The man behind the Freestyle G.O.A.T. Challenge: Jan Henric Buettner

by André Schulz
2/6/2024 – Jan Henric Buettner is the man behind the Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge in Weissenhaus, which starts on Friday and sets new standards in terms of the line-up and the presentation of a chess tournament. In an interview with André Schulz, the successful entrepreneur introduces the tournament: “It’s going to be mega fun!”

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Luxurious, competitive

The history of major chess tournaments is closely linked to chess enthusiasts who, with their energy and/or financial means, have created the conditions for great players to show off their skills on the chessboard. Without sponsors and patrons, without organisers and helping hands, there would not have been any major chess tournaments.

Jan Henric Buettner is one such chess enthusiast. Born in Hamburg, he once learnt chess at a primary school in Eppendorf. He then made a career as a publishing salesman at Springer Verlag and then at Bertelsmann, played a key role in the success of AOL Europe and AOL Germany in the early days of digital communication, and eventually became a successful financial entrepreneur in the United States.

There was little time for chess at first. But the seed had been sown.

His success as an entrepreneur gave Buettner the opportunity to realise his dreams. He discovered that an old country estate with a few outbuildings, a small village in fact, was for sale on the Baltic Sea, where he had spent part of his youth. Buettner bought the somewhat run-down property and began to renovate it. Firstly, the entire infrastructure had to be rebuilt. The buildings were renovated and given a new shine. And new buildings were added.

The 400-year-old estate became Weissenhaus, a private nature luxury resort. The name says it all: those who spend time there will be in peace, in the middle of nature — a two-kilometre beach is also part of it — in a luxurious ambience. If you want to get an idea of what it feels like, check out the official website.

Weissenhaus

The construction of this property was a matter close to Buettner’s heart. You can sense his enthusiasm for this project in the many details that can be found throughout the buildings and grounds. And this is also how the Hamburg entrepreneur approaches his chess project.

Then I was almost 60, I thought about myself, about what is important to me, what I like to do. That was chess and music.

Buettner first bought a training course from Niclas Huschenbeth’s Chessence platform. That's how it started. He began to follow the chess scene around the world via the internet. When Huschenbeth, now living in Berlin, visited his hometown of Hamburg, he suggested a meeting. Buettner and Huschenbeth finally met in Weissenhaus and while talking about what could be done with chess, the idea for a tournament in this special place was born.

As Buettner thinks big, only a world-class tournament came into question for him, with Magnus Carlsen as the headliner. He met the world number one at the Qatar Open, and in conversation with the former world champion, a tournament was devised that was tailor-made for the Norwegian: Carlsen was keen to play a Chess960 tournament with a classical time control, in which he would face other players of the highest category.

And so the tournament was designed according to his wishes. Huschenbeth had recommended Sebastian Siebrecht as the organiser. He was joined by other top international players for reports, photos, live videos, commentary, etcetera.

Carlsen told Buettner which players he would like to play against. And they were invited: world champion Ding Liren, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana are the veterans alongside Magnus Carlsen. And they will be joined by four young guns: Alireza Firouzja, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Dommaraju Gukesh and Vincent Keymer.

A preliminary, rapid tournament will take place at first, and it will be followed by a knockout tournament with a classical time control.

So from 9 to 16 February, the most important and best-attended tournament in Germany this year will take place in Weissenhaus on the Baltic Sea: the Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T Challenge.

Buettner explained:

Magnus Carlsen definitely wanted to play Chess960 — I didn’t even know what that was at first. I thought the Random story was great. But the name was too insidery. That’s why it’s now called Freestyle. People understand the name even if they’re not insiders. And G.O.A.T Challenge, because the Greatest Of All Time, Magnus Carlsen, is being challenged.


Interview with Jan Henric Buettner (in German)

Jan Henrick Buettner talked to André Schulz about how the tournament was developed and what he is planning for the future. Under certain circumstances, he can also envisage a continuation, perhaps a series. The players and spectators can look forward to a greatly organised and, above all, perfectly presented tournament.


In the interview, Buettner also talked about his second hobby, music. Europe’s most modern recording studio, the Big Barn Studio, is being built in the Weissenhaus premises. This is how it looks!

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