Chess Festival Prague: An interview with tournament director Petr Boleslav

by Press release
2/13/2024 – In about two weeks, on 26 February 2024, the sixth Prague International Chess Festival (PICF) will begin. This year the four best juniors in the world - Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh, Abdusattorov and Keymer - will be in Prague to complete the strong field of Vidit, Rapport, Maghsoodloo, Navara, Bartel and Nguyen. But as tournament director Petr Boleslav explains in an interview, this is just one reason to combine a visit to one of Europe's most beautiful cities with chess. | Picture: Festival logo 2024

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The 6th year of the Prague International Chess Festival is starting in two weeks. At what stage are your preparations?

We’re heading for the home stretch now. I can tell nearly every person from the organising team is busy as a bee.

Prague is going to welcome many players from the world TOP 20 list. Whom can visitors see this year?

First and foremost I need to mention the three Indian GMs: Praggnanandhaa, Vidit, and Gukesh. All three are hot favourites of the Masters tournament and all three are attending the Candidates Tournament, scheduled for April and taking place in Toronto. Other players in this year’s Masters also have quite a strong fanbase. Uzbek GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov or German #1 Vincent Keymer are also a pretty big deal.

PICF is hosting the Masters, Challengers, Futures and Open tournaments. Fans may not be aware of all other types of tournaments and side events though. What can we attend and how can we sign up?

The daily morning program, first introduced last year, has proven to be successful. Side tournaments such as rapid and blitz tournament, solving competitions or Fischer random chess tournament have made it to the Festival schedule as well.

Can chess fans also just come and watch the games? Can they see their favourite world players for themselves?

Of course, that is an integral part of the Festival for me. Visitors are not only allowed to enter the main hall, every fan of the game of kings is enthusiastically welcomed. The atmosphere is traditionally great, and this year we want to upgrade it with live commentary based in the Don Giovanni Hotel. Visitors can hear the commentary both in Czech and in English.

Petr Boleslav is watching while Pentala Harikrishna, the winner of the Prague International Chess Festival 2022, signs a t-shirt for the winner of the Grand Prix PICF 2023. | Photo: Petr Vrabec

Does PICF belong to major chess events in Czechia?

If I may be so bold, I will say that PICF has become a significant event for Czech chess. Speaking of the sport aspect, we are open to players of any level and age; they can even pick a tournament of a tempo corresponding with their skill. The general public and chess fans can enjoy the best of the top world players. Seeing them with your own eyes, no matter whether it’s during the play or not, is a great experience. Prague opens a great game of chess.

Are you going to introduce anything new this year?

We’ve been busy preparing several news for this year. We arranged kind of a summary of the past five PICFs, portrayal of which is going to be displayed on the second floor of the Don Giovanni Hotel, in the foyer before the main hall. I think you have something to look forward to. You will see stats, key points captured in pictures and a complete list of results. 
I would like to mention the Grand Prix PICF, which was introduced last year. Every single point from any tournament the player attends counts, and the player who collects the most points wins. Last year FM Rao Sharan won (2248), collecting 536 points in the Open, rapid and blitz tournaments. I believe this may turn into a prestigious title. As you can see from the last year’s final ranking, ELO is far from being the only aspect that matters. The award is very thematic indeed; the winner is going to be awarded a PICF jersey with autographs of all Masters and Challengers players.

What does this event mean to you, as the Festival Director?

It’s gained a special place in my heart over the years. I’m enjoying it. You could even say that as soon as one Festival ends, I’m starting to think about the next year – what we can improve, what to introduce, who to invite etc. You’re also anxious to see everything go smoothly, to have many players, fans and visitors, to see them satisfied… The first day gets it going from the very start, it feels like a dam breaking, and suddenly everyone lives for the Festival. I’m looking forward to February 26th very much. 

I also have a sense of responsibility towards our partners who have been supporting us for as long as we can remember. Thanks to their support we can actually implement all the ideas we have and continuously improve the Festival – speaking of the quality of the players, its sport level and, if I may be so bold, even its cultural meaning.

The same goes for our team. Over the years we have built a stable organising team which provides a position, space for creativity, responsibilities, and I believe also the joy of getting things done, for everyone. Seeing them, I definitely feel the joy and need to thank them with all my heart. 

Do you have some interesting backstage stories you would like to share? What from the past years do you remember fondly?

We gathered a lot of stories over the years. The vast majority of humorous events happened due to someone’s forgetfullness or bad timekeeping. I remember that one year we had one – now very popular – actor to open the first round with his move. About 15 minutes before the start he called us apologizing – he went jogging and locked himself out of his apartment. We somewhat didn’t include the waiting time for the locksmith in our schedule, and so we had to quickly get a stand-in.

I like to think about the year 2020. It was the first bigger year and the VIP guest of the Festival, Lubomír Kaválek, really did elevate the whole Festival and turned it into a one-of-a-kind event. Thanks to him we gained even more special guests, such as Miloš Forman’s son. He felt at the Don Giovanni Hotel at home, considering many displayed pictures from the Amadeus movie directed by his father forty years ago.

GM Lubomir Kavalek at the Chess Festival Prague | Photo: Petr Vrabec

But I’m also looking forward to all the new stories. I’m sure that with this year’s line-up, we won’t be short of them.