, which stream images of the players and the boards to the internet during play, along with video of the live commentators. The official photographer, as at many tournaments, is Lennart Ootes. The Dutchman also oversees the transmission technology of the DGT boards, which transmit the moves made and the time taken. The board positions are delayed by 15 minutes, partly to prevent cheating. The video images are mixed by Mark Glukhovsky and his team into a single video that can be viewed by chess fans on Youtube.

The transmission team

After the round, the players pose for video interviews and talk about their games. You can also watch these interviews on the WR Chess Masters Youtube channel.

Andrey Esipenko is in a good mood. He has probably won.

Some players have brought along seconds, coaches or other companions. There are also some guests of the tournament and press.

Alexander von Gleich and tournament director Sebastian Siebrecht once played together in the Bundesliga for Bochum.

most interested visitor to his tournament. He is there every day, presenting awards at the side events and making sure everything runs smoothly.

Award ceremony at the charity tournament for Ukrainian refugees. The little boy was the youngest.

For all a prize

If he finds a chess partner, he invites him to play. The seconds and companions of the players or visitors often stay in the aforementioned VIP room and follow the games or chat in a cultivated club atmosphere. The VIP room is also located on the ground floor behind the spacious restaurant and offers a view of the games as well as the Rhine promenade.

In the VIP room. Vadim Rosenstein follows the games.

Again there are soft drinks, a coffee machine and snacks. There are chess books, chess magazines and old analogue clocks on some shelves and display cases. There are chess boards everywhere on the tables and anyone who wants to can start a game of chess straight away. Wadim Rosenstein is happy to find a chess partner, but he prefers to play Bughouse. This is a four-player game. Captured pieces are given to your partner, who can use them on his own board. The social programme also includes a Bughouse tournament, in which Wadim Rosenstein will play together with the grandmasters.

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri analyse. Sebastian Siebrecht watches.

Occasionally Heike Keymer, mother of Vincent, and Lotis Key, mother of Wesley So, sit here and talk about their experiences as player mothers (see picture above).

Sometimes the players' seconds come, not to play, but to analyse. After the games the players also come to analyse, wanting to know what really happened in their game. Nowadays you need a fast computer with a powerful engine to find out the truth about a game or a position.

The WR Chess Masters runs until 26 February and ends with an awards ceremony. Wadim Rosenstein has indicated that he can imagine organising and financing further top tournaments. Perhaps a new tournament tradition will begin in Düsseldorf.


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.